A win for Kuma would see him work outside Japan for the first time in his career.
He is joined on the shortlist by seven British practices, including Edward Cullinan, MacCormac Jamieson Pritchard, and Niall McLauglin.
Benson & Forsyth, De Matos Storey Ryan, Hodder Associates and Stanton Williams complete the list.
The £6 million competition will provide a 'gateway' for visitors arriving at Beamish, and is the first stage of a £40 million project which aims to make the centre a world-class attraction.
The museum, set over 121ha of countryside, is devoted to exhibiting all aspects of life in the North East during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
A total of 93 expressions of interest from practices from the UK, Europe, Canada, Israel, the USA and Japan were received in the international RIBA competition.
The visitor centre will be funded by the County Durham Economic Partnership.