Location: Shitamachi Museum in Ueno Park

As my last post explains, there are several attractions located inside Ueno Park. Oddly enough, my favorite was this small, oft-overlooked lesson in Edo- and Taisho-period life in the Shitamachi area, from Taito to Chiyoda and Chuo, including Asakusa.
 Wait, there's a museum in there? Yep! Find this small building across from the marshlands. It's in the southern tip of Ueno Park. Enter, pay your admission (300 yen), and be transported back 100+ years.
 To the left is a replica tenement house shared by two families. The first has this nice little home. A woman and her daughter live here and sell cheap candies and toys in the adjacent shop.
 A small shrine sits above the doorway.
 The kitchen area is cramped but usable.
 And out back sits this door...
Open it and you see almost nothing. This is the bathroom, similar to American outhouses. The can hanging outside holds water for washing hands, and the towel is provided to dry yourself, of course.
 The sweets shop is small but well-stocked and colorful!
 If I was a kid I'd bring all my extra money here. There are menko, rice crackers, and toys that can be assembled.
 Let's go down the narrow walkway to the other side of the tenement house.
 Some of the neighbors have hung up their laundry to dry.
 This home is owned by a coppersmith.
 His wife has set out some tea for him after a long day's work.
 His workshop is cramped but he seems to make nice copper pots!
 Nearby is a small shrine. When I say small, I mean about three feet high.
 Back around near the entrance of the museum, a traditional storytelling show is going on. The man at the front tells a story while changing the pictures inside the frame. A drum behind him is used occasionally to help make the show more entertaining. to the right of the audience is a replica of a merchant's house where shoes are made.
 Upstairs are a bunch of artifacts from Shitamachi. All the exhibits in the museum (especially downstairs) were donated by the public and most are from the 1910s through 1920s. Not seen behind me, a small exhibit with Japanese toys that children (and adults!) can play with. Simple, yet fun.
 This is a more-modern home in Shitamachi. Note the sewing machine, TV, and radio! This must have been a wealthy merchant's house.
You can also see the entrance to a sento (public bath). This is an actual entrance, moved from the bathhouse. Note the steps leading up beside the door. This is the bandai, where one of the workers could monitor behavior and time. The men would be on one side of the door, women on the other; the door is used for attendants only.

While the Shitamachi Museum isn't as big or flashy as the Edo-Tokyo Museum, it is a small gem worth visiting while exploring Ueno Park. Admission is cheap (300 yen) and the staff is very nice. Usually, an English-speaking guide is available and she will give you a free tour of the first floor, explaining life in the tenement houses. And she'll show you how to get and read a fortune at a temple! The counter staff were really kind and gave me a little origami spin-top made from a brochure or flier too (which I still have).
The museum is open 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM, but is closed on Mondays. The museum also closes in August and December to change exhibits (which means the houses and their stories can change as well). In 2012, those dates are August 27-31 and December 3-7. As with most Japanese attractions, the museum is also closed at the end of the year (December 29-January 1). Check the English website for any updates on hours, exhibits, and special closures.


  1. Love your posts! The pics are great and you are very descriptive in your explanations. Great job! One question... in the "bathroom," can't tell if there's a hole in the floor or what? Where is waste put?

  2. Actually, there's a small board (the toilet lid!) sitting over the hole. Just remove the board (lift the lid), squat, and ... drop.