Taking the Kids to Tokyo’s Edo Museum
The famous Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan is home to several major museums. Among these is the Edo Museum, a national icon for Japan and prized building in Tokyo. This museum is easy to spot while walking because of its unique elevated structure and shape modeled after an old storehouse in the Kurazukuri style.
Located at 1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida, the Museum focuses on Tokyo history during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. The venue opened in March of 1993 with the purpose of passing on the history and culture of Edo-Tokyo to future generations through interactive exhibitions and preservation of their collection of over 590,000 items. When visiting the museum, visitors can learn more about the 400-year history of the city; from the time Tokugawa Ieyasu, established his government in Edo to present day Tokyo.
The concept behind the Museum was that it would become a center for the creation of a new future for the city as well as a place to educate tourists. However, we discovered the best part about the venue is how it encourages interaction between the locals and visitors.
Travelers can get to the Museum by bus, taxi, train or walking depending on from where they are arriving. The most common mode of transportation is the subway. The subway in Tokyo is relatively easy to navigate so families should have no issues in figuring out how to get around. Visitors can either take the JR Sobu Line to Ryogoku Station and exit out of the West exit or take the Oedo Line to the Ryogoku Station and get off at the A4 exit.
The museum offers a permanent exhibition that showcases original objects and replicas dating back 400-years. The exhibit is interactive; featuring videos in multiple languages, performances, and activities for all ages. Furthermore, various dioramas and life-sized displays show the city of Edo through the different centuries. Several times a year the museum hosts special exhibitions on its first-floor. Furthermore, offers hands-on classes, traditional Edo Haku theater, and a traditional culture experience program for foreigners.
We enjoyed a private tour led by a museum volunteer docent. He took time explaining the different areas to us and answering all our questions.
We started by crossing a full sized replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge back to 1590. That year, Tokugawa Ieyasu entered the Kanto area and established Edo as his home base.
Ieyasu, who became the ruling shogun, worked diligently to turn Edo into a capital worthy of the shogunate. He commissioned moats, roads, temples, shrines, and permanent living quarters for the building of his army. Our sons admired the detailed scale model replicas of the chain district and the Edo Castle.
Next, we were off to checking out how the ordinary people lived in the 1600s. Most people lived in houses called “Na Gaya,” which resembled a tenement type of row of houses. We found it interesting that as early as the 1600s Japan already had an established printing and publishing industry to distribute information. We also learned about the economic patterns that emerged in Edo; from migrant workers seeking work to the transportation of goods from Japan’s various regions. It was at that time that the city’s main thoroughfares (still in use today) Shinagawa, Itabashi, Senju, and Naito Shinjuku stations were established. Furthermore, it surprised us to discover that though Japan was mostly closed to foreigners during its Edo period, it still maintained connections with the Netherlands, China, and Korea.
The museum charts the gradual decline of the Edo shogunate and rise of Meiji Restoration after Matthew Perry’s fleet arrival in Uraga.
The exhibit has several sections describing Japan’s transition from isolation to the westernized country we know today.
According to the displays, the city experienced two catastrophic events that shaped it for decades to come.
After the 1872 fire, the first of these events, they reconstructed the neighborhood Ginza as a westernized fireproof city.
The second was the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The quake that killed 70,000 people triggered a large-scale reconstruction project that transformed the city’s streetscape and helped develop Tokyo’s suburbs.
For us, as Americans, the sections of Tokyo during the war and post-war were most memorable.
Our sons learned what it was like for Tokyo’s citizens to not only survive the WW2 air raids but the severe shortages under the Allies occupation after the war. The last area of the exhibit traces the recovery of the city that by 1955 had built multiple cooperative housing complexes and had its citizens saving up for the “three sacred treasures” – black and white TV, washing machine, and refrigerator.
On a Personal Note
Our English speaking guide, Mr Iohiro Yamamoto, was a polite and eloquent man in his 80’s. He walked us through the exhibits, describing Japanese history throughout the ages as we looked at the beautiful dioramas.
When we finally reached the WWII section, our guide sat down and said he wanted to apologize.
When we asked why he said he felt the need to apologize to us as Americans for what his country did to ours over 70 years ago.
He proceeded to tell us he had witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki as a young boy but bears the U.S. no ill feelings.
We were brought to tears.
Needless to say, it was one of the most powerful moments in travel we have ever experienced as a family.
Autism Travel Tips:
- The museum does provide wheelchair accessibility. Those with wheelchairs will come in on the ground floor and take the elevator to the sixth-floor exhibition. If the wheelchair does not fit in the museum (Japan has smaller walkways than other countries), visitors can borrow one from the museum on the first or sixth floor.
- A downside of the museum’s design is that while a majority of displays are easy to see from a wheelchair, one cannot access the screens due to the small walkways.
- The museum does not provide raised guide blocks for the visually impaired.
- This museum takes anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours to walk. Even though the venue is air conditioned, parents need to prepare kids for extensive walking.
- Families can request a complimentary English speaking guide at short notice.
- .While some of the exhibits can be touched, most are untouchable. Parents should make sure their kids are mindful of what is ok to touch.
- It is best to visit later in the day because the museum often hosts school tours.