The Meiji era ran from 1868 to 1912, and all aspects of Japanese culture underwent fundamental change as Japan opened its ports to the outside world. Architecture is one area in which this shift is most obviously seen, as tastes moved from the traditional wooden structures to embrace western styles and techniques.
As progress became the raison d’etre of Japan, many of these buildings came to be threatened with destruction and a small band of historically minded people decided to do something about it. Meiji Mura is the saviour. An open-air museum – basically a village – built as a sanctuary for endangered buildings. The buildings were taken apart piece by piece and shipped to this beautiful lakeside location, rebuilt and opened to the public. Today there are over sixty buildings spread over a wide area. These range from the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Tokyo Imperial Hotel to the house of a Japanese emigrant to Brazil, from sake breweries to churches built for both foreign Christians and native converts.
Needless to say, this is a lot of buildings, and a lot of sightseeing, especially since each building is designed to be seen both inside and out. A trip to Meiji Mura will take up your whole day. It can be a thoroughly enjoyable day however, as the buildings are placed on a leafy, lush hillside and as much attention has been paid to the spaces between as to the buildings themselves. Unlike many museums and art galleries in Japan, the information provided is extensive and enlightening, and the period really begins to come to life as you travel through the site.
Rest points, cafes and vending machines are common though not incongruous and there are original streetcars and steam trains running throughout should your feet begin to ache. And they will. It’s a long day and if, like me, you go in summer then dehydration and sunstroke are a serious issue. I left very tired and a strange neon pink colour, but more knowledgeable and fitter than before. Likewise, Showa Mura is a collection of buildings, this time from the Showa era (1926 – 1989). On a smaller scale than Meiji Mura, the main point of interest is the meandering stream running through the village under picturesque bridges and willow trees.
It’s a lovely place for a walk but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you already happen to be in the area. Outside the gate is a hot spring bathhouse which is simply wonderful and which I visit regularly since I live in the area. Soothing on body, mind and wallet, there is little I love doing more than coming here, sitting outside in the hot waters looking at the dense forests. Also of note is the gift shop, which sells cups featuring caricatures of every Prime Minister in Japanese history – they are currently being sold at a huge discount under the banner “Must go before Aso Taro does”. Meiji Mura can be reached by bus from Inuyama station on the Meitetsu line from Nagoya. Showa Mura needs a taxi from Mino-Ota station, on the JR line via Gifu. There is also a Taisho Mura (1912 – 1926) near Nakatsugawa in Aichi Prefecture but I haven’t been there yet.