In the background of a 1950s photograph of a train, rises Tokyo Tower — captured during the early days of its construction — a glimpse of Tokyo before it became the megalopolis it is today, and a reminder of how essential Tokyo’s vast public transport system has been to the growth of the city.
In celebration of the centenary of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Transportation, the Edo-Tokyo Museum’s special exhibits gallery is hosting, “100 years of Tokyo Transportation” through September. Tracing the evolution of Tokyo’s public transport infrastructure and facilities over that transformational period, this exhibition draws on a collection of archival materials ranging from miniature train models to posters.
The gallery is set up in a way that encourages visitors to be more than silent observers and to enjoy the exhibit interactively. Beginning with the “Streetcars in Tokyo” section, the walls are lined with snapshots of trains and streetcars from 2011 back to 1911. Paintings from the 1970s display a miniature horse and carriage, as well as a life-size mockup of an old trolleybus, which visitors can take pictures of to relive a moment in history. The recording of cheerful singing and a trolley-conductor’s final boarding call provide a nostalgic ambiance to the exhibit hall. In between artifacts, signs, maps and more miniature tram models, the exhibit also provides helpful charts to show the progression of public transport usage with population growth and new transport technology.
The walk through the exhibition halls follows the timeline of public transportation development. From displays of manuscript books to printed booklets and faded photos, the history of familiar Tokyo destinations becomes clear. Visitors can also expect to see archival video footage and use an interactive model to learn more about subway rail functions. The exhibition concludes with a “Present and Future” section, which showcases various components of the amount of work that goes into developing and maintaining efficient public transportation, complete with images of smiling employees. It leaves visitors with an appreciation of how much effort is put into ensuring the day-to-day transport demands that Tokyo residents and visitors take for granted.
This exhibition is sure to appeal to adults and kids, history buffs and photography fans alike. With two more life-size train and trolley cars outside the exhibition area, visitors can continue to explore or even take a piece of the show back by picking up a souvenir at the gift shop. (Sally Kikuchi)
Edo-Tokyo Museum is open 9:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. (Sat. till 7:30 p.m.), closed Mon.; admission ¥1,300 (¥1,520 with the museum’s permanent exhibition). For more information, visit www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp.