well thats it folks, Cherry blossomb season is over for the blog, at least for this year. maybe there will be a bit more variety on here after this 😛
With my regular Japanese subject of the unofficial national flower having up and vanished on me, I finally had a chance to head off to somewhere not sakura related! So, google maps in hand I decided one morning to the Tokyo Edo open air Museum housed inside Koganei Park one of Tokyo’s most expansive open areas. (This is not to be confused with the similarly named and similarly superb Tokyo Edo Museum, located in central Tokyo) This is about an hour ride from my apartment and a further 20 minutes on foot or so.
I have decided to split this day into two separate posts as it was a long day with many photos and i don’t think most of you want to read close to 5000 words all in one sitting. the second half should come pretty promptly as i have already written about half of it.
One thing I have increasingly noticed in Tokyo is that while quite a few of the inner city residential areas are looking somewhat worn (“Surely not!” I hear you cry. “A city of more than 20 million people looking lived in? MADNESS!”) many of the outer regions are spotlessly clean well vegetated and very modern. With a lovely blue sky above it was nice to wander through quiet streets and sneakily gaze at peoples gardens as i passed. They also appear to have communal garden patches!
Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum was founded to house a variety of rare and unusual buildings from around the Tokyo area, saving many of these buildings from destruction in the face of modernisation, as well as ones once common place that are now all but non existent in the ever changing metropolis. Buildings included in the collection display many generations of building methods used in Japan, from traditional thatched roof constructs dating from the 16th century to Pre-Meiji restoration manor houses and many buildings from the 1920s. These latter buildings come from a largely forgotten piece of history, build in period of peaceful modernisation/westernisation sandwiched between the chaotic events of the Meiji restoration, and the rapid increase in militarism of the 1930s.
The grounds of the open air museum are expansive, providing a garden for every building so that they are shown in a context that fits their original purpose. Knowing the relative scarcity of such buildings in other locations, i decided to head to the western exhibition area first as it housed the majority of the early 20th century buildings. The first building i came upon was house of Koide, constructed in 1925 and designed by architect Sutemi Horiguchi, a major player in the Japanese modernist movement at the time. The building combines contemporary (at the time) dutch elements, of which he was fond of, and more traditional japanese elements including the frontal tatami rooms overlooking the garden.
Inside the building is interesting. The majority of the rooms are fairly traditional for the period, however occasional you come across an impressively richly decorated western style room, which strongly juxtapose the simplicity and gentle colour palate of Japanese design with the the simplicity and soft shades of Japanese design with grand colours and textures entirely foreign to the island nation. The best example of this is the guest room, where the creams and browns of Japanese design make way for rich crimson velvet couches, heavy oak tables, deep red curtains and a thick, plush carpeted floor. the room was rounded off with a piano tucked away in a corner, and a large inbuilt western style hearth taking central place in front of the seating area. To round all the is grandeur off, the walls were coated in a textured gold coating. There appeared to be more furniture in this one room than in all the Japanese rooms combined. Unfortunately with the curtains closed and the dark colouring of the room, I found once i got home that none of my photos of this impressive space actually came out. The majority of the house however was much more modest though still obviously built for someone of stature and significant wealth, with a great deal of detail worked into most rooms including an unusual dividing of ceilings into lattice like structures using wooden cross beams and a series of wooden boards skirting many rooms up to nearly hip hight, something not usually seen in Japanese houses. This latter detail amongst many others was apparently inspired by the architects experience with and interest in dutch architecture.
My next stop was at a similarly unusual house. One built during 1942, a period when construction materials were all but impossible to access in Tokyo and much of Japan. The building was constructed by Kunio Mayekawa for himself and though fairly modern in its layout, was simple and designed with a focus on utilising a minimum amount of materials.
Inside the house is dominated by a large, open central living room, including a small second floor, with a bathroom and bedroom off to one side, and a study off the other. I really liked this house for its simplicity and the feeling of relaxed spaciousness it gives, something rather missing in many other buildings in the collection. Of all the buildings here, i think this would be the one i would want to live in.
The study had been decorated with a small selection of war period and post was every day items, including a desk lamp, a small original Sony television set, a phone and clocks. The result was a room that felt lived in and used, like the owner had just wandered off and might return to complete his drafting work at any time. the inclusion of the antiques was a nice touch as many buildings here felt a little sparse.
Next visit was to the House of George de Lalande, who despite his very french sounding name, was a renowned architect hailing from Germany. He expanded an existing structure to produce this rather grand three story western style house around 1910 and lived there for some time. He must have gotten nice and fit climbing all the stairs as the centrally located staircase and relatively narrow profile of the building means that despite its impressive stature, there isn’t actually a huge amount of room on each floor. From 1956 the inventor of the Japanese beverage “Calpis” (often renamed Calpico for English speaking markets) lived in this building.
