Two Museums, One Story

There are more than 100 museums in Tokyo covering such diverse interests as stamps and sumo, bicycles and beer. With such a variety of choices, how does a visitor decide which museum to go to? On our day trip to Mt Fuji our guide Yoshi gave us an invaluable piece of advice. “If your time is limited, go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and the Tokyo National Museum. There you will find all you need to know about Tokyo.”

Edo was the historical name of Tokyo and the Edo Museum recounts the history of the city from 1603, the beginning of the Edo period, to the present. Outside, the building resembles the shape of an old storehouse in the Kurazukuri style, while inside a reconstruction of Nihonbashi, the old bridge into Edo, leads visitors to the exhibition hall of the museum.

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Full-size replicas of important buildings are placed side by side with scale models of the old city in a display where the smallest details of Japanese life are captured. Elaborate carvings, paintings and giant paper lanterns decorate the façade of the Nakamura-za Kabuki Theatre where musicians play traditional Japanese instruments. On the stage actors in lavish costumes and ornate props are ready for a performance of the kabuki play Sukeroku.

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The view changes from life-sized to miniature in the dioramas of street scenes in Edo. They are populated by dozens of tiny figures going about their daily lives: men take their day’s catch to the market while a washerwoman hangs out a yukata to dry. My favourite: the kimono-clad lady shading herself with a brilliant red parasol as she walks along the street.

While the Edo-Tokyo Museum tells of Tokyo’s architectural and social history, the Tokyo National Museum houses a vast collection of art works including 87 Japanese National Treasures.

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Archaeological and cultural pieces dating from antiquity through to the end of the Edo period are displayed on the first floor – allow a few hours to take in the delicately executed calligraphy on scrolls from the 16th century, exquisitely embroidered 17th century kimonos, and beautifully worked Samurai armour.

Yoshi was right – for an overview of the history and culture of Tokyo, a half day spent at each of these two museums is perfect. Now, how do I get to the Beer Museum?

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15 thoughts on “Two Museums, One Story

    • The Edo Museum takes about half a day. You could spend ages at the National Museum but it was recommended to us to just do the ten rooms on the first floor. They go in chronological order and it was just enough. We spent about three hours there. Both museums were really fantastic.

  1. We were only in Tokyo for 2 days so only had time for the Edo Museum… Thanks for taking us down memory lane with those photos. Actually, it was here that we met this gorgeous elderly Japanese man who wanted to practise his English. Then he raced off and bought us a little good luck cat charm from the souvenir place. It was on our first day in Japan and we knew we would love it there.

    The National Museum looks like somewhere we would like to go. Think a trip back to Japan is way overdue for us so we could visit all the other hundred museums 🙂

  2. I’m not traditionally a museum kinda gal, but on a trip to South East Asia recently, I visited a couple, it was a really fantastic way to get a snapshot of a town/cities history. Tell me… did you find the pub? I mean beer museum?

    • No we didn’t make it to the beer museum but when I go back with my husband it will be on our itinerary for sure!

      The Edo Museum was easily done in about three hours and we did just the one floor of the National Museum, which was just right. Too much museum and I start fading quickly.

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