The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is an excellent place for lovers of the subject. Some buildings are from the Tokugawa period, and others recently had inhabitants. For architectural photographers, it is a must-see!
Every house at this museum is real. None are replicas. People either lived or worked in them at some point in the past. Some even have ties to important events in Japanese history.
For example, have you ever heard of Korekiyo Takahashi? He was a Japanese Prime Minister and holder of various ministerial positions. During the 1920s and 30s, he was very active. His house is at the museum. Military officers assassinated him in it during a coup attempt in 1936. It is a significant part of Japanese and possibly world history.
Another, which is my favorite, is Jisho-in. It was a mausoleum for one of Iemitsu Tokugawa’s concubines, Lady Ofuri. He built it for her in 1652. The structure is beautiful, with colored wood carvings all over it.
Where were the buildings? Most are from Tokyo, but some are from distant places, like the elevated granary. It was on an island between Okinawa and Kyushu.
Whatever the case, they were disassembled and the pieces numbered. They were then stored, in some cases, for many years. When the display site was decided, they were brought to the museum. Every part had to be found and reassembled. The logistical problems must have been immense. I wonder how long it all took?
Some exhibits give insight into how Japanese architecture has changed. Sakae Okawa’s house is a good example. He built it in 1925 after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. As a result, many people left the inner city areas for the suburbs. They thought they were safer. His house shows a social change. It was a place where the family would spend time together.
There is a shopping street too. It looks like one found in the early Showa period (1926-1989). It is a bathhouse, an inn, a soba shop (a real one!), a florist, a soy sauce shop, and more. The museum could be a movie set!
Every time I go to the museum, I learn something. One of the most interesting things was the houses with straw roofs. They have fires inside going all year round. I thought this was something done to add to the atmosphere, but how wrong I was. A guide told me that they are vitally important. Without warmth in the straw, moisture will creep in and cause rot, necessitating repairs. Replacement would cost about ￥30,000,000. That is very prohibitive, so it makes sense to keep those fires going, even in the middle of summer. Yes, there is no mistake with that cost!
I love this museum. It is big and filled with real history. And the buildings are magnificent. Some of them wouldn’t be out of place in modern Tokyo.
A brief history of the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
Since the Edo period, Tokyo has lost many historical buildings due to various reasons. They include floods, fires, earthquakes, and war. And that continues today, with social and economic change causing more loss.
To combat this, in 1993, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government established this museum. Since its opening, it has carried out a whole range of projects. It relocates, reconstructs, preserves, and exhibits buildings of great cultural value.
What can you photograph there?
There is a lot of cool stuff. You’ll be able to shoot a wide range of buildings that include:
- Houses for the rich and the middle-class
- a photo studio
- a florist
- a fire lookout post
- a palace (you walk through it to enter the museum)
- a gate from an Edo-period clan mansion
- a bathhouse
- Inside many of the buildings are everyday items from the period. You’ll find old phones, Buddhist altars, soya sauce bottles, cutlery, etc.
Photography tips for the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
- Building interiors can be dark, so use higher ISOs.
- tripods and flash are not allowed, and;
- in many interiors, space will be minimal, so wide angles lenses will be helpful
Where is the Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum?
The museum is near Musashi-Koganei Station, on the Chou line. It is about a 20-minute train ride from Shinjuku. When you get there, leave via the north exit.
Once out of the station, walk over the road to the number two or three Seibu bus platforms:
- At the number 2 stop, take a bus bound for 武12” (to Higashi-Kurume Eki, Onari-Bashi keiyu)
- Or, at the number 3 stop, take a bus bound for 武21” (to Higashi-Kurume Eki, Kinjo-Koukou keiyu)
The ride will take about five minutes. Get off at, “Edo-Tokyo Tatemono-en” (in Japanese, “江戸東京たてもの園前”). From the bus stop, it is a short walk to the museum.
Please remember that the buses pass by the museum; they don’t stop there. The announcements are in Japanese and English, so you shouldn’t miss your stop.
Or, you could always walk there from the station, but that would take at least thirty minutes.
Here is a Google map:
- Over the Christmas and New Year period, it is closed from December 26 to January 11
- Between April and September, the museum is open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm.
- From October to March, it is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 am.
- It closes every Monday unless it is a national holiday, then it will be closed the following day. Before you go, check the museum’s calendar on its website to get the latest information.
General admission tickets cost four hundred yen and must be purchased online. You can do that through the museum’s (Japanese only) website here.
If you are into buildings, design, architecture, etc., the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is great. Most of the displays in the museum have good signage in English too! Don’t worry about not being able to read Japanese.
And due to the current pandemic, access to some buildings is limited. For the time being, we aren’t able to freely explore them. Hopefully, that will change one day.
Lastly, make sure you pick up a plastic bag at the entrance. You’ll need one to put your shoes in if you want to enter buildings. Once outside, put your shoes back on and continue to the next exhibit. For another similar museum, check out the Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.