A trip back in time to the old Edo
Even though it seems hard to imagine in the jungle of congrete and steel of Tōkyō, it is not that long ago that the city’s average housing was on an almost village like skale – despite the fact that its population topped one million already in the 19th century. There are still some disctricts left that have preserved the charm of old days (e.g. Mukōjima, Shibamata), but hardly anywhere else is the access to traditional housing and shops so direct and close as here, at the Fukagawa Edo Museum (深川江戸資料館 / ふかがわえどしりょうかん) – this museum virtually forces you to physically get in touch with the past.
During the so-called “bubble economy” (can someone explain why nowaday’s economy is not labeled with “bubble”?), when Japan was virtually drowning in money, this museum was built (in 1986 – some foreign sources that obviously had problems calculation the Japanese year “Shōwa 61” into the western 1986 mention the year 1981 as the year of opening – and they all copied that mistake with painstaking accuracy) – hence, even some years before the megalomanian “Edo- Tōkyō Museum” (1993), that carries on the concept of the Fukagawa Edo Museum on a larger scale.
Compared with that, the museum in Fukagawa, in Tōkyō’s Kōtō district (江東区 / こうとうく), is rather small, but it offers a clarity and accessibility that is unsurpassed. Here you get in touch with a reconstructed version of the Saga quarter of Fukagawa in old Edo, as it looked like in the first half of the 19th century – free from the weather’s inconveniences. It’s not just “sightseeing” in a time long agone, it is actually “diving” into this time. If you walk the little streets of Saga here, you will feel like a time-traveler (no matter what the Vulcan High Council may think of time-travel….).
Let’s get down to details! The following buildings can be visited:
Vegetable Shop (八百屋 / やおや)
In the old days the daily supply of fresh vegetables was provided by this shop. The museum tries to put seasonal vegetables on display.
Rice Shop (米屋 / こめや)
Have a look at the sales room of a traditional rice grocer – not only the stock of rice needed for everyday’s customers was kept here, but also the brown, unpolished rice (玄米 / げんまい) was “converted” here into the shiny white rice by using the huge mortars (からうす) in the shop.
Warehouse for Rice (米屋土蔵 / こめやどぞう)
Du to the fact that the wooden houses of Japanese cities were particularly prone to fires, it was of paramount importance to create some fire resistant storage facilities for essential food and valuable items. Those warehouses (蔵 oder 倉 / くら) were, therefore, built from stone or protected by stone- or mortar-walls. The warehouse here was used by the rice grocer to store his main stock of rice in big bales of straw.
If you are interested in particularly gorgeous kinds of storage houses, have a look at Kawagoe, located in the northwest of Tōkyō.
There is also the facade of a business- and storage building ensemble of a Fertilizer Wholesaler (肥料問屋 / ひりょうとんや), who made his money with fertilizer made of dried sardines and lamp oil made of fish oil.
Boathouse (船宿 / ふなやど)
In this most hospitable facility the boatsman’s customers could meet at two taverna, the “Masuda-ya” (升田屋 / ますだや) and the slightly more gorgeous “Sagami-ya! (相模屋 / さがみや).
The boathouse is located directly at a canal landscape (掘割 / ほりわり) that has been created in a particularly “realistic” way. You’ll find the canal boat (猪牙船 / ちょきふね) that was also used as a kind of water tax. It’s a quite typical example for such a boat that was widely used in the waters around the Sumidagawa (隅田川 / すみだがわ). This shape of a boat’s body is still not uncommon today – one of the best examples is the “Yagiri no watashi” (矢切の渡し / やぎりのわたし) in Shibamata (柴又 / しばまた). And the popular party-house-boats, Yakata Bune (屋形船 / やかたぶね), still maintain this way of ship-building.
Row Houses (長屋 / ながや)
This small alley is formed by two row houses,
which consist of the following five apartments:
- The apartment of the sutler (棒手振 / ぼてふり) – you can find his “portable shop” (to be carried on the shoulders) in front of the fire watch tower.
- The apartment of the rice grocer’s shop assistant (米屋の職人 / こめやのしょくにん), where he lived with his wife and children.
- The apartment of the boatman (船頭 / せんどう).
- The apartment of the shamisen teacher (三味線師匠 / しゃみせんししょう), who was also giving lessons in reading and writing and made some extra money as a needlewoman, and finally
- The apartment of the woodcrafter (木挽職人 / こびきしょくにん) and his wife.
On the one hand one is amazed by the humble conditions these people used to live in. On the other hand, one also knows that many Japanese houses – especially in more rural areas – still don’t look that much different today. And have a closer look to the apartments on display here: It was obviously absolutely common to have one’s home protected by a small Shintō shrine in the living-/bedroom. Also the furnishings of the rooms give some hint as to the economic status of the people living there: Rooms with floors completely covered by tatami (畳 / たたみ) indicate a certain degree of prosperity. Straw mats put on the wooden flooring, on the other hand, are hinting at more humble surroundings.
Please also have a look at the little square between the house of the vegetable grocer and the row houses. Here you’ll finde the public toilets of the people living in the row houses as well as a garbage collection box and a small Shintō shrine.
Fire Watch Tower (火の見櫓 / ひのみやぐら)
No neighbourhood in the old Edo could do without a fire watch tower – after all, hardly any city had been devastated by fires as oftes as Edo. From its lofty eight of 10 metres all buildings of the neighbourhood could be surveyed.
In the small plaza between the fire watch tower and the warehouse there is a small tea booth (水茶屋 / みずちゃや) and a little takeaway (床店 / とこみせ), where one could have a snack of “soba” (蕎麦 / そば / buckwheat noodles) or deep-fried fish and vegetables (天ぷら / てんぷら).
The adjoining exhibition hall features pictures, paintings and city maps of the old Edo – unfortunately in Japanese only. However, never hesitate to ask one of the may museum guides who are always happy to help out with English explanations. Also when you walk through the little village, there will always be museum guides, more than willing to assist you!
How to get there:
Take the Toei Ōedo line (都営大江戸線 / とえいおおえどせん) or the Tōkyō Metro Hanzōmon line (東京メトロ半蔵門線 / とうきょうメトロはんぞうもんせん) to Kiyosumi Shirakawa (清澄白河 / きよすみしらかわ) and the exit A3 at this station. It’s about 3 minutes walk from there to the museum.
Main Exhibition: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (last entry: 4.30 pm)
Closed during the New Year holidays (open from January 2nd)
Closed on every second and forth Monday of the month (if it falls on a national holiday, the museum will be closed on the following day instead)
The museum may also be temporarily closed for equipment inspection or exhibition changes.
Adults (incl. senior high school students): 400 Yen
Children (incl. primary and junor high school students): 50 Yen
There are discounts for groups of 20 or more people and disabled persons (and an accompanying person).
Children may visit the museum only if accompanied by adults.
Also have a look at:
Edo-Tōkyō Open Air Architectural Museum (江戸東京たてもの園)
– Habitation, living and working on the way to modern times
Nihon Minkaen (日本民家園) (German only)
– 300 Jahre japanische Wohnkultur
At close quarters:
Fukagawa Fudōdō (深川不動堂)
– Where Ācala is protecting the wisdom of the Shingon School of Buddhism
Tomioka Hachimangū (富岡八幡宮)
– Deities’ palanquins and Sumō wrestlers
Kiyosumi Teien (清澄庭園)
– The rather unknown one among the feudal gardens