Every month, our "Close UP" series introduces a selected organization in Tokyo who aims to promote international exchange and the support of foreign residents in their community. For this month, we feature Edo-Tokyo Museum in Sumida City, which has been operating in front of Ryogoku Station for 16 years. One of the popular destinations among tourists from overseas, the museum and its exhibitions are also attractive to foreign residents in Tokyo. We talked to Shinichi Saito, a curator of the museum, Masayo Narita, a volunteer coordinator, and Masayuki Kiyokawa, a volunteer guide of the museum.
Masayuki Kiyokawa, a volunteer guide of the museum (Left)
As visitors enter the museum's permanent exhibition area, the first exhibit that catches their eye is a replica of the “Nihonbashi” Bridge. Although its length is half of that of the actual one, the bridge is beautifully reproduced in details by using the same type of wood, earning the admiration of visitors from both Japan and overseas. Mr. Saito, the museum curator, and Ms. Narita, the volunteer coordinator, introduced us to the museum's sophisticated display and its highlights including the bridge.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum is designed to suggest a future vision of Tokyo by reviewing its history and culture, from the time when it was still called Edo to its modern eras after Meiji through Showa periods. The exhibition is mainly divided into "Edo zone" and "Tokyo zone" and features various displays and presentations that are both interesting and educational, which let visitors experience the lifestyle in Japan's capital city in olden times. The museum regularly holds special exhibitions and adds changes to its permanent exhibitions every two weeks so that visitors are always invited to discover new attractions and knowledge about Edo and Tokyo.
We do attract a number of foreign visitors. We have our brochures in seven languages and the official website in English, Chinese, and Korean. Although the amount of information on the website is still limited compared to the Japanese site, we plan to gradually add more pages and languages. At the museum, building signs and audio guides are provided in the same three languages as the website. Captions for each display are written in Japanese and English.
They really enjoy the Edo zone. Foreign visitors seem to be especially interested in Shogun (warlord) and bushi (warrior), and we are often asked where they can find yoroi (armor), kabuto (helmet), and katana (sword). The display of sankin kotai (alternate attendance to Edo by daimyo, a feudal load) and the Great Fire of Meireki are also popular. We display a Daimyo's palanquin, on which many visitors are free to "ride" and take pictures. Many of our volunteer guides ask us to keep these popular exhibits in our regular display changes.

We offer a free museum tour in the permanent exhibition area by volunteer guides who speak Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, French, German, Spanish, or Russian. Guides in certain languages may not be available everyday, so it is recommended to make a reservation, preferably two weeks prior to your scheduled visit. Currently 230 volunteers are registered as museum guides, in a wide range of ages from 20s to 80s. Each of our guides has their own unique style of guiding to please visitors. All of our guides have taken a 4-month training course before starting their work and continue to study and improve their knowledge by themselves. They are all hardworking, and our museum cannot do without them.
As our guests come from around the world, we would like to increase the variety of languages our guides can offer. We believe our guide service is providing a great opportunity for foreign visitors to learn about the history of Japan in their own languages. For the guides, on the other hand, offering a good service and making foreign visitors happy becomes a great reward, which further encourages them to serve foreign visitors better and introduce them to the friendly side of Tokyo. This is what the greatest benefit of having volunteer museum guides comes from. We would be grateful if the Edo-Tokyo Museum becomes a place where Japanese and foreign people meet and build friendships.
We were invited to join a family from the United States who had requested a tour. Our guide, Mr. Kiyokawa, described the exhibits passionately with gestures, which was the reflection of his true hospitality and enthusiasm for satisfying his guests. The American guests were also excited to see "fundoshi," "hachimaki," and other displays that Mr. Kiyokawa explained. We interviewed Mr. Kiyokawa and asked him to tell us about his experience as a museum guide.
I worked for a trading company and was using English everyday before I retired. I wanted to do something in which I could make use of my English skills, and that's why I started volunteering as a guide at the museum. I have guided visitors from Europe and the United States, as well as from some Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore. The tour usually takes about an hour and a half, and I spend about an hour in the Edo zone and a half hour in the Tokyo zone. With some avid guests, the tour could take as long as two hours. I normally lead two tours and sometimes three tours a day.
Everyone listens to me very seriously. Many guests are the first-time tourists to Japan and seem to have difficulty in understanding the relationship between Shogun and Emperor. One of the frequent questions I am asked is why the Tokugawa Shogunate returned the regime to the Emperor. They are also interested in the sakoku (seclusion) policy during the Edo period and why only Holland and China were allowed for trading. Foreign guests who reside in Japan are interested in the Tokyo zone as well. They know that Japan is prone to earthquakes and listen to the story of the Great Kanto Earthquake with a sense of reality. They are also impressed to learn how quickly Japan recovered after the war.
There is no manual for the museum guides, so each guide including myself self-studies about the exhibits every time they change. I always attend to "Edohaku Culture" workshops, which are held three to four times monthly. The workshops are very helpful to improve my knowledge as a guide, and I always enjoy listening to the lectures by the museum curators. For me, this has been the greatest opportunity of lifelong learning. I can please foreign guests while continuing to learn about Edo I love to know more. There were not many cities in the early 18th century where a million people lived and 70 percent of them were able to read and write. It makes me proud when I am able to explain the distinguished history of Edo to our visitors. I am looking forward to meeting more guests from overseas and help them understand all the attractions of the city of Edo and Tokyo by offering an easy, friendly tour.
東京都国際交流委員会 BacknumberJapanese