Meiji-mura Museum & Inuyama Castle

Trip Start Jul 26, 2008
Trip End May 17, 2013

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Flag of Japan  , Chubu,
Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meiji-mura Museum has some national important cultural properties and Inuyama Castle has a national treasure donjon. Both of them are worth visiting, especially if you are interested in Japanese culture and history. I visited Meiji-mura first and then Inuyama Castle. 

Meiji-mura Museum
Actually, I had been to Meiji-mura Museum a couple of times before, but this time, I visited the museum for the first time in the last 25 years. Meiji-mura is an interesting outdoor museum both to adults and children. The collection of the museum is mainly old buildings from the Meiji Period, 1868-1912. It may be difficult to understand the importance of old building and item preservation, so that's the point of that kind of museum. Visiting Meiji-mura was like a time travel to me. I always travel geographically, looking for unfamiliar stuff of abroad or different areas of Japan. This time, the unfamiliarity was in the museum of my neighbourhood. Of course, I realised how convenient our life is through their collections, but at the same time, I was impressed that people of the period are ingenious. 

The number of the buildings is 68 and 10 properties are designated as National Important Cultural Properties. The whole museum site was divided into five stages and each building has its own address. The newcomer was a residence from Kobe which suffered the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earth Quake in 1997. The museum is popular especially in autumn. A lot of children go to the museum on a school excursion in autumn and adults like autumn leaves in the site of the museum. So I had waited for winter to come in order to avoid a crowd. It was cloudy and very cold on the day, and it was freezing out in the museum site.  

As soon as I entered the museum, a volunteer guide talked to me, saying, "You can have this museum to yourself today." Of course, it would never happen. It was just an exaggeration and she meant that there was almost nobody else visiting the museum on the day. After a while, I saw a bunch of kids wandering around the museum site. From my own experience, the museum is fun to children, but if they come back in 20 years, they may have different impression on that museum, and I hope so. 

In my opinion, the museum has a great collection, but they are not good at displaying. I have seen a lot of "Keep Out" signs in all the buildings and most parts of the buildings are not allowed to enter. The problem probably comes from shortage of staff members, which traces back to the reasonable admission fees. The buildings don't have enough staff members to watch visitors including kids, although some of them are Important Cultural Properties recognized by Japanese government. So visitors can see only a bit part of buildings. However, I realized that if I took a guided tour, I could see much more than that. I took a guided tour in Tomatsu House and Kureha-za Theatre and both of the tours were fabulous. The guides removed keep-out signs and guided the participants to off limits. Needless to say, they explained the interesting details of the buildings. The bottom line is you must take a guided tour to fully enjoy Meiji-mura, if you happen to be a Japanese speaker. The guide is available at Reception Hall of Marquis Tsugumichi Saigo's House, Tomatsu House, Zagyo-so Villa of Prince Kimmochi Saionji, Kureha-za Theatre, and Mataemon Shibakawa's House. 

Tomatsu House
I had not expected much from the old house. To tell you the truth, I hadn't remembered the building until I revisited. To fully understand the structures of the three-story house, you must take a guided tour (only in Japanese). You will know the meaning of open ceiling space and be surprised at the drawers hidden in the stairs. The master of the house seemed to make an effort to welcome visitors to the house with some tricks. 

Kureha-za Theatre
If I hadn't joined its guided tour, the theatre would have been much less interesting. Before the guided tour started, I was able to see the stage in the distance. Immediately after the tour started, the guide removed a keep-out sign and we were able to approach the stage. First, we listened to a talk about the history, audience, and tricks of the theatre. Her story was interesting, but more interesting was "Naraku" under-stage tour. We learned how to move a revolving stage and how an actors appeared through "Suppon" trapdoor in the floor. At the end of the tour, she took a picture of me on the stage.  

JapanVisitor Goes to Meiji Mura Video
I am not sure if this video encourages you to visit Meiji Mura, but it is surely useful to take a quick peek at the open air museum.

Popularity Ranking of Meiji-mura Properties (as of December 17, 2010)
1. Main Entrance Hall and Lobby, Imperial Hotel - The hotel was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was dark inside and not so impressive to me.
2. St. Francis Xavier's Cathedral - Probably the most beautiful cathedral of "Japan", You can hold a wedding there.
3. St. John's Church - The Japanese seem to like churches and cathedrals, although most of them are Buddhists. You can hold a wedding there.
4. Uji-yamada Post Office - Post a letter for 10-year-later yourself.  
5. Tomatsu House - The guided tour is highly recommendable. It looks just like a common house, if you don't join the tour. 
6. House of Ogai Mori and Soseki Natsume -  famous writers' house, not look so special
7. Bathhouse Azuma-yu - Take a footbath for 100 yen.
8. Streetcars of Kyoto - packed with kids
9. Kureha-za Theatre - The guided tour is highly recommendable.
9. Mie Prefectural Office - massive old building with old tools displayed
9. St. Paul's Church - The gap in the appearances between inside and outside is interesting. You can hold a wedding there.
Inuyama Castle (
The castle claims that it has the oldest castle keep of Japan, but to put it exactly, the keep is partly the oldest. The first and second floors were built in 1537 (the oldest) and the third and fourth floor were added to the original building in 1617. Still the donjon is registered as a national treasure. The castle was the prefectural office of Inuyama Prefecture at the beginning of the Meiji Period. Besides, the castle was privately owned by the Naruses until recently. 

Anyway, I came back to Inuyama Station at around four and headed for the castle in a hurry, because I knew it closed at half past four. The last time I visited Inuyama, I also tried the castle, but the gate was closed when I arrived there. So this time, I would never miss out on the chance to enter the castle. I walked briskly and arrived at 4:10. I thought I had only 20 minutes for the castle, but eventually it took only 15 minutes to see everything there. Actually, I spent most of the time at the top floor in looking at the sceneries around the castle. I didn't feel the donjon itself was great, although it was a national treasure, but the views from up there were great. It was obvious that they boasted of the views, judging from the brochure. The rails surrounding the top floor were very low and it was a bit scary to get very close to the rails, but if they were high, the castle was less attractive.   

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