All over Japan there are Folk Crafts Museums of various sizes and with different collections and yesterday I visited the one in the Tokyo, called the Japan Folk Crafts Museum (or 日本民藝館 in Japanese). It’s located in Meguro ward but the easiest access is to go by the Inokashira line from Shibuya, just two stations away. I have been to a few similar museums around Japan but this one is quite rare in that the building itself was built as a museum and in a classic Japanese timber frame structure which is quite rare. As building geek I went more to see the architecture than for the exhibit to be honest. I had my ticket and my camera ready, the lady at the reception didn’t mention my camera and I didn’t see any signs prohibiting it even though there was a No Cellphones! sign about every 5m inside the building. So I happily snapped away until another staff member kindly informed me that photography was prohibited, hence the abruptly terminated photo series you’ll find in this post. On their homepage they have more photos though!
It was an absolutely dreadful day, strong winds and heavy rains for almost 24 hours straight. The exterior shots are awful, which is a pity because it is a couple of very nice buildings, separated by a road. The smaller building is a regular home converted into an exhibition space and it gives you a nice example of how the upper-middle class lived a century ago. I got a few photos of the exhibition, focusing on Korean examples of folk art from the 18th and 19th century. The most interesting of which was a world map (9th photo from the top), a book of fortune telling (8th photo) and scroll paintings of mythical animals.
The background of the folk craft movement is actually a bit interesting. It all began in 1916 when a Japanese philosopher named Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961) went to Korea to study the local crafts and in 1924 a Korean Craft Museum was founded. He took his notion that folk craft was worthy of preserving back to Japan and in 1926 the Japanese Craft Movement started. Yanagi and his followers rescued thousands of lowly objects that were rapidly disappearing in the modernization of Japan and Korea, brooms, napkins, boxes, bowls, toiletries etc. basically everything that common people made by hand for themselves, things that were now being mass produced in factories. Yanagi’s ideas about folk craft later spread over the world and influenced local preservationists around the world. Folk craft focuses on the simple and anonymous objects of everyday people, things were beauty is not an issue and which are specific of the country, region or village in which they were made. Today it might not seem like a very novel idea but back then it was almost revolutionary.
Here’s one weird museum I stumbled upon last week while taking a walk through Tokyo’s Meguro district: The Tokyo Parasitological Museum. Their rather fantastic slogan is: “Try to think about parasites without a feeling of fear, and take the time to learn about their wonderful world of the Parasites.” Actually, you’re excused from having any clue what it is about since it is apparently the only museum dealing with parasitical life forms in the world! I didn’t know much about parasites before visiting this museum, and I still don’t claim to know much about the subject after it, but I have certainly gained a newborn respect for the brave scientists of the world dedicating their lives to this, extremely unpleasant phenomena! The museum has a good collection of parasites and their anguished hosts preserved in chemicals, like most good museums of natural history. They also have explanatory signs and models showcasing life cycles, infestation vectors and such, as well as some extremely unpleasant photos of people and animal unlucky enough to play host to these critters. Naturally, I took tons of photos but after getting home and reviewing them, I decided that there was no way on Earth that I was going to be able to post those photos on this blog, just looking at them myself made my stomach turn, so instead I show you the mildest ones I took.
The museum has an interesting exhibit on the history of parasitological research in Japan, in particular the hand written research books by a Dr. Yamaguchi in the 19th century. Aren’t they gorgeous? There’s also some interesting ephemera, like this pamphlet on snail fever distributed to U.S. troops in 1940. Snail fever, incidentally, is something you never ever want to experience. Trust me.
One of the most interesting things about this museum was the other visitors. Almost all the visitors were young women, and a few couples to round up the numbers. The lab coated clad assistant at the museum shop was also a very pretty young woman, responsible for selling the museums t-shirts and souvenirs. Now, who would ever want a t-shirt showing the infection and life cycle of one of three world famous intestinal parasites, I have no idea.
In case you are ever in Tokyo with a couple of free hours, this is a place you should not miss. Free of charge, it comes with international bragging rights! If you can stomach it. Just make sure not to go right before a meal. You will definitely not be able to keep your appetite after this!
Japan is full of good food and great sweats, and recently I found yet another donuts shop here in Tokyo! While I’ve heard that cupcakes are all the rage abroad, in Japan the humble donut still reign supreme when it comes to unhealthy food. There’s plenty of famous donut chain stores in Japan (I wont mention them here unless they agree to send me free samples – wink wink nudge nudge) but here’s one that had slipped under my radar somehow, Hara Donuts. It combines the Japanese sweeth tooth for donuts with the increasingly popular Mori Girl and LOHAS movements, at least superficially so. As you can see, the interior and design of the shop is shabby chic all the way with a bare wood aesthetic that is right on the money in Japan.
I love how the signboard says moshimoshi (もしもし） in front of the telephone number, so cute! Moshimoshi is what you answer when you pick up a phone if you are very very very familiar or folksy. There is a visual pun in the fork and donut picture as well but I doubt anyone except a native Japanese would be able to pick it out.
This shop, which I found in Meguro, is housed in an old timber framed building, with the peculiar framing structure naked to the eye (a treat for folk-architecture fans like me). The back side veranda is gorgeously decorated with all sorts of rusty stuff and the floor are deliciously worn out. And yes, that is my camera bag in picture number 8. Japanese cafe interiors are obviously much more cramped and minimal than most western ones, so I was lucky to have most of the cafe to myself this morning!
If you’re ever out ambling around in Meguro, I recommend you try out this cafe. If you’re into not-very-sweet donuts, that is. Enjoy!
A couple of weeks ago I was walking through Meguro, an area recently getting famous for interior decoration stores, furniture and design shops, when I came across this quite old fashioned mom-and-pop toy store, the “Otsuka Toys”. Naturally, targeting customers in the 0-12 age bracket, the store relies heavily on just putting up as much Anpanman goods as possible! Now, as much as we in the west loves Japanese anime and characters, Anapanman is very low on our radar. Despite being both the most popular childrens cartoon series in Japan by far (and I mean by far as in twice or thrice as popular as the rest of the top ten cartoons put together) it is also the cartoon show with the most characters! By last count there were 1728 individually named characters in the show’s history. Anpanman is super hero battling evil in the little country of talking food characters. Anpan is a sweet bread filled with sweet bean paste. One of the main enemies is Baikinman, which means Bacteriaman! You can read more about the show on the wikipedia entry.
I was happy to note there was one a little bit more adult item in the shop’s line up, something that looks like a yellow Pink Lady signed lunch box! This duo of famously dancing ladies were hugely popular between 1976 and 1981 and a short come back tour a couple of years ago. Apparently, they are planning another come back show next year.