Spotlight: Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum (Tokyo)

The Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo’s workaday Ryogoku neighborhood is one of the best museums in the city and always rates highly on my list of recommended sites. But a lesser known – and equally fascinating – offshoot of this museum lies out the Chuo line in Western Tokyo.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum (or Edo-Tokyo Tatemono-en) sits in the family-friendly park of Koganei, a short bus ride from the Musashi Koganei station. While its name might make it sounds a bit boring, I actually spent a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes here, checking out the entire site. This branch of the museum is dedicated to old buildings from the Meiji, Taisho and Showa Periods and many of Tokyo’s oldest structures were moved here – either intact or in pieces and then reconstructed – in an effort to preserve them.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

The museum grounds are divided into three sections. I began in the West Zone contains, where early 20th century homes – those buildings that were influenced by Western architects just breaking free of the Victorian age – stand side by side with late Edo-area (think 1850s and 1860s) farmhouses. It was actually eye-opening to realize that some of those farmhouses came from a few stops east on the Chuo line, in neighborhoods that have been thoroughly swallowed up by the Tokyo sprawl.

The West Zone's newest restoration
The West Zone’s newest restoration

The Central Zone was an eclectic mix – there was a small mausoleum from the Tokugawa family, a tiny teahouse tucked into a corner, a silk baron’s villa and the beautifully-constructed home of politician and former prime minister Koreikiyo Takahashi. Sadly, it was in that very property that Takahashi was assassinated in a coup d’état in 1936, though no traces of that brutal event remain in the house today. Instead, views from the upstairs frosted-glass windows open onto a tranquil garden of maple trees.

Frosted glass in the former Takahashi residence
Frosted glass in the former Takahashi residence

The Eastern Zone is perhaps the most “fun”, as it basically recreates a townscape. From the exquisitely tiled bathhouse at the head of the street, visitors can stroll through a soy sauce shop, an old bar, a tailor’s shop and flower shop, among others. It was in this section that I overheard the most utterances of “natsukashii”, a word that literally means “nostalgic” and that so many Japanese say when something reminds them of “the old days”.

The streetscape of the East Zone
The streetscape of the East Zone

It might take some time and effort to get to the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum but you could spend an enjoyable 1.5-2 hours here, wandering in and out of the houses and enjoying a stroll around the adjoining park. If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten tourist track in Tokyo, this site definitely fits the bill.

For more information, visit the museum’s English website.

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