Sunday, 12 February 2017

Step Back in Time - Nihon Minkaen Folk House museum

First of all, sorry for the long break.  I took a couple of months off of visiting places for the blog.  Work got a little crazy busy and also my sister and her partner came to visit around Christmas time so I spent some nice times showing them around My Japan.  Also, during that period, the domain name lapsed and I hadn't realised it.  Luckily no-one else snapped it up and I was able to get back on line!!

Having said that, I am back and already have things to write about!!  Hang on for another year of exploring Tokyo and Japan and finding more hidden gems.

People who regularly read my blog know that I love Japanese traditional architecture and I am always on the lookout for places to visit to enjoy it.  I have visited places near and far to enjoy it including Gujo Hachiman, Hida Takayama, Shirakawago, Magome and Tsumago, Narai, Shibamata and Kawagoe to name but a few.  Almost one year ago I visited an outdoor museum, the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum (blog posts for which you can find here and here) and at the time, one of my old workmates, Jason, recommended another, similar place to go and visit, Nihon Minkaen.  I had previously tried to head there on a Monday a couple of months ago only to find it closed (Apparently a lot of museums are not open on Mondays in Japan).  I recently had another free day (which was not a Monday!) and decided to head there again for a look.

Nihon Minkaen opened in 1965 in Kawasaki, only 30 minutes from Shinjuku on the Odakyu line.  It, as with the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum, opened to preserve the history and the beauty that traditional Japanese architecture is renowned for.  As opposed to the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum which showcases a broad range of Japanese architectural styles over the years, Nihon Minkaen displays old Folk houses from around Japan.  It displays some of the beautiful Gasshou Zukuri style houses that are typical of eastern Japan as well as other farm houses and merchant houses (the number of exhibits currently sits at 25).

I arrived at Mukogaoka-yuen station 

and set off on the short 20 minute walk from the station to nearby Ikuta Ryokuchi Park where the museum is located.  Stepping straight inside, I grabbed a ticket and went through to the indoor area which has some displays showing and talking about various regional architectural styles.

As you can see from the last photo, there is plenty of information in English both at the displays and also at the front counter where you get your ticket.

Moving through this area I stepped outside to the main section and immediately felt a surge of excitement as I could see the first of the buildings just ahead.  There is a path to follow that winds its way through all of the exhibitions.  Being that it is located in a park, you are surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature which only adds to the experience!

First up was a large early 19th century house that had originally been located in Fukushima prefecture which is located about 240km north of Tokyo.

Very nice!

The walk through the area was really nice and while I won't show you all of the buildings, I will show you a selection of them.  While I was there, there was some reconstruction of the pathway that you follow and also some reconstruction of one of the exhibits so some of the nostalgia is interrupted by construction equipment.

This next one is a lovely Gasshou style farmhouse built in the early 18th century which was originally located in Toyama prefecture on the Sea of Japan east coast of Japan.

This style of architecture is distinctively identified by its steep sloping thatched roof.  This area of Japan is renowned for its heavy winter snowfall (some of the heaviest in the world) and the steep roof helps the snow slide off.

This next farm house was built in the late 18th century and it's original location was Yamagata prefecture, almost 300km north of Tokyo

The epitome of rustic, don't you think?

Next up, a village headman's house that was built in the late 17th century.  This one did not have to be relocated very far at all as it was originally located in Kawasaki city, where the museum is also located.

This next one was also originally located in Kawasaki and is a small shrine that was built in 1863.

Next up, another village headman's house built in the late 17th century from nearby Kanagawa prefecture.

I just love the old wood used in all of these buildings.  Of course you would have been in a bit of trouble had a fire broken out, but the the use of something as natural as wood gives all of the buildings a wonderful earthy look!

This next grand building was originally located in Shirakawago, a place famous for the Gasshou Zukuri style of building.  It was originally a farmhouse before being moved in 1958 to near Kawasaki station where it was used as a traditional Japanese restaurant.  It was subsequently move to the museum in 1970 and is currently used as a soba restaurant that feeds the museum visitors.  Talk about interactive displays!

