|October 23, 2009
We wanted to head a little further out today to two museums so we decided to get up earlier. I set my alarm for about 8.30am but forgot I hadn’t changed the time on my phone since we left China! We woke up anyway around 9am and got ready to go out and headed out to the subway.
The subway system here is great but each ride ranges from 200Y to about 400Y and as we were going a long way out today, we decided a day pass would be worthwhile. They sell these usually for 850Y but on Fridays they have a special “No-Car-Day” ticket which is 600Y. I’m sure the Japanese means something other than “No-Car-Day” but that’s what the English screen said!
Unfortunately, what the ticket machines failed to tell us was that our stops were outside the zones so we ended up paying a bit extra when we left the metro plus a ticket on the monorail out to our first stop, the National Museum of Ethnology.
Whilst on the metro, we encountered a lot more schoolchildren. As we stopped at one station, about 30 kids got into our carriage, half of them in the door right by us. Once again, they were with just one teacher and were well behaved. Sure they made a bit of a hustle getting on and were a little over-excited but once the teacher told them to hush, they did. They got off the same stop as us and lined up to be counted. I couldn’t imagine this happening in London and certainly couldn’t imagine a ratio of 15 kids to 1 teacher. As we walked out, we saw another group lined up and another heading somewhere else still on the train. It seemed we were seeing the sites around the city that the children do. I’m not sure whether that was a comforting or worrying thought!
As we left the monorail station, we saw a huge statue across the highway. This was in the park which was created for the 1970 World Expo and we headed towards it. The statue was called the Tower of the Sun and took over the view as you entered the park. The museum was just behind the statue so we headed straight for it.
We had bought tickets at the entrance to the park which included the museum and despite paying for two we’d only got one ticket. We assumed the little “2” in the corner meant it was for two people. When we spoke to the ticket lady, she asked to see both tickets and we explained what had happened. After a phone call (no idea who to or what about), she gave us an extra piece of paper and let us both through. We were relieved as we didn’t want to have to pay again. It was also nice to feel trusted unlike in some other places.
The museum itself was really well set out and contained some great exhibits. It was divided by region and showed cultural items related to the various people in each area. Unfortunately, the signs contained no English and we were forced to rely on the small English handout. This was one occasion though where the pieces spoke for themselves. All too often, like in Moscow, the museums lost our attention as we didn’t know what we were looking at in various badly designed showcases!
From a large Oceanic display covering native Hawai’ians to Aborigines and Maoris, to smaller displays on the Americas and Europe, onto Africa and then Asia, split into different regions. The former exhibits were definitely of more interest and we seemed to fly through a lot of the Asian stuff. Elizabeth and I both agreed that many of the items from Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures look similar. For such a big, well set out museum, the exhibits on Japan seemed to be sparse and while it covered the rest of the globe well, I felt it had neglected the area closer to home. Perhaps other museums we’ll see elsewhere cover Japan in better detail.
Yesterday, we had bought some snack items to have for lunch today and so we found a quiet spot to eat. After being moved on from our first spot for no apparent reason, we found a nice, shaded bench in the park to eat.
From there, we headed towards our second museum having to pay again on the monorail and the metro to get to our stop. We didn’t have a clue where we were going when we left the station and tried to follow a map out on the street. Having walked around the block and been none the wiser on our destination, we asked two young kids for help. They knew where we wanted to go but couldn’t tell us in English so rather than point the way, they showed us! They walked us almost back to where we had started and pointed into a park, at which point we saw signs to the museum. I have already said that one of my main gripes with China was the language barrier and so far it seems people here in Japan are much more willing to go out of their way to help. I appreciate we are in “their” country and I certainly don’t expect everyone to speak English but many times in China we would ask someone if they spoke English or ask for directions and they would just say no and walk on. Hand signals go a long way, I find (yes, those hand signals, too) and people here seem more willing to try and communicate with you on whatever level they can. Maybe I’m being harsh on the Chinese or over-praising the Japanese but even after a couple of days, it just seems to be the way it is. Time might tell a different story!
Anyway, having wandered through the park, past a large fountain and more lovely green areas, these showing a few more autumn colours than we’d seen before, we eventually found the entrance to the Open-air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses. Now, I know the name is pretty catchy and immediately catches your imagination and makes you want to visit, doesn’t it?
Well, we want along and were hopeful the houses would be as good as the ones we had seen in Russia. Like in Russia, we were not really heading out of the cities into the villages too much and this gives you an idea to see more of the older style houses. All the houses here are from around various regions of Japan and some are as old as 400 years old. They are almost all completely wooden with thatched roofs, too.
It was great to see these buildings as they were so well placed around the little park area and many of them were decorated inside exactly how they would’ve been originally. You were allowed to go inside many of them but not with your shoes on – the Japanese tradition of wearing slippers even extended to this outdoor museum! The inside areas were often open plan with fire places in the centre and other rooms surrounding them. It was interesting to see the straw mats on the floor in the bedroom areas as well as the traditional Japanese screen doors.
One building was taken from high in the Japanese Alps near Nagano and even this had screen doors as well as large columns holding the building up through holes in the floor. I can’t imagine, even sat around the fire, how this big open plan space ever stayed warm in the winter in the Alps.
Another building had the fire actually lit, showing how the rooms were heated. The fire seemed to create a lot more smoke than it did heat and it made me wonder how often the museum had to replace the dark, charcoal-stained wooden cover on the fireplace. After leaving there, all of our clothes smelt smoky and it followed us around the remaining houses!
The little English map we were given of the site was excellent and had a little bit about each house to accompany the English signs outside each property. At the doorway to each house there was also an ink stamp with a picture of the house on it. As we went around each one, we stamped our map to show we’d been to them all and for a funny little souvenir to add to our scrap books!
From there, we walked back through the pretty park and back to the metro station and headed back to the hotel. Despite coming so far out of the centre, we’d seen the two things we wanted to and had plenty of time before even thinking about dinner so decided to head back and relax for a little bit.
For dinner, we had the almost inevitable Hard Rock and we had great food and great service. I even remembered my Hard Rock card so we got 10% off. We also got a magnet and found a charm for Elizabeth. I think we’re going to have to increase our budget for Japan!
Tomorrow we make use of our Japan Rail passes and head to Tokyo – let’s hope we have no troubles on the metro with our big packs. Maybe I’ll take a picture of Elizabeth with hers on so you can how big it is!