The ground floor and terrace are now used as a small, rather classy looking restaurant. Waitresses wear period era clothing and most modern ameneties are well hidden, giving the whole operation a rather old worldy feeling. Despite the location and lovely decor, prices were reasonable, so i decided to take a quick break and have lunch here. Im glad i did because not only was the food rather good, but it came out with silver platter service and made me feel like a member of the landed gentry.
The last of the “modern” houses that i visited was that of Okawa in Denenchofu. This was constructed in 1925 and stood in the Ota ward of tokyo, then an outer suburb. This house was unusual for its being a western style building outside the central area of Tokyo. Unlike many of the other buildings on display from this period, this house had little in the way of Japanese design on display, and that which did exist was largely confined to things that would be required for every day life. The day i was there the outside of the building was being worked on, so i got no photos of the outside. However, please enjoy this stock photo i have blatantly plagiarised.
The interior was similarly western, and looks lovely and quaint. It seemed a very livable house and felt very cosy, though rather cluttered compared to Japanese houses of the time.
Moving on from here, we get to the only none enter-able structure of on the grounds, the Jisho-in Mausoleum. Originally constructed in 1652, this building was constructed in the honour of Lady Ofuri at the request of her daughter, who married into the ruling family of the period. Crafted by some of the preeminent carpenters and artisans of the period, including the designers involved in Edo castle. Though buildings such as this were once not so uncommon, the vast majority of these structures were brunt to the ground during the firebombing campaign targeting Tokyo in 1945. As a result, this building has been listed as a special heritage asset of Japan
From here i entered the area focusing on significantly older buildings, dating from the 1600s and featuring mainly thatched roofs.
The first was the house of the leader of the Hachioji guards. The Hachioji guards were retainers of the Tokugawa shogunate family who were posted to the Hachioji region in the early 1600s. I took a photo of the sign explaining the history of the building, so i will let you read that instead of explaining exactly the same thing myself.
The interior of this building is rather interesting. True to the fact that it is effectively a farm house design, the entrance is little more than a dirt floor where one removes their shoes before stepping onto the raised wooden floor of the house itself. This intermediate space is a form still used today in many buildings in Japan. Typically the initial entrance area to a house is considerably lower than the inhabited area and the difference in elevation is used as a visual stimulus to signal that the removal of footwear is required before proceeding. This is even true of my apartment. Once inside the building, the lay out is fairly simple, with a set or two tatami matt floored rooms used for living areas, and a number of polished wood floored areas used for passageways, the kitchen and storage rooms amongst other things. The living areas can be divided or conjoined through use of sliding doors. There is a bare minimum of furnishings in the building, though every day items do remain. i find it rather amazing how little the people here use to live with, seeing as i have managed to make my apartment well messy with the contents of just one medium sized suitcase!
One of the most interesting things about this building was actually not the floor plan itself, but when one stopped and took the time to look up. The central spine of the building was made of a single tree trunk, retaining much or its natural shape, to which support beams for the rest of the structure were connected. The spanning beam structure shown below supported more than half the building, while the other half had a smaller tree trunk connected up in a similar way. Interestingly,very few of the beams appear to have been carved down to a uniform size and like the main beam retain their natural shape from their days as a tree. I don’t know a whole lot about carpentry, but i imagine it would take no small amount of skill to build this way, as opposed to using contemporary techniques using almost exclusively straight and uniformly sized lengths of wood.
While i was here these older buildings were being manned by a number of older men who were volunteering their time for the preservation of these cultural artifacts. during the colder and wetter months, these men light fired in these thatched roofed buildings on a daily basis to drive away insects and kill off mould, vastly increasing the longevity of the roof itself. In this particular building one of these men approached me and gave me an explanation of the process, as well as a short description of why these buildings had two small alters in them, one for the native Japanese religion of Shinto, and one for the later imported religion of Buddhism. These two religions have been co-worshipped in japan for centuries and have become somewhat interlinked over the years. As such, most buildings of this era will have two small alters within them, one for each religion. Compared to most religions that take a much more “our way or the highway” approach to those of other beliefs, i find this idea of a population co worshiping two religions and their peaceful and symbiotic co-existence very interesting. This man also showed me a traditional grain grinder, seen below. grain is poured in the circular hole, and the top half rotated by hand, this grinds down the grain which is then deposited out a second hole in the lower half.
The next house from this period was largely similar in construction, though somewhat larger and more grand. I am including a photo of the information provided inside for visitors below. Inside this house i stopped by the fire for a chat with two of the volunteers who seemed eager to talk, we had a merry old time for about 20 minutes, and i can confirm that the fire would drive away insects, because once i was outside I discovered I smelt strongly enough of pine wood smoke to make me not want to be near myself either!
below is the fireplace in the katte as described in the information page. As well as a detail photo of the connection between the interior and exterior spaces in this traditional building. I love tatami mats for the aroma they give off, as well as the feeling underfoot that they provide.