Take a trip back in time and sample a taste of the ebb and flow of life in premodern southern Tokyo.
The Shinagawa Historical Museum offers vivid images of the changes that have shaped Shinagawa, its fishing-town heritage and the area’s prosperity as a “shukuba-machi,” or key stopover on a busy travel route.
Founded in 1985 by Shinagawa Ward, the museum boasts a variety of historic tidbits.
One exhibit illustrates the development of Shinagawa as a post town on the Tokaido Road during the Tokugawa shogunate.
“Shinagawa played a role as a gateway to Edo (old Tokyo), where travelers stopped before entering the city center,” said Yuichi Terakado, the museum’s curator.
The shogunate built five main roads stretching from Edo, including the Tokaido Road connecting the city with Kyoto. There were 53 post towns on the route, Shinagawa being the first stop from Edo.
Travelers, ranging from daimyo to ordinary people, rested or stayed overnight in the town. Travel goods, including a traditional “bento” box and a change purse, are on exhibit on the museum’s first floor.
At the center of the gallery is an elaborate miniature of the Shinagawa post town. The model is based on a picture drawn in 1845, according to Terakado.
Tiny rows of shops and miniature kimono-clad figures, including travelers with straw hats and teahouse waitresses, offer images of the town’s heyday.
It prospered as a post town until the nation’s first railway, connecting Shinbashi and Yokohama, was opened in 1872.
During the Edo Period, Shinagawa was also something of a tourist resort. Of the four post towns within Edo’s borders, Shinagawa was the only one fronting the sea.
“People used to come to see cherry blossoms at Gotenyama in spring and red leaves at Kaianji Temple in autumn. At the seashore in summer, clam-digging was popular,” Terakado said.
Shinagawa’s main industry in those times was fishing, and a small-scale replica of a wooden fishing boat is on display. The fisheries business continued until the early 1960s, when that part of Tokyo Bay was filled in amid rapid postwar economic development, Terakado explained.
A large part of the museum’s second floor is dedicated to exhibits on Edward S. Morse and the Omori Shell Mounds, who is generally considered the birthplace of Japanese archaeology.
Morse, a biologist from Maine, excavated the shell mounds at Omori, near Shinagawa’s border with adjacent Ota Ward, in the late 19th century.
He visited Japan in 1877 to collect brachiopods as part of his research and stumbled over a shell layer in Omori by chance.
Morse spotted the shell mounds while passing the site by train, according to Terakado. He then conducted a scientific excavation on the layer and gave it its current name.
Terakado added that Morse also made great contributions to Japan by introducing Japanese culture to the U.S.
“Dr. Morse loved Japan, and took a host of everyday objects from Japan to the United States,” Terakado said. These goods are stored at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.
His collection of Japanese pottery is kept in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.