As a lover of art and culture, a visit to a museum is a must. That’s why I decided to go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum (江戸東京博物館). And as soon as I arrived, one thing struck me: the building. What is that supposed to be? A dog? A spaceship on four legs? A frog? No, all wrong, but use your own imagination!
You can read about what it is later in this article. But is the Edo-Tokyo Museum worth a visit? In any case, it’s a good start to learn more about the history of the city of Tokyo! Just like this article by the way…
Metabolism? Japanese architecture of the Edo-Tokyo Museum
Metabolism has nothing to do with the human body. It is a Japanese movement in architecture. The Japanese Kiynori Kikutake (1928-2011) was one of its founders and designed the Edo-Tokyo Museum in the 1980s.
Together with other Japanese architects, they published the metabolic manifesto in the 1960s. They opposed the static Western and post-war architecture. Buildings should be subject to future changes. The metabolists were looking for these solutions to future problems. In case of overpopulation a building had to be extended easily. The world needs flexible and dynamic buildings!
A good example of metabolic architecture is the Nagakin Capule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007). It reflects the vision of metabolism the best. When needed, the tower can be increased with extra capsules. Useful, isn’t it?
Fact: The opening of the museum took place in March 1993 after 12 years of preparation. Metabolism did not play a major role anymore in Japanese architecture from the 1980s onwards.
What to see in the Edo-Tokyo Museum?
Just to be clear: till 1868 Tokyo was called Edo. It explains the name of this museum. The Edo-Tokyo museum consists of 7 levels (you wouldn’t say so!), only two of them are dedicated to permanent exhibitions. One room is about the Edo period (1603-1868), the other about the period 1868 until today’s modern era.
The most striking sights are the counterfeit Nihonbashi bridge and a kabuki theatre (traditional form of theatre created during the Edo period). The Nihonbashi bridge is particularly impressive. This wooden bridge was built in 1603, but replaced by a stone bridge in 1911.
There is plenty to see in this museum. But let’s start with a short lesson of history about Edo/Tokyo from 1600. Just a short lesson! It would be nice if readers wouldn’t leave my epistle in the middle of it. 3 important events determine the history of the city of Tokyo.
Tip: It is possible to get a free English speaking guide. However, a large part of the descriptions are also translated into English.
1. Growth and stability in Edo during the Tokugawa Shogunate
Tokugawa! Remember the name, because you’ll see it in many history books. It is the name of the family that ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868. They did so from Edo, a small fishing village that quickly grew into a city of more than 150,000 inhabitants. They had the Edo Castle built on the spot where the Imperial Palace now stands. Edo, or Tokyo, was the centre of power. That is why this time is called the Edo period.
It was a time of stability, especially because the family forced all the landlords or their relatives to stay in Edo. This made it easier to keep an eye on them and prevented conflicts. Another remarkable detail is that the Tokugawa family did not allow foreign trade. Only the Dutch were given permission, because they had agreed not to carry out religious practices in Japan…
Fact: In 1657 a big fire broke out in Edo, which destroyed almost 60% of the city. This catastrophe is known as the Great fire of Meireki. More than 100,000 people lost their life. It took 2 years to rebuild the city.
2. Emperor Meiji and modernisation
But around 1850, the authority of the Tokugawa family crumbled. This resulted in a takeover of power by Emperor Meiji (1852-1912). He moved the court from Kyoto to Tokyo, which also became the capital of the country. Under Emperor Meiji, Japan rapidly modernized. Trade with other countries was allowed and in 20 years Japan became one of the most modern countries in the world. But Emperor Meiji died in 1912.
But what was built up at the time of Emperor Meiji quickly crumbled at the beginning of the 20th century. Two major disasters were responsible for this. In 1923, for example, there was a major earthquake, in which more than 100,000 people were killed.
And in the 1940s, Japan was bombed after it had attacked the American Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Tokyo was hit hard and there were more than 400,000 casualties. That is more than the number of victims of the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
3: A metropolis with millions of inhabitants
After the Second World War, Japan recovered quickly. At the beginning of the 1960s, the Japanese economy was among the top 5 in the world. Skyscrapers were shooting up like mushrooms. A new airport was also introduced, called Narita International Airport. Today, Tokyo has more than 10 million inhabitants and is one of the most modern cities in the world.
A review of the Edo-Tokyo Museum
Personally I found it very interesting to walk through this museum for a few hours. As an introduction to a few days in Tokyo, this attraction should not be missed. A short introduction about the history is given: you can now enter the building!
Tip: Next to the Edo-Tokyo Museum you’ll find the Sumo Museum (free) and the Ryokogu Stadium. Therefore, Ryokogu area is called Sumo town.
Planning a visit to the Edo-Tokyo museum?
How do I get there?
The museum can be reached via the JR Chuolijn, Ryogoku Station (exit west). From here it is a 5-minute walk to the entrance. A visit to the Edo-Tokyo Museum costs 600 yen.
Adress: 1 Chome-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida City, Tokyo 130-0015, Japan
Google Maps: Edo-Tokyo Museum
The Edo-Tokyo Museum is closed on Monday, except on a national holiday. Tuesday till Sunday 9:30 AM – 5.30 PM. On Saturday till 07.30 AM.
Would you like to read more about Tokyo?
- Tokyo Travel Guide | 10 historical attractions
- Imperial Palace, Tokyo | Follow the road along the former Edo Castle
- Meiji Shrine, Tokyo | A tribute to emperor Meiji in a beautiful park
- Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko | The most loyal dog in de the world?
- Sensoji Temple Tokyo? 5 historical facts you should know
- Zojoji Temple | Why the most important temple of Tokyo?
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