Old Vs. New: Adventures in the Edo Open Air Museum and Harajuku

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One of the coolest things about living in Tokyo is that you can see the contrast between the older side of Tokyo and the newer, trendier side of Tokyo. In some places in Tokyo one can see that contrast side by side. My weekend was full of these contrasts. This weekend I decided to go to the Edo Open Air Architecture Museum to see what some of the houses in Japan would have looked like during the Edo period and Harajuku, to see trendsetting Japanese fashion.

The Edo Open Air Architecture Museum. This is only a small part of it. It was enormous!

The Edo Open Air Architecture Museum. This is only a small part of it. It was enormous!

When I went to the museum and went inside of these houses it surprised me that even in times when Japan was copying Western ideas and technology, like in the Meiji period, everything they did or made had a distinct Japanese flair about it. There were still spaces to take off your shoes in the houses and the insulation was limited, just like in modern day Japanese houses. The architecture itself was inspired by western architecture, but still had a uniquely Japanese flair with some buildings looking like the two types of architecture had been mushed together. It was also powerful to see a shrine that was one of the last of its kind. The area surrounding the shrine was gorgeous and peaceful, as well as eerily quiet. The shrine was not very big, but it was beautiful with its wonderful coloring, scarlet red, gold, and black. Most of the shrines like the one described previously were destroyed by air raids in the Second World War. It was hard not to think of what this place meant to the Japanese as many looked upon it reverently.

The sign at the beginning of one of the busiest streets in Harajuku

The sign at the beginning of one of the busiest streets in Harajuku

After a quick stop for lunch with a friend, we decided to go to Harajuku, a place know for its trendsetting fashion and local girls with unique fashion sense known as “Harajuku Girls.” Walking down the street one could see this was a tourist place. There were many foreigners like myself who were interested in the unique fashion such as “Gothic Lolita” clothes and accessories. There were plenty of those girls around the street. What interested me wasn’t the girls wearing the clothes and the strangeness of it all, but the clothes themselves. Many of the shops had clothes that were custom made and exclusive to Harajuku, meaning the price tag was crazy expensive. But I had to admire the amount of detail and dedication that went into making the clothes–some of them were made by the people managing the store. Harajuku isn’t just known for its fashion trends, however. It is also known for its crepes. Some of the crepes at the stores would make anyone salivate. They had any type of flavor one could possibly imagine and they were just as delicious as they looked.

I came back home from those two places with an interesting perspective on Japanese culture. The Japanese may adopt other culture’s technology, food, clothes, mannerisms, and even architecture, but they will always find a unique way to make it distinctly Japanese. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Edo Open Air Museum and in Harajuku.

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