If you are a history buff and into Japanese history, especially the Edo (the old name for Tokyo) period, then you might want to visit the Fukagawa Edo Museum in Koto ward. It’s a good museum, but in all honesty, I can’t say it’s a great one. On the internet, I’ve seen mostly rave reviews for this place, but as for me, I’m a little bemused as to why. I mean, overall, the museum has some great displays, but it also has some flaws.
The king of Tokyo museums would have to be the Edo-Tokyo which is not too far away in Ryogoku. It is huge and is concerned with every aspect of Tokyo’s history, going all the way back in time to when the city was known as Edo, so it covers the entirety of the city’s history. The Fukagawa-Edo is very different. Comparatively it is tiny, and is only concerned about one small village that was located next to a canal near the Sumida river around 1840. That is it. Every building and object there is only concerned with that place and that time
At first glance, it is pretty good. On one side of the building, the permanent exhibit area has a partial canal with the village next to it. The set is complete with a boat, a watchtower for fires, alleys, various businesses and houses that all contain common implements from that time period. You’ll even find an animatronic cat purring out you from a rooftop! Considering all the exhibits are inside, it is quite well done. It is all very authentic. If you have been to the Shitamachi Museum in Ueno, it’s a slightly similar thing, but larger in scale and about an older time. The other side of the building has the special display area, more like a traditional museum, everything behind glass and its exhibits will change occasionally.
One thing there, that most people will enjoy, is the accelerated twenty-four hour time-period the display goes through, thanks to lighting and sound effects. When you walk in it might be daytime with the shutters on the ceiling open, letting light in, then when night comes, the shutters close and it becomes quite dark. The moon might even appear, and there are rainstorms too!
The exhibits lack nothing. In one of the shops you’ll find all sorts of vegetables on display, in another place you’ll find grains and yet in another you’ll find a stall selling tempura. So, what is wrong with it I hear you ask.
Every museum I’ve ever been to has some type of signage that you can read to learn about the exhibits. Not at the Fukagawa Edo museum. There is nothing, not one thing. Everything looks great, but if you have never studied Japan’s Edo period, you’ll have no clue what some of the exhibits are about because there are no signboards or placards to read. Only the special exhibit area has signage, but it is all in Japanese so, if you have a question you’ll need to ask one of the guides. Some people might enjoy having a guide with them, but some people who might be like me, would prefer to walk around reading stuff at their own pace. Also, the guides’ English levels can vary greatly – some of them speak quite good English while others speak very little, which can make communication quite hard.
The other problem is for those with cameras. If you have a camera that handles lowlight situations well, then you’ll have no problems. However, if you have a middle of the road camera that doesn’t see like a cat in the dark, getting good pictures will be quite problematic because the museum can get very dark at times. Furthermore, I suspect the museum uses different types of lights all over the permanent exhibit area which will make for white balance problems.
The secret to enjoying the Fukagawa Edo museum is to get one of the guides to show you around, else you’ll just be walking around not knowing what you’ll be looking at. If you need something to do after, Kiyosumi Gardens is nearby. Kiyosumi is my favourite park in Tokyo and is only a short walk from the museum. It would be very easy to do both on the same day.
If you would like to see the Fukagawa Edo Museum’s website, please click here
How to get to the Fukagawa Edo Museum
The museum is about a five minute walk from Kiyosumi-Shirakawa subway station which is served by the Hanzomon and Toei Oedo lines. Here is a Google map to help you:
Closed every 2nd and 4th Monday, but open if a public holiday. The museum is also closed over the New Year’s period, December 29 to January 3.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy:
Hama-Rikyu Gardens – a lot of history in this park
Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum – see how the Japanese used to live
Jindaiji Botanical Gardens – one of the best rose gardens in Tokyo
Musashi Imperial Graveyard – the resting place of two Japanese emperors
Tower Hall Funabori – a small observatory but an interesting one