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Edo, which is now Tokyo, has gone through dramatic changes since Japan’s political center was moved here in 1603.

At the Edo-Tokyo Museum, in the heart of Tokyo, visitors can learn about the city’s growth through the years and about the cultures that evolved as old Edo became modern Tokyo. Tokyo was called Edo until 1868.

The museum is not just about gazing at old paintings and pottery. It’s also about looking into the everyday lives of the people who have lived there and experiencing those lives.

The museum takes visitors back in time. When you first walk into the sixth floor of the museum, where the exhibits begin, visitors must cross a replica of Nihonbashi, a bridge built in 1603. It was the starting point of five highways, connecting Edo with the rest of Japan.

Big attractions are the miniature models depicting the lives of those that lived here, from a luxurious residence of a feudal lord to an entertainment area with hundreds of tiny figures carrying out their daily routines. And the museum provides binoculars so visitors can take a close look at the details of the delicate art work on the buildings and the expressions of the people working, eating, drinking and riding in boats.

Hands-on exhibits throughout the museum also are popular. A crowd was huddled around a 33-pound sign used by firefighters in the 18th century to show others which group of firefighters were putting out the fire. Others sat in palanquins — compartments on poles and carried by bearers — to experience the way feudal lords and their families traveled. Others stood in a replica of the first telephone box, which was erected in 1900.

The museum takes visitors through historic periods from 1600 to 1964 — from the time of shoguns to the Tokyo Olympics. Visitors see how Tokyo evolved from the time of the samurai to the introduction of western culture, from military control to recovery from World War II.

Don’t forget to stop at the gift shops on the first and fifth floors. The museum sells Japanese paintings and ceramic cups, T-shirts with Japanese-style tie-dye patterns and much more.

The museum is foreigner-friendly, with most signs and explanations of exhibits in English. Visitors can use a recorded guide or get a guided tour in English.

Know and Go ...Edo-Tokyo Museum

Address: 1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-3626-9974

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday. You must enter 30 minutes before closing.

It is open on Mondays during Sumo Championships at Kokugi-kan. Also, if a national holiday falls on a Monday, it’s open that Monday but closed the following day. Closed Dec. 28 to Jan. 1.

Cost: 600 yen (about $5.50) for adults, 480 yen (about $4.40) for college students, 300 yen (about $2.80) for junior high and high school students, and 300 yen for those over 65. Group discounts available.

Directions: The museum is about three minutes from the west gate of the JR Ryogoku station on Sobu line and about one minute from the A-4 exit of Ryogoku station on Toei Oedo line.

Web site:www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/english/index.html

A replica of the original Nihonbashi, the bridge built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu in a road-construction effort to connect Edo with the rest of Japan, welcomes visitors to Edo-Tokyo Museum. The height and the width of the bridge are maintained the same as the original, at about 21 feet high and about 26 feet wide, but the length was reduced to half the original, which was about 167 feet long. A visitor takes a close look at miniature model of Edo life in 17th Century with a pair of binoculars. A visitor to Edo-Tokyo Museum follows the steps to produce woodblock prints, which were widely used in books during 17th and 18th centuries. Various miniature models like this one of Mitsui Echigoya — the predecessor of Mitsukoshi department store, and the first business in Japan to sell items at the store with set prices rather than selling goods by going door-to-door — are displayed throughout the museum. This four-door Ford Model A sedan was the type of car used as a “One Yen taxi” when taxi service in Tokyo began in 1912. This miniature model at Edo-Tokyo Museum shows Tokyo during the Meiji Era, with its mixture of Western and Japanese cultures. Children look through the glass floor at a model of Rokumeikan, which was built in 1883 to hold social parties for the upper class during the Meiji Period. Souvenirs such as these washcloths in various Japanese-style designs are available at the museum shops at Edo-Tokyo Museum. Edo-Tokyo Museum, located in Ryogoku, offers insight into the history and culture of Tokyo. A reproduction of typical Tokyo home during World War II. Papers stuck on the windows prevented glass from scattering during blasts, and room lights were covered to prevent light from escaping during air raids.

author picture
Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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