Tuesday, January 16, 2007

2. Museum Review: The Shitamachi Museum (Ueno)

The Shitamachi Museum is a small, two story museum located on the edge of Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park. 2-1, Uenokoen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007
Phone: 03-3823-7451/7461 Fax: 03-3823-3870

Hours of Operation: 9:30a.m. - 4:30p.m.
Closed: Monday (open if it is a holiday, and closed the next day), Dec. 29 - Jan. 3
*Temporarily closed in Feb. and Oct. for rearrangement of exhibits.

Admission: Adults 300 yen (200 if in a group of 20 or more)
Primary - High School Students 100 yen (50 yen if in a group of 20 or more)

'Shitamachi' translates to 'downtown', but the true meaning is an area where modernization came more slowly, where more traditional lifestyles can still be seen. Taito-ku is Tokyo's 'Shitamachi'. Influences from the Meiji and Taisho periods, even some from the late Edo era, are still evident here.

The first floor of the museum re-creates scenes from the Taisho Period. There is a life-sized geta merchant's home and a tenement house shared by two families (a sweet shop owner and a coppersmith). Guests are welcome to take off their shoes, enter the exhibits, and step back in time.

The second floor is divided into sections, with changing exhibits related to 'Shitamachi' Culture. These exhibits include a public bath entrance donated by a former bath owner living in Taito-ku, and a collection of traditional toys that children can play with.

If you are visiting the Ueno area, I would recommend that you spend a short time in this museum. The staff of retired volunteers? were extremely friendly and some of them spoke excellent English. During the time that I was in the museum, a lady staff member was explaining the second floor exhibits (in English) to two foreigners. Around the corner another woman was helping 2 foreign children with some of the toys. Downstairs were two very friendly gentlemen who gave me an origami 'gift' on my way out.

In addition to the staff, there are papers giving an English explanation of the exhibits as well.
The papers I picked up explained the 'Nagaya' or tenement house, the 'Dagashiya' or Cheap Sweets Shop, the 'Dokoya' or Coppersmith's workshop, 'Inari' - a type of shrine, and 'Omikuji' - fortune telling oracle papers.

Taito-ku (and neighboring Bunkyo-ku) are great areas of Tokyo for wandering. The Tokyo of yesterday still exists here, down side alleys and backstreets. The Shitamachi Museum is a good way to gain some knowledge about what to look for in your explorations. Most of all, it is extremely foreigner (and child) friendly.

*Free entry with Grutt Pass 2007, #8 (see later blog for explanation).

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