Wednesday, August 5, 2015

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What is the best Museum to visit in Tokyo? Edo-Tokyo Museum

If you visit only one Museum in Tokyo then shame on you. But if your bucket list is so long, or your stay is so short that you have to reduce the entire 1452 museums in Tokyo to just one then make sure you visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum.


Apart from entering the Museum by crossing a life size re-creation of the Nihonbashi bridge (the zero metre point of Edo city), it shows the entire history of Tokyo from 1603, the first Shogun period of Tokugawa Ieyasu, to the present day. There are other reconstructed miniatures, great display cabinets, good signage in English, a very reasonable 600 yen entrance fee, and wait for it, free English guides.

I'm not talking about headsets, or a booklet from which you can make your own way around the place, but a person who will actually take you around the Museum.

I went there by myself on an afternoon off and saw a sign that said "Free English guide". The first word was enough to get my attention and after a brief enquiry I was told that Nakamura-san was available. As I was struggling to ask in Japanese what time it would start, up popped Nakamura-san and in perfect English said that if I was ready, he was ready. During the tour apart from learning about Tokyo's history I also learnt that Nakamura-san, a retired electrical engineer, was also an Edokku himself (a person born and raised in Tokyo). He volunteered every Friday at the Museum primarily to shares his passion for Tokyo / Edo history.

Nakamura-san was worth the 600 yen himself, if not a lot more, and the only point where anything went wrong had nothing to do with Nakamura-san's enthusiasm, energy, or English skills, but due completely to my own ignorance of Japanese theatre. While gazing upon an incredible and complete 1/30th model of a Japanese Lord's palace (Daimyo Matsudaira's residence), Nakamura-san and I had the following conversation:

Nakamura-san: And can you see that little area over there (pointing to particular part of the model). This is where they held Noh theatre.
Me: Why not?
N: Do you mean Noh theatre?
M: Yes.
N: Well, it was.
Me: Was what?
N: Noh theatre was held there.
Me: Ok, so why was no theatre held there.
N: Because the daimyo (Lord) built it that way and this is the place where it was held.
Me: The place where what was held?
N: Noh theatre.
Me: Well, why wasn't there any theatre held there?
N: They did hold theatre there.
Me: What?
N: Noh theatre
Me: Ok, well what did they use it for?
N: What?
Me: The building?
N: Noh theatre.

To show the competence of Nakamura-san's grasp of English, he then realised my utter ignorance and asked me:

Nakamura-san: Have you ever heard of a type of Japanese theatre called Noh spelt n-o-h?
I said: No
He said, Yes, Noh
I said: No, I mean No I haven't heard of Noh theatre.
He said: Oh.

And then in true Japanese style, he politely and kindly gave me an explanation of firstly the word Noh, followed by a description for dummies of the history of Noh theatre, (and its distinction from Kabuki). We briefly laughed about our confusion with the word and the topic and then for the remainder of the one and a half hours I spent with him, (perhaps like not wanting to relive a conversation with the village idiot) we never mentioned our conversation again.

So, are you interested in Tokyo's geography, history, culture, arts, music, architecture, technology, journalism, samurai, shoguns, or even Noh?

Then you must visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum.

Opening hours: 9:30am to 5:30pm (closed Monday)
Address in English: 1 Chome-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida, Tokyo 130-0015, Japan
Address in Japanese:〒130-0015 東京都墨田区横網 Website:


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