A Cultural & Historical Walk through Nakano City: Part 2
Continuing from last time, the theme of this edition of “Nakano seen from foreigners” is getting to interact with Nakano’s culture and history. Nakano is known as the “holy land of anime and subculture,” but it also has many historical cultural assets and buildings. “A Cultural & Historical Walk through Nakano City: Part 2” takes us to visit Tetsugakudo Park, a globally unique place with the theme of philosophy, and “Yamazaki Memorial Nakano Historical Museum”, which houses a collection of historical cultural assets and materials from Nakano City.
Yamazaki Memorial Nakano Historical Museum
In the second half of our journey through Nakano’s cultural history, we leave behind Tetsugakudo Park and Rengeji Temple, and start from the Yamazaki Memorial Nakano City Museum of History and Folklore in the Ekoda neighborhood. The museum holds both permanent and limited-time exhibitions focusing on the history and folklore of the Nakano area.
I picked up an English pamphlet at the back of the entrance and visited the “Sewing Hinagata” special exhibition on the ground floor first. There was an exhibit on sewing work from Japan’s older times (early 20th century). (The exhibit ended on December 19, 2020.) Various tools, patterns, and sewing works were displayed along the three walls. In the middle of the room I found old sewing machines (both domestic and foreign-made) that had been used by the needleworkers of long ago, and there were also old coin purses and “omamori” charms, as well as hand-sewn dolls.
Also on display were fashion magazines for the common people of the time. It was interesting to learn, depending on the year, in which period traditional Japanese clothing such as kimonos or Western-style clothing were popular in Japan.
Many of the exhibits were in miniature size, and at first I thought they were clothes for dolls, but the staff explained that this was because sewers used to make them in smaller sizes than full size for practice. And even though I have no particular interest in sewing and needlework, the exhibit included a wide variety of artifacts and descriptive material that I could view for a long time without growing tired.
Leaving behind the special needlework exhibit, I moved upstairs to the permanent exhibition hall. This is the main exhibition hall where Nakano’s history is on display. Walking in, you see a giant timeline on the wall, starting from the ancient times at the entrance, all through the ages until the present day, and the exhibits are displayed chronologically along this timeline. In the center of the exhibition room are also exhibits related to Tetsugakudo Park and the historically famous Nakano Inuyashiki. So, I started my visit in order from the ancient Jomon-era section of the exhibit.
What is fascinating about this permanent exhibit is the combination of cultural artifacts, dioramas, illustrations, and animations to illustrate the transformation of Nakano over thousands of years. I was pleased that there are English descriptions to support international guests’ understanding of the exhibit information. Of course, you will be able to glean even more details with an understanding of Japanese.
The Jomon period section features artifacts found in Nakano from thousands of years ago, when the inhabitants were hunter-gatherers. Thus, you can find ancient hunting weapons such as spearheads and arrowheads made from stone. A few steps later, and you can view pottery from long ago. As an American, this was especially interesting to find, because history exhibits in my home country typically do not feature artifacts from ancient, local inhabitants (especially pottery). Viewing those further gave me a perspective into the length of Japan’s history and depth of its culture.
Next to there is a section explaining the period of time during which the local area’s inhabitants began cultivating the land and growing their own crops, as well as the time when tribes of people would bury their passed leaders in special graves. By pressing a button on the description panel, visitors can view a video with scenes from long ago (video only). Continuing onward, there was a diorama that recreated the streets of Nakano in the Edo period, and the walls depicted the townspeople selling their wares on the main street.
Other stationery and daily necessities, such as calligraphy brushes and seals, were also on display, giving an idea of what daily life was like more than a hundred years ago. Walking through the exhibition room in this way, I was able to learn about the changing times in Nakano as the time period progressed more and more.
However, the most impressive part of this exhibition room was the display corner that followed.
In the far corner of the exhibition room was a recreation of an old 1900s Japanese home, complete with a kitchen, storage shed and more. Though the recreation only shows part of a complete home, it is life-size, and very large and houses many artifacts, such as Japanese-style stoves, rice-cookers, and other household items. When I asked a staff member about the original size of the home, they explained that several generations of relatives lived there with their families as well as live-in servants.Hearing that, as an American, the first thing that came to mind was a sharehouse.
Even though you cannot step foot inside the house, everything is large enough to view clearly from a few feet away, and it was fun walking around to view each room from different angles.
Near the exit of the exhibition room, there is a corner introducing modern Nakano, including Nakano Sunplaza. From the Jomon period exhibition, I had made the rounds up to the modern exhibition finale, which allowed me to experience the depth of Nakano’s and Japan’s history and culture with a sense of realism.
Coming from a relatively “young” country, I found my experience here fascinating, and it is definitely worth a visit for anyone looking to understand a part of Tokyo or even Japan in general.
Outside the permanent exhibition room, there was even a corner dedicated to the founder of Tetsugakudo Park, Inoue Enryo.
Nakano Sunplaza and Inuyashiki Ruins
Leaving the Yamazaki Memorial Nakano Historical Museum, it was already late afternoon, so I decided to take a bus back to the area near Nakano Station for lunch. On the way, I passed by Nakano Sunplaza, which was mentioned at the end of the permanent exhibition room of the Yamazaki Memorial Nakano Historical Museum, and the famous “Inuyashiki Ruins” built by the Tokugawa shogun to protect dogs.
A stone monument and dog statues were built at the site of the Inuyashiki.
“Sarashina Sohonten” restaurant for soba
Since I had seen a lot of Japanese culture and history today, I thought that Japanese food would be a good choice for lunch. So I made my way to Sarashina Sohonten, a famous restaurant for soba (buckwheat noodles) located in the Sun Mall shopping district north of Nakano Station.
I sat at a table in a second-story Japanese dining room with a sunken floor where you rest your feet. Behind where I sat was a window overlooking the restaurant’s outer garden scenery, making for a peaceful and pleasant dining experience.
The waiter brought hot tea, and I ordered soba noodles to dip into hot soup. (For those hoping for an English menu, there is one available with photos of the various dishes.) Between the tasty food after a long day of exploring Nakano, and the calming atmosphere of the restaurant’s very Japanese aesthetic, I thought it was a restaurant I would like to introduce to friends on a future visit to Nakano.
With the end of my late lunch, I concluded the day’s journey through Nakano by heading back to Nakano Station. Still, the area was lively, and it was a needed reminder that despite a common perception among internationals, Tokyo is not limited to only Shibuya, Shinjuku and Akihabara; Nakano provides cultural enrichment whether for visitors who want food and shopping, great restaurants for dining, and opportunities to delve into the local history. I look forward to my next chance to visit Nakano and explore more of the area.
My name is Zac. I am from the United States and have been living in Japan for four years. I became intrigued by Japanese culture in junior high school and have been studying Japanese ever since.