Thursday, March 10, 2011

Myoden and Museums

After Yokohama and onsens i was trying to think of some kind of travelling to do in Tokyo itself and that’s when i remembered the Meguro Parasitological Museum. A few years ago i was travelling in Japan and managed to visit it and as a result i started an ill thought-out mission to visit other random little museums in Seoul and Beijing, without much luck, as i travelled through Asia. With the help of some friendly hints and a bit of research it turns out that the parasite museum isn’t alone in Tokyo in housing a small corner of quirky and different.

The Tokyo Kite Museum isn’t really a museum. It’s a cramped room on the upper floors of an old office block in central Tokyo dripping with kites and dust and colour. I stepped straight out of the old lift into a dark, dank room and was welcomed by a nice old lady reading a newspaper behind a reception desk who was trying not to fall asleep while a sign overhead on the wall asked me, “Have you tugged today?” My Japanese language skills were, thankfully, not sufficient for me to inform the lady of an answer. The large room was empty of people (although i did visit on a windy day so maybe the kite enthusiasts of Japan were already preoccupied) but it was utterly and completely crammed with kites. The only space that wasn’t used up to display some kind of flying contraption was the floor and two windows. All other space was kite-filled and bursting with colour in the dim light. There were kites from other countries, pictures of people flying kites, kites the size of stamps and kites the size of sofas, kites shaped like animals and people and dragons and i never even new or cared that such creations existed. It was amazing and crap all at once.

The Tobacco and Salt Museum was a bit different. For a start it was popular and was quite busy with old people and school kids on afternoon trips. It had also been cleaned recently and there were no signs questioning if i’d done anything that morning. There were maps and diagrams showing the history of tobacco and smoking but as all the signs and explanations were in Japanese i was spared the boredom of reading about it and instead just looked at old packets of cigarettes and pipes of various shapes and sizes before buying a postcard of a safety match advertisement and making haste for the Button Museum.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Button Museum (other than its contents, that’s quite self explanatory). Would it be covered in dust like the Kite Museum or old people like the Tobacco place? I figured it would be both. I’ll never know. I found the museum in a small building in the east of Tokyo but was informed that you need to call ahead to make a reservation for a guided tour and so i scrapped that one off the list. I’m all for finding stupid museums but i figured i should draw a line with guided tours of buttons. In a foreign language. On my day off.

However, that didn’t stop me visiting the Metro Museum, dedicated to the Tokyo Metro, which was a bit like a crèche with trains. In fact, i think there were more pushchairs than rolling stock but it did have some fancy looking models that showed you how they make the tunnels so it might not have been a total waste of 210 yen.

Next on the list was the Criminology Museum which was at Meigi University and had its home in a dark basement. It had some pretty grim looking contraptions that were once used for torturing people or slowly killing them and paintings of people being murdered in a variety of different and imaginative ways.

I also managed to find a Laundry Museum. All i had was a piece of paper with an address on it and a vague idea of which metro station i needed. After walking from the station the address turned out to be the headquarters for Hakuyosha Dry Cleaners but there was no hint of where the museum was – just a car park and few buildings. A woman in a lab jacket and a small group of grandmothers walked out of the building i was stood in front of and the women in the lab jacket approached me and asked if i needed help. I was stood in the car park of laundry company headquarters looking for a museum about washing machines after i’d spent a couple days seeing kites, pipes, salt, torture devices and trains in small crap museums in suburban Tokyo. I assured the kind women that i did indeed need help. She told me that the museum was on the third floor. On display in the brightly lit room was an old shirt press, a glass cabinet filled with old irons, some wooden tumble dryers, a couple of washboards and some paintings of women slapping clothes on a rock next to a river. I’m glad it was free.

Apparently, Tokyo is also home to a beer museum, a noodle museum, an electrical energy museum and a museum designed by famous animation director Hayao Miyazaki. I guess they can wait a few months as i’ve had my little fix of random crap for now.


  1. The Miyazaki-designed museum is fun, but very kid-oriented (as you might expect). For me, it was worth going just to get the photographs of O-Totoro in the guard booth and the Castle in the Sky robot statue (indoor photography is verboten). ;)

    Given that some of us don't have your e-mail address, could you make a quick post to let us know that you're OK post-earthquake?

  2. I'm fine and well here thanks. Don't worry.