Diego’s day at the Fukagawa Edo Museum

A note to the readership:  I’ve started publishing all of my new travel-related posts in a separate blog, Within Striking Distance. You’re more than welcome to drop by over there and see where I’ve been jetting off to lately. (^_^)

Step back in time and relive the Edo period in one of Tokyo’s best history museums.

Today the spotlight falls on the Fukagawa Edo Museum.

Getting to the neighbourhood is simple. Finding the museum itself isn’t quite so easy.

Catch a subway train and head for Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station (shared by the Tokyo Metro Hanzōmon Line and the Toei Ōedo Line). Walk out of exit A3 and turn left, then keep going until the next traffic light – or until you see a pair of tower-shaped lamp-posts flanking the entrance to a side street on your left. Turn left into this street and keep going, past nondescript shops and buildings and a temple entrance, until you reach a rather drab-looking structure housing some government offices – which, incidentally, should be standing on your left. (Pretty much left, left, left all the way.) Simple, yes?

I didn’t find it so simple last autumn, and at one point thought I’d gotten myself completely lost (even though I was on precisely the right track). For such a great little place, it’s not particularly well signposted, and the back-street location doesn’t help things very much. (Don’t trust my directions with your life; take a guidebook or ask the locals just to be on the safe side.) Here’s a map to get you started:

All the same, the hard part’s behind us – now for the reward.

300 yen for an adult ticket (unless they’ve raised prices since November) gets us through the entrance: a time portal, if you’ll permit just a touch of drama, that takes us from 21st-century Tokyo to 19th-century Edo. The first sight that greets us as we step across the threshold is a sea of tiled rooftops, and . . . I say, what’s that on the roof over there?

Down the stairs and into the main street, we find ourselves standing in a neighbourhood very different from the steel-and-concrete jungle we’ve just left behind.

This is the museum’s main exhibit: a life-sized recreation of part of Edo’s Fukagawa-Saga area as it looked during the Tenpō Period (1830-1844). There is almost a full neighbourhood’s worth of buildings here, from shops . . .

. . . to warehouses . . .

. . . to private homes. Each house contains a large collection of artefacts, clothing and furnishings appropriate to the trade of the person living there, whether it be a boatman or a shamisen teacher.

There’s even a little public area complete with Inari shrine, toilets, and the local rubbish dump.

Many of the recreated buildings can be entered – shoes off, as with any Japanese house – allowing visitors to come into close contact with the artefacts on display and thoroughly immerse themselves in the daily lives of ordinary folk in Edo-period Japan.

One of the buildings even has its own privy (not for actual use, of course).

Head over to the riverbank and glance at the moored boat, on real water . . .

. . . then wander around the food stalls (no real food to purchase here, though) clustered at the foot of the neighbourhood’s fire watchtower.

Adding to the experience are light-and-sound effects that create the illusion of an entire day passing from sunrise to sundown in a matter of minutes. (This is why some of these photographs look like daytime scenes, whilst others look as if they were snapped at night.)

There are no fixed routes, no actors in costume. You’ve got the entire “city” to yourself (and to your fellow visitors). When you’re standing alone in one of the narrow alleyways, the sun long gone and the entire scene bathed in moonlight, with the sounds of nighttime Edo floating through the air – well, the effect can be eerily authentic. (Just be a good sport and don’t look up at the ceiling with its array of spotlights.)

For opening hours and other information, check out this website.

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