The Edo-Tokyo Museum

the spidey escalator
Entrance to the Edo-Tokyo Museum

The Edo-Tokyo Museum near Ryogoku Station in Tokyo, is a massive concrete hangar-like structure with a broad outdoor plaza designed for hundreds of school kids and senior citizen tour groups. The main exhibit is divided into two zones. One features the history of Edo, what Tokyo was called before the Meiji Era, and the other features how Edo became the Tokyo that we now know. The exhibit consist mostly of scale models of historical street scenes and buildings, dioramas of daily life, and lots of artifacts. Give yourself at least three hours to see the whole thing, four hours if you’re like me, ponderously reading the posted information and looking for interesting details. Among the details I learned was that low-level samurai had very simple lives. Their daily living things were often rough and utilitarian.

In the Edo Zone I found a particularly interesting corner devoted to the Korean diplomats who came when a new Japanese Shogun rose to power. The processional was described as a highlight of cultural exchange for the Japanese. This was a time for local scholars and technicians to visit the Koreans and get the latest in technology, philosophy, religion and statecraft, while the general populace regaled in the horsemanship of the guards. As for any other Korean references I found it odd that no displays were devoted to the Japanese occupation of Korea since there were lots of Tokyo-Seoul connections during this time. In contrast, there were displays on the occupation of Manchuria, as well as war with the Chinese and Russians.

korean processional
Korean processional

My favorite thing about the museum were the huge floor maps of Edo. It was fun to walk over the city and look for my neighborhood, Ebisu, only to find that it was farmland in the outskirts of the city.

edo map
Edo map

A Kawase Hasui exhibit was included in the regular ticket price and consisted of his works of ukioe prints. It was interesting when they put up current photographs of the same scenes he illustrated. Mostly it was poignant to see a beautiful scene worth portraying become a concrete eyesore. For those interested, there were good notes on the printmaking process.

Tensho-in Atusu-hime was thoroughly informative on a little known but critically important member of the Tokugawa clan. She helped to make a peaceful transition (for Edo anyway) to anti-Shogun forces. Otherwise, it was far too crowded to get a good viewing. The displays were text heavy and therefore uninteresting for the non-Japanese literate, and were packed in with readers even if you could read Japanese. Even if you could read it and secured a spot over the display, it was written in an ornate old style of writing that is difficult to read. Still, there were some special pieces, such as silk, brocade robes and exquisite paintings. But the galleries were packed with visitors who drawn to the exhibit because they had watched the TV show of the princess. In short, while the subject matter was fascinating, the exhibit wasn’t worth the 900 yen admission fee.

The main exhibit of Edo and Tokyo, however, was well worth the 600 yen admission, free with the Grutt pass.