useums and Histiry


March 27 - May 10, 2010

Japanese flag

Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom

Not long after we arrived in Tokyo, Gerry was surfing the web and came across a page that described a Tokyo museum pass called the Grutto. It took us quite a while to figure out exactly what it offered, but in the end we plunked down the $20 each and bought one. It was a great idea. There were coupons for either free or discounted entry into a couple of hundred museums. We used only a dozen or so of the coupons, but still got our money's worth and passed it on to someone else as it was valid for 12 months.

Museum of Tokyo History

Perhaps the most successful of our Grutto museums, was the indoor Museum of Tokyo. A huge hangar-like place on the edge of the city has been converted into a museum of Tokyo through the centuries. They have constructed old streets, made dioramas on various themes, built a replica of an old wooden Japanese bridge, and so on. We spent a very full and very interesting day there. The museum is laid out chronologically, with Shogun-era Edo first, with examples of the finest Japanese art of that time. There are models of the city showing how the different districts changed over the years. There are also houses showing how typical bourgeois, craftsmen, and laborer families might have lived. And of course there is a shopping street with mock-ups of tea-shops and the like. We were interested to see their coverage of WWII. They didn't devote much space to it, but they did give a pretty factual presentation and mentioned that about 120,000 people died in the Tokyo air raids, more than those that died in the atomic bomb attacks in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. We were pleasantly surprised to read that after the war the Tokyo population was very despondent and unhappy with the occupation but that the people didn't realize then what benefits they would get from the occupation's economic liberalization and democratization policies. Perhaps the same will be said one day about Iraq and Aghanistan. Nothing was said about the atrocities committed by the Japanese in the Pacific region, of course. The war was followed by the Japanese post-war economic miracle with a good selection of early Japanese consumer goods. A great museum.

Tokyo Architectural Museum and Park

Another big hit for us, also courtesy of our Grutto Pass, was the outdoor architectural park, in a suburb an hour and a half from Shibuya. The park contains dozens of buildings moved from all over Japan and re-erected here to show how people from different walks of life lived in old Japan. The park is divided into about four main parts. One consists of farmhouses, another of European-influenced city homes, a third is of traditional Japanese houses and tea-houses in traditional garden settings, and the fourth is a village-like setting with a collection of shops and restaurants from the late 19th and early 20th century. As soon as Jan stepped into one of the farmhouses, she was convinced that she had visited it once before. She believes that she visited the prototype of the museum during her stay in Tokyo in 1986, on assignment for her old Hong Kong employer, RCP. At that time, there was only the one farmhouse, but she remembers it quite clearly and had her feelings confirmed when she read the history of the park. The farmhouse was the first building to be bought and transferred to the site. What a wonderful discovery.

Once again,we spent an entire day here. It was a warm spring day and we wandered around in the sunshine, walking through just about every building. Jan even got to demonstrate her skills on stilts. There was a play area for kids and they had a pair of old stilts that people were trying to use, with little success. Having learned how to walk on stilts as a young girl in Darlington, she got hold of them, mounted, and was away with no problem at all.

Tokyo Art Museums

On the edge of Ueno Park is a museum complex that we walked by many times before finally venturing inside. It was here in fact that we finally bought our Grutto Pass. The museum has a wonderful collection of Japanese art and crafts: scrolls, lacquerware, porcelain, and so on. We spent a very full day here, eating lunch at the very elegant but very un-Japanese restaurant. Things European are considered very chic in Japan and a friend told us that if a restaurant has a French-sounding name it is sure to be very expensive. Such was the case here.

We also visited the very modern art museum in ??? A huge glass-sided building with cavernous front lobby and tea-shop that is on top of a mushroom object planted in the middle of the lobby. We visited a temporary exhibition of the best art works submitted by amateurs. Since the theme of the museum is modern art, our least favorite period, we weren't disposed to like much. However, to our surprise, this collection was so eclectic and had so many different types of work, both representational and not, that we found lots to admire.

We visited the Bridgestone Museum of Art, for which our Grutto Pass gave us free entrance, just after a morning at the Kabuki Theater, just down the road on Ginza. If we had not had free tickets, we probably would not have spent the 800 yen on the Bridgestone Museum of Art. The collection is mostly of European impressionists, with a few ancient Greek and Roman pieces and a handful of modern Japanese artists. Very pleasant, but not really to our taste.

House and Garden Museums

We spent a very pleasant afternoon at the Teien Art Deco House Museum and Garden. The house was built for a royal prince and is a rather lovely example of an Art Deco house. The fixtures and fitting are mostly intact and there are even some pieces left from the original furniture. The house now functions as an art museum and the current exhibit was a bit of a surprise as it was by a Soviet artist, graphic artist, and photographer called Rodchenko. I got to practice a bit of Russian reading and so on the whole it was an OK exhibit. The house was the real star of course and we got to spend a very pleasant hour afterwards in the garden reading our books in the pale afternoon sun.

Gardens are always lovely in spring, and so one early spring day, we set off to visit the Tokyo botanical garden. Not very extensive, it was nonetheless very pleasant to wander along the manicured dirt paths, catching glimpses of ponds and birdlife and watching local residents watch us. There aren't too many foreign tourists who make it here.

January 23, 2011