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Bringing Japanese History to Life: Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

Bringing Japanese History to Life: Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

Date published: 24 August 2019

The architecture of Japan is one of the things that sets the country apart from others. It's very distinctive and immediately recognizable and something whose charm beckons out to many tourists.

While in cities like Tokyo, where landscapes change continuously as older buildings give way to new and modern ones, there are areas where you can take a look at various kinds of architectural gems.

One such place is the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum in Koganei-shi, just about 45 minutes outside the center of Tokyo, which is home to a collection of 30 structures from different periods of Tokyo’s history. Join us as we do a deep dive into this treasure of Tokyo!

About the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum

About the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is located in Koganei – just 40 minutes from Shinjuku, Tokyo. The museum, which opened in 1993, is a collection of relocated original buildings that date as far back as the mid-Edo Period (1603-1868). Several have undergone restoration in more recent years. The 30 buildings, which are spread out over around 7 hectares, are organized into three zones: West Zone, Center Zone, and East Zone.

As the museum's name suggests, the structures sit in an extensive site, making almost for a nice and quiet village.

Here you'll see several notable homes, a mausoleum, shops, a sake bar, and more.

What's more is that you will be able to step into the buildings, and you will be able to see and explore every corner of the houses and warehouses.

West Zone: Notable Buildings

West Zone: Notable Buildings
Residence of Hachirouemon Mitsui – 1952. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

a. Residence of Hachirouemon Mitsui – A look into outstanding Japanese Architecture

Heading west from the entrance, you will be walking on the Cherry Blossom Viewing Trail. Of course, this area of the site is particularly gorgeous in spring with the blooming of the lush pink sakura flowers. Regardless of the season, though, this is also where you'll find one of the most majestic buildings in the museum.

The Residence of Hachirouemon Mitsui is a substantial estate, part of which was built in 1874 and part of which was added in 1952. The property was restored in 1996 to revitalize the splendor of this typical Japanese-style house.

The house belonged to the head of the main family of the 11 Mitsui families, a large business conglomerate (zaibatsu). It was built to replace the previous one built in 1906 that was destroyed during WWII. The residence is a masterpiece of wood and concrete architecture, and the interior is in itself like visiting a museum. Within the house, you'll find a Buddhist altar, ceiling murals, as well as decorations made of silk (through a craft called sensai).

Particularly beautiful is the reception room, but you'll find that almost every room of the house has a unique beauty.
The garden of the property, which you can admire from the house itself or by walking through it, is rich with plants and trees, spacious and calm, and a true must-see for those who are especially fond of Japanese-style buildings and gardening.

House of Okawa in Den'enchofu. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

b. House of Okawa in Den'enchofu – A touch of West in the East
As you walk west on Yamanote Street, you'll find the House of Okawa in Den'enchofu.

This is one of the first examples of balloon frame construction in Japan, built in 1925 and restored and relocated in 1995.

The Taisho period started seeing the introduction of isu-za (sitting rooms with chairs) as the image of an ideal lifestyle, which created an alternative to traditional Japanese sitting areas, which were usually arranged on bare wood or tatami-covered floors.

House of Georg de Lalande. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

c. House of Georg de Lalande
Also, on Yamanote Street, you'll pass a couple of other western-style houses. One of them was the House of Georg de Lalande, a German architect who worked in Tokyo for a long portion of his life.

Farmhouse of the Yoshino Family. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

d. Farmhouse of the Yoshino Family – From modern to ancient
The westernmost area of the museum is where you will find some of the oldest structures, including the Farmhouse of the Yoshino Family.

The house is larger than the others. While it was relocated and restored in 1963, it still presents some original beams and wooden structures, as well as a beautiful irori area. The irori is a typical indoor Japanese fireplace, located in the middle of a living room/dining area, which was used for cooking, heat the house, but it also had the added function of preserving the house's thatched roof with its smoke.

The museum also offers guided tours in Japanese and English (if booked in advance), during which you'll be able to sit around the irori and learn more about the ways people lived in older times.

Central Zone: Notable Buildings

Central Zone: Notable Buildings
Jisho-in Mausoleum – 1652. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

a. Jisho-in Mausoleum
One of the first structures you'll notice as you enter the center zone is the Jisho-in Mausoleum (Otama-ya). This is a small mausoleum that was erected in 1652 in the site of Jisho-ji temple, located in the area which is now Shinjuku Ward by Princess Chiyo, who married the Owari Lord Mitsutomo Tokugawa.

