Translated by Jasmine Nishino
Slip Back In Time At Ueno's Shitamachi Museum
Slip back in time to experience the life size displays of what Tokyo was like one-hundred years ago at the Shitamachi Museum in Ueno.
Written by MATCHA
The Japanese term 'shitamachi' is used to refer to a downtown or city area where commoners lived; now this term is now used to refer to neighborhoods like Asakusa and Ueno in Tokyo. To the Japanese, these areas are seen as very nostalgic, while to tourists they seem "very Japanese".
The Shitamachi Museum is where they revived the commoner's lifestyle of Tokyo in the present.
A Museum that Reminds Us of How People Once Lived
The Shitamachi museum is located close to Shinobazu Pond, which is fairly close to places such as Ueno station, Ueno park, and Ameyoko. By the entrance, there is a retro-looking red mailbox, so if you go past that, you'll find it right there.
This museum was made to teach the generations in the future about the lifestyle and scenery of the Shitamachi area of Tokyo that is gradually being forgotten and renovated.
Within the museum, there are various displays of old fashioned things, such as red telephone boxes and Daihachi-guruma, a cart once used to carry luggage.
Transferring and Displaying Houses and Businesses from Almost 100 Years Ago
The city of Tokyo drastically changed after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and subsequent fire. Traditionally made wooden houses decreased significantly due to their innate flammability and with the increasing number of cars, old buildings were torn down to make the streets wider.
On the first floor of the Shitamachi museum, they recreated buildings that show how Tokyo looked before the great earthquake.
This is a former shop that has been removed and rebuilt. It was a specialty shop that sold hanao, which are the straps or laces for geta sandals.
This is a photo of real hanao. They are used to secure feet in the geta sandal, like shoelaces. The colors are just as vibrant like the shoes and laces today.
You can see how much the Japanese cared about fashion even a hundred years ago.
This is a reconstruction of a nagaya house, which are a collection of houses people used to live in. In the front, you see a Dagashi-ya, a toy and candy shop for kids, but in the back, you can see the connected living space.
Houses in the same style stand along side one another with only a wall dividing the residents. Frequently, those who lived in nagaya houses shared bathrooms and wells, but almost none of the houses had an in-house bathtub.
The alleys behind these collections of small houses were extremely narrow.
The board propped against the house on the left side of the photo above is called a hari-ita, which is used to dry kimonos. When you wash Japanese kimonos, you unravel the sewed hems and take it apart into sheets of fabric. Therefore, you needed long boards to lay them on to dry.
There is also a display for a work space inside of a room in the nagaya house.
A small shrine that stands next to the nagaya display. The God of agriculture, Inari dai-myojin is worshiped by not only farmers, but many other people even today in Japan.
Old Time Games for Japanese Children
On the second floor of the museum, there are displays of wooden toys that kids used to play with back in the day.
This is a surikogi-tonbo, which was a toy where you grind the bumpy wooden pestle to make the propeller spin.
This is a Phenakistoscope, where you look through the small slits on the spinning black wheel to see an image of a running horse. This toy is the base of modern animation.
If you would like to see it move automatically, come to the Shitamachi museum!
You are welcome to play with the toys on display. According to Mr. Kondo who works there, even non-Japanese visitors can naturally figure out and play with the toys even without any explanation.
Witness Seasonal Displays and the History of Ueno and Asakusa at Once
On the second floor there are also seasonal displays along with historical items from Ueno and Asakusa. There was a summer display on the day we went.
Mosquito repellents are a must for a Japanese summer. In this ceramic pig, an incense called katori senkou is set. A katori senkou is a special incense that emits smoke that mosquitoes dislike. It is a popular mosquito repellent in Japan still.
This is an old refrigerator where one would put ice in to chill food.
This is an uchiwa fan used to keep cool.
Using photos and miniatures as reference, you can trace back the changes Ueno and Asakusa went through in the past 100 years. Ueno and Asakusa are the first areas in Japan that incorporated the modern wave of western civilization.
In the Shitamachi museum, you are able to experience and learn "what used to be in Japan" and "what has been lost in the present". Why not spend a moment slipping back in time to experience the Shitamachi museum?
Address: 2-1, Uenokoen, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Closed: Mondays (If it overlaps on holidays, the following day as well)
December 29–January 1
Special display periods
Admission fee: ¥300 per adult (¥200), Students in elementary, middle, and high schools ¥100 yen (¥50)
Prices in ( ) are for groups over 20 people.
Closest stations: JR Ueno station, Keisei Ueno Station, and Tokyo Metro Ueno Station (Ginza Line, Hibiya Line)
Access: 5-min walk from JR Ueno Station
3-min walk from Keisei Ueno Station
5-min walk from Tokyo Metro Ueno station (Ginza/Hibiya line)
Phone Number: +81(0)3-3823-7451
Official Website: The Shitamachi Museum