The indescribable beauty of the historical Japanese countryside landscape is a must see for anyone. And if you are among those who don’t have enough time to explore the Kiso Valley or other regions full of history and natural beauty, rest assured. You can do this even from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. It only takes about one-hour train ride from the capital, to visit Nihon Minkaen (Japan Open-air Folk House Museum).
Located in Kawasaki, it is easily accessible from Tokyo. We took the train from Ueno (Yamanote line) up to Shinjuku. There, we changed to Odakyu line (Sagami-Ono bound) and got off at Mukogaoka Yuen Station. Another 15 minutes walk and we arrived, ready to spend at least half a day there. This would be the average time if you want to thoroughly explore the park.
The open air museum was founded in 1967, with the purpose of preserving the vernacular houses of Japan. It hosts about twenty five buildings (a water mill, a ferryman’s hut, a storehouse on stilts, Emukai House, Yamada House, Yamashita House, or Kitamura House to name just a few) coming from all over Japan. Some of them date back to as long as the 17th century, so if you want to taste the flavor of Edo this is definitely one of the best places.
Houses belonging to various social classes, workshops, tools, toolsheds, stables, and even a kabuki theater: Nihon Minkaen has them all and everything you see is original. Everything was carefully brought from their respective region and reassembled within the museum’s premises. So walking around the park kind of equals strolling around a miniature Edo Japan. The place is equally charming and fascinating, telling a warm visual story about how the Japanese used to live a few centuries ago. There is even a traditional restaurant within the park, but since it’s small it is usually full.
The entire complex is extremely well preserved. We were lucky enough to even see how they reassembled a house brought in recently. One thing I loved was that you could enter the houses (in some of them, of course, you need to take your shoes off) and that they tried to restore the original atmosphere. The fires were lit in the fireplaces and, in some of the houses, you could even sit down around the fire and listen to stories (told in Japanese). A bonus is that the place is not overcrowded with tourists (since it’s not extensively promoted). So you have plenty of opportunities to take awesome photos, without an unwanted stranger photobombing your perfect shot.
Overall, this was one of the most rewarding experiences I had during my last trip to Japan, and I would definitely go back there again.