I would not say my second home of Tohoku (northern Japan) is not cool, but let’s just say many of my friends are easiest to meet in Tokyo. Tokyo is great, but to me and others who live in or have been to Japan more than once, Tokyo can seem a bit dull if you’re not into nightlife or have a large bank roll. Out of desperation, I googled “cool Japan” and that led me to ANA’s Cool Japan campaign. I used some of their cultural videos, combined with wikitravel, and other sources to plan out a day trip. The highlight of the trip was the Edo-Tokyo Museum.
It was 9 a.m. and I had just devoured the free breakfast at the hotel when I went to meet my friend at Akihabara station. Later in the day, we would return to see the pop culture center of Japan that is so obvious in Akihabara through our sightings of anime, otaku shops, and a cat café, but we wanted to see what Japan was like before all of these modern wonders as well. We transferred to the JR Sobu line and were soon at Ryogoku station, just one stop from Akihabara. A few minutes’ walk and we arrived at our main attraction.
Did you know swords had cases? How about that Japan sent air balloons with bombs that landed in the U.S. during WWII? And, women also rode in palanquins and those females who lifted the front pole had to walk backwards because to show your backside to the female rider was rude? I am a Japan expert by no means, but I read and study a good amount, so I feel I know more than the average person. I was shocked by all the little details I discovered in this magic palace of history. Edo is the old name for Tokyo, used when the area was ruled by the Tokugawa before the Meiji Restoration. The museum does an excellent job of exhibiting Edo in half the museum (I found this part more interesting) and Tokyo on the other half. Dividing the museum is a replica of Nihonbashi, a famous bridge located in the Chuo district of Tokyo, oddly on the other side and next to Akihabara where we had just come from. There are a few English signs, but most are Japanese. But wait! There are free volunteer language guides to turn this trip from a nice outing into a memorable experience.
The museum has English, French, Korean, German, Spanish, Russian and Chinese speakers to serve as guides and I highly recommend making a reservation to see one. Even if you do know Japanese, our guide and I am sure all others, gave us information that only a history buff would know and was nowhere listed in pamphlets or signs. To enter the museum we crossed the Nihonbashi model which is half the length and half the width as the original. Our guide listed off facts, figures, and dates, but the most interesting tidbit I remember is that the distance from Tokyo is measured by that bridge. In Kyoto, I recalled a sign that says Tokyo, that-a-way 500 kilometers. Well, that distance is exactly to where the real Nihonbashi is located (not the one in the museum). Fascinating, eh?
The volunteer guide will tailor your tour to cover the contents of the museum where you can enjoy early automobiles, Edo era firemen gear, woodblock printing displays, architecture, miniature models and tons more. Our guide delivered an excellent 90-minute tour and we departed, taking a quick look in the library, restaurant, tea room and gift shop which are also in the same building. Less than a 5-minute walk away is the Ryogoku Kokugikan where sumo matches are held. There are sometimes special events there when the tournament is not going on. That day, Japanese pro wrestling was using the event hall, which means the sumo museum that is open even when there are no tournaments was not accessible. We fixed our tears by eating some monja at a restaurant directly across the street (first floor) which I learned about from the ANA Cool Japan videos. It’s sticky something…I still can’t describe it. From there, some time in Akihabara, wandering around in Meguro, and eating some Korean BBQ in Shin-Okubo. Ahhhh…what a great day in Edo and Tokyo.