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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 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), with several having undergone restoration in more recent years. The 30 buildings, which are spread out over an area of around 7 hectares, are organized into three zones: West Zone, Center Zone, and East Zone.

As the name of the museum suggests, the structures sit in a very large site, making almost for a nice and quiet village.

Here you'll see a number of notable homes, as well as 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 very large 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 of plants and trees, spacious and calm, and a true must-see for those of you who are especially fond a 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 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 for a long portion of his life in Tokyo.

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 indoors Japanese fireplace, located in the middle of a living room/dining area, which was used to cook, heat up the house, but it also had the added function of preserving the thatched roof of the house with its smoke.

The museum also offers guided tours in Japanese and in 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 a simple décor, creating a very wide and breathing 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 guard house.

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, if you look for it, you'll find the Date family crest carved into the wooden posts by the entrance.

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 which impart the majestic sense of the time in which they were originally constructed.

You’ll find a paper umbrellas store, as well as flower shops, stationary 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 the sale of 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 very common and popular to this day in Japan). While the bathhouse is not functional, it still contains some items that were used since its erection in 1929. The interior of the building has also been perfectly restored in 1993, allowing visitors to marvel at the details of the décor and at 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 very interesting 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 1950's.

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 Mansei Bridge. Right: City Train Model 7500. Image courtesy of EDO-TOKYO OPEN AIR ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM.

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

In the same area you'll also find a train, the City Train Model 7500. Like the Mansei Bridge police box, this train is also perfectly preserved in its original state and it's one of the last examples of street cars 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, but 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 of 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 Mansei 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 in 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 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. From either station, the park is a 5-10-minute ride or 15-30 minute walk.

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 staffs 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 the date you prefer.)

Access:
Musashi-Koganei Station (Chuo Line). Easiest access to 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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