exploring old tokyo

exploring old tokyo

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By Patricia Belyea

TOKYO JP  The Shitamachi Museum, overlooking Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park, caught my fancy on this trip. Upon paying the ¥300 museum fee, my friend Hala and I were welcomed by an English-speaking guide. Misuki totally enriched our visit to this lively historic museum!

The first floor displayed a Tokyo neighborhood from one hundred years ago. The home of a successful sandal strap merchant contrasted with a nagaya row house containing a novelty store, a coppersmith shop, and some of the tenants’ rooms.

Sandal Strap Merchant’s Home & Business The hand-dyed indigo noren hanging about the entrance indicated that the shop was open. The right paw of the Lucky Cat was up to beckon good success to the business.

Mom-and-Pop Novelty Store All the contents of this colorful exhibit were donated by local museum supporters.

The Coppersmith Shop Kettles and pots were made by local coppersmiths who also repaired copper implements.

Sitting Room A mother and daughter used the dresser made of paulownia to hold their clothes.

Neighborhood Shrine The nagaya residents refreshed the offerings every day to the inari god—originally an agricultural god but later a god for business and fire prevention.

Baby Diapers Drying On A Bamboo Pole Old yukatas were cut up and sewn together to be up-cycled as baby diapers.

Ironing Boards As the Japanese had no irons, they took apart their kimono to clean them, stretched the wet fabric flat on boards to dry, and then sewed their kimono back together.

exhibits upstairs

Vintage Toys Lots of toys and puzzles were laid out for Museum visitors to experience.

Historic Maps and Artwork A magnifying glass was available as the details on the maps were exceedingly minute.

Watcher’s Seat Visitors could sit in an authentic bandai, or watcher’s seat, at a re-created public bathhouse booth in Taito-ku.

Mid-50s to 60s Lifestyle The modern devices in this family room included a television, a radio, a sewing machine, and a rotary telephone.

Here’s Hala, my quilter friend from Dubai.

When we visited, picturesque Shinobazu Pond lay dormant with dried lotus pods and submerged lotus leaves. If you get the chance to visit in the summer, come early in the day when the lotus blossoms are open. From the paintings I saw upstairs in the Museum, the lotus pond looks spectacular in bloom!

Shitamachi Museum 2-1 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-007

Open 9:30am - 4:30 pm Closed on Mondays, the New Year holidays, and by special arrangements.

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ABOUT US: Okan Arts, a petite family business, is co-owned by mother-daughter duo Patricia Belyea and Victoria Stone. Patricia and Victoria sell Japanese textiles online, host creative quilting experiences, and lead quilting & textile tours to Japan.