A great museum, but one I don’t get to too often, is the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. It is located less than an hour from Shinjuku and it gives you a nice look into several periods of not only Japanese architectural history, but Japanese daily life. There are so many different buildings there - from an elevated granary in Okinawa through to buildings built in the Tokugawa period and used up until quite recently. If you are into architecture and buildings, this is the place for you.
Every house at this museum is real. None of the buildings here are replicas. Real people either lived or worked in that at some point in the past. Some of them are even connected with important events in Japanese history. For example, there is the house of Korekiyo Takahashi who was an important government official during pre-war Japan. He was actually assassinated in it by soldiers during a coup attempt to topple the government of the time. Another fabulous building is the Jisho-in, a mausoleum for Lady Ofuri, one of Iemitsu Tokugawa’s concubines which was built in 1652. It is a beautiful building, looks like a shrine and is covered in brilliantly coloured wood carvings.
What else is there? A lot of cool stuff. Houses for the rich and the middle-class. There`s photo studio, a florist, a fire lookout post, a palace (you walked through it to enter the museum), a gate from a clan mansion, and of course a whole lot more. When you enter them you can get a real sense of what life was like in earlier times. You find old telephones, furniture, buddhist family altars, farm tools etc, many things that you would expect to see in a Japanese house.
Where did the buildings come from? The greater majority are from Tokyo, but you’ll find even one, the elevated granary, from as far away as Amai Oshima (an island between Okinawa and Kyushu). The interesting thing is that they were all disassembled, and in some cases stored for many years, before being finally brought to this museum. I think it would have been a huge logistical problem for whoever was in charge of transporting them, as they had to be broken down into pieces, then number all of the pieces and finally reassemble them. Huge Lego puzzles I guess.
Walking through the museum, you can gain some insights into Japanese architecture, how its buildings developed over the years and, in some cases, how they were influenced by overseas designers. Sakae Okawa’s house is a good example of this. It was built in 1925 after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 when many people left the inner city areas for the suburbs, as they were thought to be safer. This house displays the thinking of the time, more value was placed on spending time with the family rather than hosting guests. Quite a "western" influence I think.
There is also a shopping street. It looks like one of those found in the early Showa period (1926-1989). There is a big bath house, a traditional inn, a soba shop (that you can enter and eat at), a florist, a soy sauce shop and lots more. And the shopping street isn`t a typical old museum that you walk around and look at, there are people in them making things or playing games that might have been found in early twentieth century Japan. The street could easily be used as a movie set!
Every time I go there I learn something from the volunteer staff. On my last visit there I found out something very interesting. Some of the houses, with straw rooves, have fires going inside all year round. I thought this was just something to add to the atmosphere, but how wrong I was. One of the guides I was talking to told me that the fires are vitally important. The reason being is that if there is no heat the straw moisture will creep into them, making them to rot, which will necessitate repairs. The cost of replacement is ￥30,000,000 which is obviously prohibitive so it makes sense to keep those fires going, even in the middle of summer. Yes, and there is no mistake with that cost!
If you are into buildings, design, architecture etc, the Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum is a great place to see in Tokyo. And even if you aren’t interested in those things it is still very interesting, well worth a visit. Most stuff in the museum is fairly well explained in English as well, so there no need to worry about not being able to read Japanese. Lastly, just remember that as the houses are Japanese houses you’ll need to take off your shoes before entering them. You can see the museum’s website here.
Access to the Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum
There are several ways to get there. The easiest way to get there, in my opinion, via Musashi-Koganei station, which is on the Chou line (about a 20 minute ride from Shinjuku). When you get to Musashi-Koganei station go down the stairs and leave the station via the north exit.
You’ve got two choices here. One, is to use Kanto bus, from platform number four. Once on the bus it`s roughly five minutes to the museum. The stop you need to get off at is Edo-Tokyo Tatemono-en (in Japanese, "江戸東京たてもの園前"), and it is about a three minute walk from there.
The other is to use Seibu bus, which I always use. They have two buses services that go through, from platforms two and three. Get off either bus at Kogaeni-koen nishi-guchi (in Japanese, "小金井公園西口") and it is about a five minute walk to the museum. There is an announcement in English on this bus when the stop is approaching, which is handy for non-Japanese speakers.
Please remember that in both cases the buses pass by the museum, they don`t terminate there. They keep going to their eventual destinations, so make sure you don’t miss the stop!
Alternatively, you could always walk there from the station, but that would take at least thirty minutes.
Between April and September the museum is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm.
From October to March the museum is open from 9:30am to 4:30am.
It closes every Monday, unless it is a national holiday then it will be closed the following day. Before you go just always make sure you check the museum’s calendar on its website to get the latest information.
The cost of admission is four hundred yen.
If you liked this article you might also enjoy:
Gotokuji - the temple where you can find Japan's maneki neko (beckoning cats)
Imperial Palace - home to Japan's Emperor
Kiyosumi Gardens – one of Tokyo’s famous Edo period parks
Yanaka cemetery – resting place of Japan’s last shogun
The Railway Museum – an amazing museum about Japan’s incredible rail history