In Tokyo it is sometimes easy to forget that this city was not always the modern metropolis it is today. In fact, looking around at all the high-rises and drab pre-fab apartment buildings as far as the eye can see, it is hard to imagine this city ever had streets lined with quaint Japanese architecture, traditional houses and old-fashioned towns. But after decades of fires, earthquakes, floods and, of course, wars, the old style Tokyo has almost completely disappeared.
Thankfully, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has gone through great lengths to preserve the last of the remaining traditional homes, shops, and even bath houses that survived from the Edo period, carefully moving them into the seven-hectare Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, located in western Tokyo.
These historical buildings, now nestled away safely in the lovely Koganei Park, take visitors back to a different time. You can walk around in beautiful old wooden mansions, visit a traditional bathhouse, poke around in the stationary shop, and take a seat in an old-school 'nomi-ya' (drinking hole) which, surprisingly, looks pretty similar to tiny Tokyo bars today. There’s also a tea house, a soy sauce shop, and an old ‘koban’ (police box).
But not everything is super-old-Japanese style. There are also quite a few interesting looking Western-style buildings built in the Meiji period when Japan had a strong European influence.
What struck me the most during my visit is just the amazing difference in how people used to live in Tokyo and how people actually live in Tokyo now. I tried to imagine how this change happened, how people once had big, beautiful, tatami-lined two-storey houses with a garden and lots of space, and now most people live in tiny one-room apartments with only six mats. Big traditional Japanese homes are a rarity in Tokyo now, not the norm, and I suppose there is no going back to how things used to be.
The Open Air Museum is a great place to visit to walk back in time in the most modern city in the world. If you have any interest in architecture, this is the place to go to really get a taste of the Edo period.
Be sure to also take a walk around in Koganei Park itself, particularly if you happen to be there at the time of cherry-blossoms. The whole park becomes an explosion of pink flowers and is a wonderful place to enjoy hanami.