This story is part of a package on university museums. To read the introduction, please click here.

The green leaves of the zelkova trees alongside the small road rustled gently in the breeze. The distant laughter of small children floated in the air. And an old couple strolled slowly along, side by side. We might be in Tokyo, but the vibe is totally rural, and this is appropriate because on this road lies the new Food and Agriculture Museum.

Built by Tokyo University of Agriculture -- commonly known as Nodai -- to commemorate its 110th anniversary in 2001, the museum opened in Setagaya Ward with a grand ceremony in April this year.

"We wanted people to know more about education, the environment and food," said Shigeyuki Miyabayashi, the director of the museum. "And agriculture has to do with all three. This was our way of making a contribution to society."

On entering the spacious building, on the first floor visitors can read about the history of the university and its founder, Takeaki Enomoto, and look at exhibits of old farming equipment used in farming rice in the Edo (1603-1867) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods -- or just relax in the nice little cafe. The main museum area is on the second floor, which consists of two sections -- a permanent display and a temporary exhibit.

Making the most of being one of the few universities in Japan with a Department of Fermentation, the permanent exhibition includes more than 200 different types of tokkuri bottles and ochoko cups for drinking sake. Lined up on the wall in one corner there are also 300 bottles of different types of nihonshu (Japanese sake) from breweries that are run by graduates. According to the university, 80 percent of all of Japanese nihonshu breweries are represented here.

"Sake plays an important part in agriculture and the environment," said Miyabayashi. "Of course, sake is made from rice, but it also needs clear water -- which only exists in a good, healthy environment. It is also often drunk at festivals held to pray for a good harvest."

Among the displays are binbo (poor) tokkuri for those who don't have enough cash to afford a whole bottle; and also what are called bekuhai ochoko, which are like tiny shot glasses, except some have holes and others are rounded at the bottom so you can't put them down, which means you have to knock back the drink in one go. There are also ochoko from the World War II era, created to commemorate the departure or return of a loved one from battle.

The museum's first temporary exhibition, which ended July 11, was titled "Food and Health." Together with 24 food and drink manufacturers, each booth showed samples of products and scientific evidence of their effects on health.

"Food safety is very important nowadays," said Miyabayashi. "We hoped that people would learn about natural foodstuffs and reconsider their eating habits."

The next temporary exhibition, "Nature and Industry of Ohotsk," takes place from July 27 to Sept. 26. This show will have three themes: the ocean, forest and land that surround the Sea of Ohotsk region north of Hokkaido. Through these natural resources, visitors will be able to learn about food production, processing and distribution in northern Japan, as well as environmental issues that have surfaced in recent years. And at the cafe, special dishes using foodstuffs from the Ohotsk region will be on the menu.

With such fresh ideas and its wide variety of exhibits, the museum has got off to a good start. Already, visitor numbers have topped 25,000, which is twice what was expected. This may have a lot to do with the fact that the museum is constructed just outside the Setagaya campus, so people who happen to walk by can easily drop in.

"I hope that this museum will become an interactive space for small children and their grandparents," said Miyabayashi. "In a modern society where human relationships are becoming weak, this is a good place to reconnect with one another while learning something as well."

Tokyo University of Agriculture's Food and Agriculture Museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Mon.; admission free. For further information, call the museum at (03) 5477-4033 or visit

For other stories in our package, please click the following links:

Universities put on a show
Bygone botanists bring the past to life
Woe betide the accused
Drop by and tune in to a world of music
Wherever you may be