I will mention here that you are able to enter all of the houses to see what the interiors look like.  While you may not be able to walk through the entirety of the house, you can see what some of the rooms in each look like.

A real glimpse into the past.  Life was very different!

Wandering around such a beautiful and historic place was a damn good way to spend an afternoon.  It was nice and quiet and peaceful.  The surrounding park was shielding the sounds of the city outside and it felt like a calm, serene hideaway hidden in the middle of metropolis.

Before too long, it was time to step out of the cocoon and back into reality.  Thoroughly satisfied I made my way back to the station amongst the cacophony of city noise.  Yes, I had enjoyed those last couple of hours......

I recommend putting aside a good couple of hours to leisurely stroll around the museum and to fully enjoy it.  Obviously, different seasons will present different looks, vibrant green in summer and beautiful reds and yellows in autumn, but it is definitely worth a look in any season.

Admission cost: Adults - 500 yen
                          Students - 300 yen
                          Junior High School students and younger - free

Hours: March - October - 9:30am - 5pm
            November - February  - 9:30am - 4:30pm
Official website:

Thanks for reading!  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did visiting it and I hope you also get the chance to visit at some stage int he future.

Please leave me a message below and sign up for email updates when I upload a new post, or bookmark the page and I hope to see you back here soon!  Until next time, bye!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Immerse yourself in old town charm - Gujo Hachiman: a true traditional Japanese town (part 6)

This is part 6 in a series of posts about a recent trip to Gujo Hachiman in Gifu.  I recommend reading part 1234 and 5 first.

Morning broke the next day and it was time to have a last breakfast in Gujo Hachiman.  It was just as big and as extensive as the previous days.

The Japanese sure know how to fuel themselves for the day to come!

We checked out of the ryokan and set off with the friendly owners waving us goodbye.  There was, however, one last thing I wanted to check out.  Now many of you who have visited Japan or who live in Japan will know of the very realistic plastic food models that most restaurants and eateries in Japan display to show off what food they cook and serve.  Well guess what?  They were invented in Gujo Hachiman and the town is still responsible for upwards of 80% of production in Japan!  On our walk back to the station we stopped in at a couple of shops to have a look.

How awesomely delicious it all looked!  But don't worry, each of them had a "do not eat" warning......

We enjoyed one last piece of Gujo Hachiman as we made our way back to the train station.

And even the train station was amazing!

The train from Gujo Hachiman back to Nagoya is also well worth taking as it is a beautiful, quaint little train of only one carriage!

The scenery is stunning as the train winds it's way along the Nagara River.

All too soon it was over and we arrived back in Nagoya.  Having some time before catching the bus back to Tokyo, I was able to catch up with good friend Sachiko for dinner.  It was good talking to her and with what she said, combined with a wander around the station area of Nagoya, I am convinced that a trip to Nagoya needs to be made.  Thanks Sachiko!

Climbing onto the bus, I reflected on the last 3 days.  Gujo Hachiman had been all that I was hoping it would be and more.  The subtle, unpretentious charm which permeates throughout the town, the buildings, the castle and the people was incredible and it was a pleasure to be able to be experience that for a few days.  However, a return trip is in the works as there was still a whole lot of the town that I didn't get a chance to see and my Mother, who reads my blog and who is planning a trip to Japan next year, has said that Gujo Hachiman is on her list of places she wants to see when she visits, and that is quite alright with me!

Okay, costs.

Bus ride from Tokyo to Nagoya - 7,700 yen.

Bus from Nagoya to Gujo Hachiman - 1,850 yen

Miharaya ryokan - 8,000 yen per night (including those amazing breakfasts!)

Train from Gujo Hachiman to Nagoya - 2,490 yen

Bus ride from Nagoya to Tokyo - 7,200 yen

(correct at time of writing)

Well, there it is, the last post about Gujo Hachiman.  I really hope that you enjoyed reading and following the series as much as I did experiencing it.  Gujo Hachiman is definitely well worth a visit when you come to Japan and it is quite English friendly!  Please leave a comment below and share with someone who would like a read and sign up on the right-hand side of the page for email updates when I upload a new post.

