Still More Unusual Japanese Museums

Diane M. Sattler, Ph.D.
13 Nov 2015

Today, we'll virtually visit some more unusual Japanese museums

World Bags and Luggage Museum

High up on the seventh floor of the ACE headquarters building in the Asakusa district of Tokyo is the founder's private collection of fine leather bags and luggage. ACE, according to a feature article in the Japan Daily Press (March 4, 2013) is Japan's sole remaining luggage manufacturer. Some featured exhibits are the Pan Am bag from the 1960's

and a box used to store moon rocks by Apollo 11 astronauts. You may remember or have read in history books that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon with that mission. Joining those is a bag designed by explorer Richard Halliburton. Dare I mention the animal hide bags, such as elephants, zebra—and more exotic others.

Sabae Eyeglass Museum

Also known as the Megane Museum, this historical museum in the Fukui Prefecture celebrates one of the products manufactured in the area. Here's some of what they offer:

  • History of the eyeglass industry
  • Frames display, including one for ¥250,000 ($2,325), which most of us can't see paying
  • Workshop area if you want to make your own frames or a souvenir keychain in shape of eyeglasses, but it is an extra charge, requires a reservation and five hours
  • Retail area to check your eyes and choose eyeglasses
  • Cafe
  • Sumo Museum
  • Also known as the Sumo Kyokai, this museum is a tribute to the big guys, sumo wrestlers, in a surprisingly small site on the ground floor of the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium in Tokyo. It features woodblock prints of historic top sumo wrestlers (Yokozuna) and photographs of more recent standouts. The museum is free, but during sumo tournaments, only ticket holders can enter. What? Maybe they'll summon sumo to usher interlopers out? If you can't get in, you could take a selfie with a sumo wrestler—for safety reasons, ask his permission first!

    Ramen Museum

    The ubiquitous Japanese ramen (maybe what's made sumo wrestlers so "great") even has its own museum in Shin-Yokohama. Less like a museum and more like a mall food court, this collection of ramen stalls stays open until 11 p.m. There's a museum section on the first floor that features all things ramen, such as bowls, aprons, and even matchbooks and packet covers from around the world. Ramen video games and interactive panels move this ancient food display into the 21st century.

    Two underground floors contain an historical theme park, Ramen Town, which celebrates an era that's now four decades past. Here you can partake of sake from a bar or indulge in a variety of types of ramen. Each of the eight shops has its particular style of soup. To end on a sweet note, grab some cotton candy or old-style candy. While your food digests, peruse one of the omnipresent Japanese souvenir shops, this one specializing in (can you guess?) chopsticks and other ramen related items.

    Cup Noodle Museum

    Another ramen noodle museum, the Cup Noodle Museum, commemorates the change from packaged ramen soup to Cup Noodles. It's a Nissin Food Co. interactive museum located in Yokohama's Minato Mirai District. There's the backstory on why Nissin would want to memorialize cup noodles, and a brief explanation that's on their official website.

    When the inventor of Cup Noodles was in America, he observed grocery store managers breaking up a package of ramen noodles, putting them in a cup, pouring hot water over the concoction, and eating it with a fork. That was an "aha" moment that triggered a seminal product change in 1971, which turned Cup Noodles into a global product.

    The museum features a full-size replica of the small shed where ramen was invented that occupies an important spot in the history of ramen noodles section. Visitors who pay a bit extra and have advance reservations can design their own ramen noodle cups by combining flavors, making and packaging their noodles. There you have it, an instant souvenir that you can take home and display or savor tastes from your trip.

    Cup Noodle Park—A highlight of the museum for the younger set is this simulated noodle factory where kids can play at running the factory, making and shipping noodle products.

    Noodles Bazaar—The Bazaar is something that will please the entire family. It's like the familiar mall food court, but has the sights and sounds of a Japanese night market. Individual shops sell a variety of inexpensive, small portion noodle dishes so folks can sample several different flavors.

    Fish cake (kamaboko) Museum

    The Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum in Hadone celebrates fish cakes and fish boards. You can see a video of chefs making fish paste, and, with advance registration online, you can participate in the experience corner and make your own kamaboko. It's worth the little extra effort to do that. The museum also features art works made of fish paste—who knew? There you can taste fish paste, buy products and even arrange for shipping, too.

    Disaster Museums

    Tokyo's Honjo Bosai-Kan is the newest Tokyo fire service emergency museum with clever and engaging disaster experiences. In earthquake prone Japan, you can experience a simulated one in the earthquake room. In the typhoon simulation, you'll don rain gear and hang on to the rails for dear life, while rain pelts furiously and strong winds buffet you about. You can try another experiential activity in the smoke maze, or, if you've had enough, a more sedate 3-D movie awaits. Other learning opportunities include CPR (an example of where giving is better than receiving?), a fire drill and learning how to properly use a fire extinguisher.

    As an aside, you may remember the fire extinguisher PASS acronym and system:

  • Pull the pin on the handle and remove it
  • Aim at the base of the fire
  • Squeeze the handle to begin spraying
  • Sweep the entire affected area around the base of the fire
  • This is a popular place for everyone to learn the proper disaster procedures, including the young students who come with their school classes.

    Dimyo Clock Museum (Wa-dokei)

    Japan's different, and it was even more different before they adopted the solar calendar in the late 1800s. Before then, Japan operated on a type of flextime; according to the season, the number of hours comprising day and night varied.

    The clocks had pictures of the zodiac on the face. Adjusting or rotating the symbols on the face or adding weights to vary the clock's operating speed accomplished changing the lengths of time. A commemorative version is in Tokyo's Ginza district.

    Exhibits of actual Japanese clocks used by Edo period feudal lords in this older part of Tokyo are unique to this museum in Japan. By the way, these clocks were considered status symbols, and only the lords were allowed to own them.

    The Daimyo Clock Museum began as a private collection of a clothing store's owner. Later, his son continued the collection and turned it into a museum. The museum rests peacefully in a walled garden complete with antique mossy statues lining the walks.

    Speaking first of food then of time reminds me that it's time for lunch. So, dear readers, we invite you to continue our timeless journey through Japan's unusual museums in the next blog article.

    Photo credits Seth Werkheiser, Guilhem Vellut, Hajime NAKANO and Arjan Richter

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