Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum old house
The Kunio Maekawa house.

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 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.

Kunio Maekawa house western style interior
Inside the Maekawa house.

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.

Jisho-in mausoleum
Jisho-in mausoleum.

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 I was wrong.

Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum Koide House
The Koide House.

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.

In 1993, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government established this museum to combat this.  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 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-angle lenses will be helpful.
Amami-Oshima Island granary
A granary from Amami-Oshima Island.

Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum details

See the museum’s location, admission costs (including online ticket purchase), and opening hours on the official website.

Hachirouemon Mitsui house rear
The rear of Hachirouemon Mitsui's house.

Wrapping up

If you are into buildings, design, architecture, etc., this museum is a great place. Most of the displays in the museum have good signage in English, too! Don’t worry about not being able to read Japanese.

Lastly, make sure you pick up a plastic bag at the entrance.  You’ll need to put your shoes in it if you want to enter the buildings.  Once outside, put your shoes back on and continue to the next exhibit.

Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum Georg de Lalande house
Georg de Lalande's house

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