The Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum is a little gem hiding in away in the outskirts of Tokyo. Actually, it is in the neighbouring Kanagawa prefecture, which is so close to Tokyo that it might as well be in Tokyo anyway! This museum is so cool that it needs to be on the bucket list for anyone with an interest in Japan, its history or architecture. Going there is like walking onto a samurai movie set. So many different buildings from ages past and all of them real!
It might be like a samurai movie, but these houses were in great need of preservation. And that was why the museum was opened in 1967, as a place to preserve rapidly disappearing Japanese traditional houses for future generations. Since then it has fulfilled this role admirably.
The museum has 25 buildings, including a water mill, boathouse, storehouse, and a Kabuki stage as well as a variety of traditional houses from Eastern Japan . Of those twenty-five, eighteen have been designated as important national, prefectural and cultural assets. As well as the buildings there are other related items and implements that were found in Japan in earlier times.
One of the great things about this museum is that it not only shows these old places, but it also explains why they developed like they did. You can learn about things like, gassho zukuri, which is a steeply sloped roof that prevents it from collapsing under the weight of snow. As you walk through the museum, you`ll see all of this clearly explained (in both Japanese and English) and learn all about the regional variations to houses.
And you have to remember that all the houses at the museum existed in different parts of Japan and were lived in by real people, taken apart, and then moved to where they stand today. So these houses weren't constructed for visitors, they were the real thing.
So in some of the buildings you`ll see people (real people) sitting around enjoying their lunch with a hot cup of tea while doing some crafts, though not dressed in traditional clothing. You are quite welcome to sit down and join them. It is a really interesting place. Just make sure to pop into the main exhibition hall behind the reception to get a quick introduction to the basics of traditional Japanese house construction.
Walking around the whole place, will probably take at least three hours. And the Folk Museum has some special exhibits throughout the year too, one of which is the kabuki stage which hosts a play every year (limited to 400 people). There are other events as well so look at the museum`s homepage for further information.
There are two things which I need to comment about with this museum. One is that it is is quite hilly. Some of the hills are a little sleep with only dirt paths leading up them, so going there on a rainy day might involve some slipping and sliding if you aren't careful. The other thing is that most of the buildings are fairly empty inside. You will see some farm implements, tools and daily household items, but not a lot.
The Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum is a great place to visit. It has a lot to see and do. For anyone with an interest in Japan and its history, it should be on their "must visit" list. And very lastly, if you want to see want to see more Japanese houses you could also try the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Koganei city.
How do you get to the Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum?
The Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum is located near Mukougaoka-Yuen station, Kanagawa prefecture (right next to Tokyo). Mukougaoka-Yuen is on the Odakyu line. From Shinjuku it takes a little over twenty minutes and costs 240 yen. From the station leave via the south exit. It takes about fifteen minutes to walk to the museum. Here is a Google map to help you:
Opening times for the museum vary. From March to October it is open from 9:30 to 5pm (with last admittance at 4:30). From November to February it is open from 9:30am to 4:30pm (with last admittance at 4pm). It is closed on Mondays, but open on public holidays. For the New Year period, it is closed from December 29 to January 3.
General admission for adults is 500 yen.
If you enjoyed this article you could also have a look at:
Aoyama cemetery - a great place for photographers and Japanese history buffs
JGSDF Public Information Center - see some fantastic displays of Japan's modern military
Kyu-Shiba-rikyu Gardens - one of the smallest parks in Tokyo, but also one of the most beautiful
Musashi Imperial Graveyard - the resting place of two Japanese emperors and their wives
Seaside Top Observatory - an older observatory in Tokyo, but still has some interesting views