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.
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.
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.
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?