How to visit Tokyo, volume 1: urban development and history museums

Occasionally I’m contacted by email or by Twitter asking for my suggestions about what to see or do in Tokyo. I very much enjoying providing a response. But I’ve realized that I often cover the same ground in my responses, so this is the first of a possible series of posts that summarize the questions and my response.

Question 1:  Are there any museums or exhibits that provide an overview of urban development or planning in Tokyo?

Response: There are a number of museums that teach the history of Tokyo from a variety of perspectives., starting with…

(A) Rail & subway museums

There are several train / subway / metro museums in an around Tokyo, which I’ve summarized here: Tokyo transportation and subway museums 東京の交通博物館. Most of these museums are sponsored by a specific train company (e.g. Tobu, JR East, Tokyo Metro), so their collections touch upon the ways in which those rail lines contributed to Tokyo’s development.

(B) History museums

The excellent Tokyo-Edo Museum 江戸東京博物館 in Sumida-ku (near Ryogoku Station) is good one-stop shopping for Tokyo history. Here is a diorama of Ryogoku Bridge 江戸東京博物館の両国橋ジオラマ that illustrates how Edo’s rivers and canals played a dominant role in the lives of townspeople.

I also highly recommend the Tokyo Waterworks History Museum 東京都水道歴史館 (map) in Bunkyo-ku, near Ochanomizu Station 御茶ノ水駅. It has an excellent timelapse diorama of the development of the old Yodobashi water purification plant into the modern Shinjuku skyline of today.

Another place to visit are the various local history museums in each of Tokyo’s wards. The ones I’ve visited and can recommend are:

  • Minato City Local History Museum 港区立三田図書館
  • Ōta Ward Hometown History Museum / Folk Museum of Ota City 大田区立郷土博物館 (map)

Map from the Ota-ku museum: Rokugo Canal water intake & drainage map 六郷用水の取水口と流域図:

  • Shinjuku Historical Museum 新宿歴史博物館 (map)

An old Shinjuku cityscape diorama and a Toden 東京都電 streetcar at the Shinjuku Historical Museum:

Also, I haven’t visited this one, but it is centrally located near the old Tsukiji Market: Time Dome Akashi タイムドーム明石. And also the Shirane Memorial Shibuya Museum (Folk, Literary, Local History) 白根記念渋谷区郷土博物館・文学館の展示会:

See the following pages for more:

(C) Other museums

Other Tokyo museums occasionally hold exhibits focused on or related to urban planning, architecture, and related topics. Two of the best that come to mind are:

Expansion of Metropolis around 1930s 都市から郊外へ : 1930年代の東京

This exhibit from 2012 was held at the Setagaya Literary Museum 世田谷文学館. The full title was: “Expansion of Metropolis around 1930s” 都市から郊外へ : 1930年代の東京 (From city to suburbs: the 1930s Tokyo).

The Mori Art Museum 森美術館 in Roppongi Hills held a fantastic exhibit in 2011 titled Metabolism: The City of the Future – Dreams and Visions of Reconstruction in Postwar and Present-Day Japan at the Mori Art Museum.

Other than following Twitter and websites such as Tokyo Art Beat, one of the best ways to learn about future exhibits is to visit any museum and browse the dozens of advertisements for other museums and exhibits that are generally available in many museums lobbies.

(D) Online resources

There are countless resources online to explore Tokyo’s urban design, but let me first suggest DOBOHAKU ドボ博, a self-proclaimed “online museum” created by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers. The current “exhibit” features 88 topographic or infrastructures works described as analogous to parts of a human body (e.g. Digestive or Circulatory System, etc).

Example: Ueno Terrace Cliff 上野台地の崖線

See also:


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