One of our family’s favorite ways to learn is through hands-on experiences. Sometimes it’s cooking classes. Other times it may take the form of historical reenactments or clever interactive museum exhibits. Whatever the experience, we enjoy being immersed in it rather than just reading about it.
For a view of what Edo Period Kansai might have looked like, then the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living offers a little of this immersive experience. For many visitors, this recreation of 1800s Japan seems nothing more than a small and sanitized selfie opportunity, and they’re not wrong. However, it can also be part of a fun, educationa and budget-friendly afternoon out.
The museum occupies the top three floors of a 10-story building. The entrance, however, is located conveniently underground, near exit 3 of the Tenjinbashisuji 6-chome Subway Station. Once you’ve purchased your tickets, you’ll head to the elevators to reach the 10th-floor entrance. You may have to wait to enter if the museum is at capacity. Go early to avoid the crowds.
From the 10th-floor observatory, you’ll look down at a simulacrum of an Edo-era village. The scene is similar to the Fukagawa Edo Museum in Tokyo. It’s a bird’s eye view of village life, with traditional tiled roofs against white walls that are lit to give the impression of the sky as it goes from dawn to dusk. The curved ceiling and skylights may break the illusion, but it’s still a sight to see. Stick around long enough for the “night” segment, and you’ll see fireworks projected onto the walls.
Now it’s time to head to the ninth floor and walk through the display itself. The “city” has one main thoroughfare flanked by shops, houses and other exhibits. Kids will enjoy touching the utensils in the Edo kitchen. Parents will appreciate the tatami room with gold Japanese screens.
My daughter enjoyed the display with traditional toys. Made mostly with wood and cloth, these toys hark back to a time long before iPhones and video games. There are koma (wooden spinning tops), taketombo (bamboo propellers) and many other items.
When we last visited, there was a large mikoshi (portable Shino shrine) at the end of the lantern-lined path — a perfect backdrop for photos.
Selfies do appear to be one of the main reasons many tourists come here. The background is manufactured but picturesque, and kimono rentals are reasonably priced. For ¥500, you can wear a kimono for an hour while exploring the facility. There are a variety of styles to choose from and plenty of staff to help you wear it properly. You are fitted and dressed on the spot, with the kimono worn over your regular clothes. The museum has kimonos for anyone 110 centimeters tall and above, so be warned, little ones will have to miss out on playing dress-up.
The kimono rentals are also so popular that you may have to wait an hour or longer to wear them. There is a schedule, however, set up next to the door of the fitting room, and an English-speaking staff member is there to help. If you need to wait for a fitting (as we did), then you may want to time your visit around it. Check the rental times when you first arrive. That way you can book a time early and then wander around until the fitters are ready for you. In our case, we actually booked a time and then left the museum to find lunch. Once we returned, it was fitting time.
When we visited, there were large groups of Korean students on a school trip. Some were in kimonos, and some were not, but they all wanted the same photos in front of the same backdrops. Keep this in mind when taking your own pictures. Patience may be required, so wait your turn. Also remember that because of the day-to-night lighting in the museum, part of your time there will be in low light, which some cameras have problems with.
Once finished in the village reconstruction, head to the eighth floor to see scale models of scenes from Osaka in the 1800s and 1900s. Japanese museums do these types of exhibits well and detailed dioramas can be an engaging way to talk about Japanese history.
Looking for food afterward? Or want to make this into an entire afternoon activity? The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living sits at the northern tip of one of Japan’s longest covered shopping streets. Tenjinbashisuji shōtengai is over 2½ kilometers long with plenty of restaurants, shopping and more along the way. This makes for a great day indoors, away from cold or inclement weather. The original Edo residents didn’t have it this easy, and that can be worth discussing with the kids after your visit.
The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Tue; entry is ¥600 for adults, ¥300 for high school students and free for junior high and younger, konjyakukan.com