The small temple was built to mourn Princess Chiyo's mother, who was a concubine of the third Shogun, Iemitsu Tokugawa.

Jisho-in Mausoleum has been designated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as a Tangible Cultural Property. The mausoleum is one of the very few structures you won't be able to enter, but you will be able to see it in its entirety, even from outside.

From here, if you choose to proceed north, you'll enter into a small forest which definitely makes for a nice walk, especially when the weather is nice, and you'll also find there a small stone garden hidden in the green.
But if you're not in the mood for that yet, there's much more to see.

House of Korekiyo Takahashi – 1902. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

b. House of Korekiyo Takahashi – Century-old luxury
Past the entrance and the mausoleum, due east, you'll find the House of Korekiyo Takahashi, a 1902 Japanese-style mansion originally located in the Tokyo neighborhood of Akasaka in which Takahashi, a politician of the 20th century, lived until his assassination in 1936 (as a result of the February 26 coup).

The house has simple décor, creating an extensive space. Its large windows face a beautiful garden, definitely worth taking a stroll in, on a nice sunny day. Walking towards the east wing of the museum, you will notice that private residences start giving way to shops of all kinds, giving you a great insight on commerce, products, and lifestyle or several periods in Japan.

Gate of the Date Family Residence. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

c. Gate of the Date Family Residence – Greatness is in the details
This structure was the front gate of the mansion built in Tokyo at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The house (and the gate) were built by the Date family to reproduce the style of mansion that feudal lords used to have during the Edo Period. The gate even has a guardhouse.

The gate is a masterpiece of architecture with a powerful and sturdy look. The whole gate is made of Japanese Zelkova, a prestigious kind of wood from a tree usually used as a decoration or bonsai. Among all the details decorating the gate, you'll find the Date family crest carved into the wooden posts by the entrance if you look for it.

East Zone: Notable Buildings

East Zone: Notable Buildings
The old shops street (Kawano Shoten). Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

a. The old shops street (Kawano Shoten)
As you start walking on Shitamachi-naka Street, in the East Zone, you'll be greeted by many beautiful stores that impart the majestic sense of the time they were originally constructed.

You’ll find a paper umbrellas store, as well as flower shops, stationery stores, tailor, food, liquor stores, and more.

Stationery Store “Takei Sanshodo” and “Hanaichi” Flower Shop (1927). Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

The stores can be entered, and they still have exposed the goods that they used to trade and sell, looking exactly like they used to, in their time. Walking down this path and visiting these stores truly feels like stepping into a time machine.

“Yamotoya Store” Grocery Store (1928). Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

The “Yamatoya Store” Grocery Store is a good place to spend some extra time. This is a three-story building originally located in Minato Ward, Tokyo. The store sold several goods, but specialized in selling dried seaweed (nori) and green tea. Indoors, the store has a homely and traditional feel, and it's also beautiful to look at.

Public Bathhouse, “Kodakara-yu”. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

b. Public Bathhouse, “Kodakara-yu” – Where comfort and art used to meet
These are only a few examples of period-stores that you'll be able to visit, seeing up-close the merchandise from the Meiji to the Showa periods, as you make your way towards the end of the road, which culminates with the Public Bathhouse Kodakara-yu.

This bathhouse is a great example of a sento (public bathhouses are very common and popular to this day in Japan). While the bathhouse is not functional, it still contains some items used since its erection in 1929. The interior of the building was also perfectly restored in 1993, allowing visitors to marvel at the details of the décor and the murals decorating the walls.

Bar “Kagiya”. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

c. Bar “Kagiya” – A meeting place with a 100 years history
Right by the bathhouse is the fascinating Bar “Kagiya.” Built in 1856, the store started operating as a sake-selling business and only later opened as a bar. The owner, fully took advantage of the great location in which the bar was located (by Uguisudani Station) and created a beautiful and relaxing environment in his bar, making this place extremely popular and able to continue operating well into the 1950s.

Not only buildings!