See you next time.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Immerse yourself in old town charm - Gujo Hachiman: a true traditional Japanese town (part 5)

This is part 5 in a series of posts about a recent trip to Gujo Hachiman in Gifu.  I recommend reading part 1, 2, 3 and 4 first.

We rose early the next morning at 8:30 (well, it is early for me....) and wolfed down a breakfast of champions.

We had rice and pickles,

sweet potato and potato salad,

fruit and fish,

and potato gems (or tater tots to my friends from the USA), egg and pasta.  Yes, that's right, pasta for breakfast!

We were going to need those carbs as today we were going to do a bit of walking.  Finishing up breakfast we headed outside (into the rain) to find a taxi.  

Our plan was to head to Otaki cave for a bit of cave walking.  Otaki cave is a Limestone cave that stretches for about 2km, of which 800m is open to the public.  The taxi ride took about 20 minutes (and about 3,000 yen.  Unfortunately there is no bus so the only options are taxi or rental car) and upon arriving made our way to the ticket window.

Unsurprisingly, considering the weather and the fact that it was a week day, the only people in sight were 2 staff.  We grabbed our tickets (1,000 yen) and made our way to the cable car which took us up to the cave entrance.

Now, this is definitely not an experience to be had if you suffer from claustrophobia.  In fact I spent the first five minutes praying that an earthquake would not strike before I settled and really started enjoying it.  There are signs all around, in Japanese, although some are easy enough to understand!

Working your way around the cave involves some bending over at the waist to clear low points and there is also a little climbing to be done, although they have made that as easy to do as they could.

Unfortunately some overzealous visitors, who have insisted on touching instead of just looking, have broken some of the stalactites and stalagmites which has forced the local authorities into protective measures.

Unfortunately this kind of spoils part of the experience, but you cannot blame them for doing it.  Unfortunately (again), some people are just stupid.

Now I am not a cave guy, in fact this was my first cave, but I couldn't help but be impressed by what I was surrounded by.  As I was walking along, I wondered how many millions of years it took for some of these natural masterpieces to take shape, and what the cave would look like if I was able to come back in another one million years.

Looking at them I realised that they were probably some of the oldest things I have laid eyes on.  Amazing.

About halfway through the cave opened out and we entered a room and inside the room a couple of statues had been carved into the wall

and dropping down from a height of thirty metres was the main feature of the room, a waterfall.

The unbroken sound of the waterfall was in stark contrast to the ghostly silence that we had walked through to get here.  I could imagine that this was a spot where quite a number of Buddhist monks had come to do their water training!

It was time to make our way back outside all too soon so we continued following the maze of trails and staircases around working our way back to the surface.

On the way out, Tetsuya pointed out something very interesting.  Inside the darkness of the cave, with no sunlight, there were tiny plants growing!

Now that was really interesting.  It challenged everything my biology teacher had told me.  No wonder I never liked biology!

Finally we re-surfaced

and realised that where we had exited was only about 40 metres away from where we had entered despite all of the walking, crouching and climbing that we had done!.

We walked back down to where the cafeteria was and got ourselves a well-earned snack

and a frosty beverage to wash down that hard earned thirst.

And we were not the only ones thirsty.

We made our way back to the ryokan and later that night, as I had promised the night before, I made my way back up the spooky dark hill that was shrouded by low lying clouds to look at the lit up castle.  Making my way up the hill I found that the hilltop where the castle was was in clear skies, giving me a spectacular look at the castle.

Amazing.  I went back down the hill a content man.  This was the icing on the cake as far as this trip was concerned!

I will finish this one here for now and start working on what will be the final post in the series in the next couple of days.  Thanks again for having a read, I appreciate your support.  As always, please leave a comment below and share if you know someone who would be interested.

Until next time, bye.