The Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum is one of those not so widely-known places hiding in away in the outskirts of Tokyo. Actually it isn't in Tokyo, but in the neighbouring Kanagawa prefecture, but so close to Tokyo that it really doesn't matter in my opinion. For anyone with an interest in Japan, Japanese history, house construction - it is a great place to go! This place is like walking into a samurai movie set. If you have ever seen a samurai movie, you`ll be right at home. For people like me, who have an interest in Japanese history and culture, it is a great place.
The museum was opened in 1967 as an antique outdoor museum that would preserve rapidly disappearing Japanese traditional houses for future generations. It has fulfilled this role admirably. Currently there are 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 materials that were found in Japan in earlier times.
The great thing 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 are the real thing.
It really is a cool place. Entering some of the houses is like going back in time. All of the old farming equipment, all the kitchen utensils, baths and toilets is there. 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. 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 it isn`t only about static exhibits. There are lot of special exhibits throughout the year. The museum even has a 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.
If there is one thing I found inconvenient about the museum, is that it is quite hilly. Some of the hills are a little sleep and are only trails, so going there on a rainy day might involve and slip and a slide if you aren't careful.
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.
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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
Omiya Hachiman - one of Tokyo's more local shrines