Not only buildings!
Imperial Palace’s Cannon for signaling noon – Meiji Period. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

a. Cannon for signaling noon
As you enter the museum, you'll first be able to look at what is currently on display in the Exhibition room. This smaller area of the museum boasts temporary exhibitions.

As you proceed past the exhibition and step out within the open-air museum, you'll be greeted by a large seating area overlooked by a small Japanese-style stone garden and “guarded” by a 150-year-old cannon.

The cannon used to signal Noon, replacing a bell that used to be rung from the Edo Castle. It was originally in the Imperial Palace, in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo, and it operated from 1871 to 1929.

Left: Police Box at Manseibashi Bridge. Right: City Train Model 7500. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

b. Police Box at Manseibashi Bridge and City Train Model 7500
Right by the shops' area, don't miss the Police Box at Manseibashi Bridge, a Meiji Period police station that was moved to the museum from its original location in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward—right near Akihabara.

You'll also find a train in the same area, the City Train Model 7500. Like the Manseibashi Bridge police box, this train is also perfectly preserved in its original state, and it's one of the last examples of streetcars that used to roam the streets of Tokyo until they started disappearing in 1963.

Not only the museum: A perfect place to visit in any season!

Not only the museum: A perfect place to visit in any season!
Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum makes for a perfect day in itself. Still, it's worth noting that aside from the beautiful gardens within the museum grounds, there's a whole gorgeous park surrounding it.

The museum is, in fact, located within Koganei Park. Koganei Park has large open areas for picnics, and days basking in the sun, but it's also one of the most beautiful (and not very crowded) places to enjoy your hanami (cherry blossom viewing) in spring.

The park turns all shades of red as its many momiji (Japanese maple trees) start changing colors in fall.

You can visit the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum all year round, but the experience will always be different, as the park changes face and colors.

Spring
During this season, the museum grounds become rich in cherry flower trees. You can enjoy a different variety on the cherry blossom viewing trail by the Residence of Hachirouemon Mitsui, as well as on Yamanote Street, and by the Police Box at the Manseibashi Bridge.
On top of that, spring also sees the blossoming of a number of other colorful flowers all around the museum, in the forest area, and the houses' gardens.

Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

Summer
Beautiful red Amaryllis paint the Grass Field Zone of the museum red, while in mid-august, by the Ueno Fire Department Watch Tower Upper Section, you'll see a bunch of tall, white Lilies popping out.

Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

Autumn
This is when almost all the residences' gardens will start showing the red of the Japanese maple trees changing into their characteristic red hue.

Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

Winter
In winter, the park becomes quieter and more relaxing. While you can't expect trees, or flowers blooming during the coldest months, if you visit in late February, you'll be able to enjoy the beautiful plum trees blooming.

Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum Access and other information

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is located in the western part of Koganei Park, Koganei City, 25 minutes west of Tokyo's Shinjuku Station by train.
From Shinjuku, take either the JR Chuo Line to Musashi-Koganei Station, or the Seibu Shinjuku Line to Hana-Koganei Station. The park is a 5-10-minute ride or 15-30 minute walk from either station.

The museum has plenty of maps and brochures in English. The buildings also have descriptions in English, and what's more, a number of volunteers and guide staff in the structures themselves speak English.

If you'd like to have a guided tour, you'll need to book (only by phone) it at least 15 days in advance (although the earlier, the better), and make sure that at least one of the English-speaking volunteers is available for the dates you'll be there. (Note that a guide cannot be guaranteed to be available for your preferred date.)

Access:
Musashi-Koganei Station (Chuo Line). Easiest access to the museum from JR Musashi-koganei Station is by Seibu bus #21

Hours:
April-September: 09:30am - 05:30pm
October-March: 09:30am - 04:30pm
* Admission is allowed until 30 minutes before closing time.

Closed: Every Monday (When Monday is a national holiday, closed on the following day.); New Year’s holidays

Admission fees: Adults 400 yen (groups of 20 or more 320 yen per person); 65y/o or older 200 yen

Written by:

Lucio Maurizi

Lucio Maurizi

Lucio Maurizi is an Italian writer, photographer, and streamer. He spent 10 years in the United States and currently lives in Japan, focusing on creating articles and channels dedicated to the Land of the Rising Sun. He loves any form of storytelling, natto, and wasabi, and is desperately trying to make time to work on his novel. On Instagram @that_italian_guy_in_japan.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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