The Shitamachi museum in Ueno is a small place that many people might be tempted to skip, but I think it is worth going to even though a visit there might be a short one. The museum's theme, of course, is Tokyo's famous Shitamachi area that physically occupies a large part of the city and has played a starring role in its history.
I really like the museum, it's great with a good vibe inside. As soon as I enter it a feeling of nostalgia washes over me. It can be like walking through a period movie, maybe like a samurai movie just without the swords? There is nothing flashy, no computer screens or iPhones. It is the real thing - it's all about the daily life of people who lived in the Shitamachi. There is the rickshaw, the pots and the pans, the workshop with all the tools and implements. How people lived, worked and played on a daily basis, is all there. Just remember when you enter these buildings, to take off your shoes.
The museum has recreated three buildings for visitors: a dagashi-ya (the neighbourhood candy store), a merchant's shop and a coppersmith. They all have that all have their own living quarters attached. There is even a shrine (miniature though). All of them are setup as if you walked into them while they were still operating. Actually, I 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 display area. The last time I visited I saw displays about when Tokyo was just recovering from World War Two and getting ready for the 1964 Olympics. Different displays I've seen also include exhibits from the war years, toy from years gone by, life in Meiji Japan through to the Takarazuka all-female theatre troupe.
The Shitmachi museum also has English-speaking guides available, free of charge, so if you want one enquire at the desk. The other nice thing about it is that they sometimes have traditional craftsmen come in for a day and give a display of their skills.
If you are ever in the Ueno area, and with some spare time, this place was meant for you. It's filled with interesting stuff and won't take up your whole day and being in Ueno there is so much else nearby for you to do such as Ueno park with all 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 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. We have a Google map here to show you help:
The museum is open from 9.30am to 4.30am daily - last admittance at 4pm.
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).
Entrance to the museum is 300 yen.
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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