For the culturally jolted and geographically confused, an hour spent in the Edo-Tokyo Museum shouldn’t be an hour wasted. With the help of intricate scale models and life-size reconstructions, the museum shows how Edo, a small 15th century fishing village, came to be the huge Tokyo metropolis of today. Japanese culture is explained, lifestyle and influences are examined and there’s a look at the growth of commerce and industry.
Unlike many museums in Tokyo, the Edo-Tokyo museum is well prepared for international visitors. Exhibits are fully labeled in English, leaflets and headphone sets are available from the ticket office and from the Volunteer Counter on the first floor, you can even arrange, free of charge, your own personal, English speaking guide!
The permanent exhibition is housed on the fifth and sixth floors. The floors are divided into zones. The Edo Zone focuses on the 15th to mid 19th century, while the Tokyo Zone looks at the mid 19th century onwards. Edo Castle has been reconstructed, together with the city’s Nihonbashi Bridge area and some typical houses.
“Moral Education for Women” is a title you’ll find amongst the many schoolbooks on display. Quite right too. But then in good Tokyo-style, just around the corner, is a large and somewhat enlightening exhibition devoted to Edo’s pleasure quarters. The exhibits are truly striking, but tastefully done of course.
Staying in the Edo Zone and the life-size reconstruction of the Kabuki Theatre is particularly beautiful. Also look out for the miniature working model of a Kabuki theatre demonstrating the hidden secrets of the stage. Various industries are also examined – advertising and publishing, importing and exporting and travel and tourism, to name but a few.
Into the Tokyo Zone and western influences begin to creep in. Have a look at the model of “Itcho Rondon”, or in English, “London Town”. Built in 1890 by the Mitsubishi Company, the offices were designed to look like those of Lombard Street in London.
A disaster zone! 1923 was the year of the Great Kanto Earthquake and during the raids of World War II the greater part of Tokyo was flattened yet again. Items recovered from both these events are on show.
Post war Japan, and hi-tech Tokyo emerges. The exhibits include early television sets, washing machines and hoovers and a modern house, with “western style furniture”! Moving on, and memorabilia commemorates the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Finally, a video display brings you bang up to date with a rather emotive look at city life around the world today.
Perhaps a modern day exhibit in it’s own right, as you leave the museum don’t forget to have a look at the building itself. Finished in 1993, the futuristic sci-fi design was inspired by an old warehouse. At its highest point the building reaches 62.2 meters, the same height as the ancient castle of Edo.
Open: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
10:00am – 8:00 pm Thursday, Friday.
Closed: Mondays (except on National Holidays)
Tuesdays, if the day before was a National Holiday.
December 28 – January 3 (inclusive)
Adults: 600 yen.
Children: 300 yen.
Earphone guides: 1000 yen refundable deposit.
How to get there
Take the JR Sobu Line (local train) to Ryogoku Station. From the west exit of the station follow the signs. It’s about a 3 minute walk.
Suggested amount of time needed
2 – 2 ½ hours.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum Homepage
Other places of interest nearby
Ryogoku Sumo Stadium and the Sumo Museum
The Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum
Featured image in this article by Jessica, CC 2.0