The Shitamachi museum in Ueno is a small place that many people probably just walk by and not even notice. I mean, from the outside, the building looks rather plain. However, it is very well-worth visiting. The museum's theme, of course, is Tokyo's famous Shitamachi area that has played a starring role in the city’s history. Step inside and see what it used to be like.
I like the museum, as it has a great retro vibe. Upon entering, you feel a wave of nostalgia wash over you, like walking through an old movie set. Nothing flashy, no computer screens or iPhones, is in this museum. It is all about the daily life of people who lived in the Shitamachi. The rickshaw, pots and pans, a workshop with all the tools and implements. How those people lived, worked and played on a daily basis, is all there.
The museum has recreated three buildings for visitors: a dagashi-ya (the neighbourhood candy store), a merchant's shop and a coppersmith, all with living quarters attached like in the old days (so you’ll need to take off your shoes if you want to go inside). There is even a small shrine. My favourite would be the merchant's shop as it has a maneki neko (beckoning cat) there.
The second floor has the more traditional type of museum display area. When I visited it last, there were displays of Tokyo when it was still recovering from World War Two and getting ready for the 1964 Olympics. I've also seen exhibits from the war years, toys and life in Meiji Japan through to the Takarazuka all-female theatre troupe.
If you need an English-speaking guide, they are available, so if you want one enquire at the desk. They are free! The other nice thing about it is that traditional craftsmen come in occasionally for a day and give displays of their skill.
If you are a Tokyo lover, this place was meant for you. It is interesting and won't take up your whole day and, there is much else nearby such as Ueno park with its museums, the zoo and Ameya-Yokocho. You can see the Shitamachi Museum's website here.
How to get to the Shitamachi Museum
Only about a ten minute walk from JR Ueno station and about a five-minute walk from the Ueno subway station (Ginza line). To get to JR Ueno station use the Yamanote line and leave via the Shinobazu gate/exit. Here is a Google map: (7)
The museum is open from 9.30 am to 4.30 am daily - last admittance at 4 pm.
It is closed every Monday (but if it is a public holiday, the museum will be open and closed on the following day), and also closed during the New Year period (December 29 to January 1).
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Imperial Palace - you won't see the Emperor, but you will see where he lives
Inokashira Park - one of the most popular parks in the city
Shibamata Taishakuten - a cool temple, with its many wall carvings
The Railway Museum - an enormous museum about Japan's railway history