10 Tokyo Museums Odder than the Cup Noodle Museum
The August edition of British Airways’ Highlife Magazine has a feature about the world’s oddest museums. Japan is represented by The Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama. While we don’t doubt that some people may find that fairly odd, here are 10 museums which we would argue are considerably odder. We use ‘odder’ here very affectionately, and truly admire the dedication required, in many cases single-minded, to build up these incredibly niche collections. They are all part of the rich tapestry which make Tokyo the World’s Greatest Metropolis. “Let’s enjoy museum!”
1. IRIS Button Museum
IRIS was founded in 1946. They manufacture garment trimmings, photo frames, hobby goods, accessories, and of course buttons. Opened in 1988, the Button Museum holds a collection of antique buttons from around the world, along with relevant documents, which allow the visitor to take a journey through the history of fashion, through buttons.
Why is it odder? It’s about buttons. And trust us, you’ve never seen buttons like these.
2. Amuse Museum
The general mission of the wonderfully-named Amuse Museum, which sits on prime real estate close to Sensoji, the world’s most visited religious site, is to send out the “Japanese unique virtues such as ‘harmony’, ‘beauty’ and technology’”… their words, not ours. We love this place, especially it’s incredible permanent collection of Boro Textiles – country clothes and quilts made from indigo patchwork rags . As a bonus, you can see the digitised Spaulding Collection, one of the world’s most comprehensive Ukiyo-e collections, which, by the terms of their gift, will never be displayed in the galleries of their holder, the Museum of Fine Art, Boston.
Why is it odder?: Where else can you learn so much about history and culture by ogling what they made out of rags?
3. Meguro Parasitological Museum
On everyone’s list of Tokyo’s weird and wonderful sites, and deservedly so. Opened in 1953 by Doctor Satoru Kamegai, the museum shows the diversity of parasites. The ‘highlight’ is an 8.8m tapeworm removed from the body of a man from Yokohama. They also sell some amazing parasite-related souvenirs – a phrase you don’t hear too often.
Why is it odder?: It is actually a hugely popular date spot. If you want to enjoy the parasites to yourselves, go midweek.
4. Ace World Bags and Luggage Museum
The core of the exhibits come from the private collection of Ryusaku Shinkawa, who founded the Shinkawaryu Company in 1940 (which became ACE in 1963). ACE are famous for introducing the world’s first nylon bags in 1954. Disappointed at the lack of bags on display in a leather museum in Offenbach, which he visited in 1958, Shinkawa-san spent the next 18 years collecting bags fit for his own museum, which he opened in 1975.
Why is it odder?: When a disappointing museum visit results in a lifelong obsession with collecting luggage, instead of a flaming one star review, you know it’s got to be worth seeing.
5. Tobacco & Salt Museum
Tobacco and salt were both once protected by a government monopoly. This clearly means that they deserve a museum, together. Opened in Shibuya-ku in November 1978, it relocated to Yokokawa in Sumida-ku in April 2015 as the land it once sat on rose in value. The museum has around 36,000 items in its collection. The tobacco section is especially interesting, with its collection of vintage pipes, cigarette packs and smoking implements from around the world. It helps you understand why the Japanese government still currently owns 33% of Japan Tobacco.
Why is it odder?: Two vices, one museum.
6. Showa Retro Goods Museum
The Showa Era lasted from 1926 to 1989. At the Showa Retro Goods Museum, you can enjoy a nostalgic look back at the toys, medicine sweets, knick-knacks, drinks and film posters from the period. The museum is housed in a refurbished former furniture store that dates back to the late Taisho period (1912-1926).
Why is it odder?: The collection is a great reminder of how easily people were entertained in days of yore. And the second floor is oddly dedicated to Yuki-onna, the snow woman – a tall, beautiful figure who appears on snowy nights. Beautiful and ephemeral, her eyes strike fear into all and she ruthlessly kills unsuspecting mortals. Talk about a bizarre segue!
7. Showa Gentokan
The Gentokan is a one-story small museum full of Showa-era dioramas, and these dioramas are populated by cats. Also, there are parodies of corporate insignia and film posters which feature cats. For example, ‘National’, one of the older brands of Panasonic, becomes ‘Nyational’ – ‘Nya nya’ being Japanese for ‘meow’.
Why is it odder: Errr… for good measure we’ll just repeat the above. The Gentokan is full of Showa-era dioramas, and these dioramas are populated by cats.
TIP: “Showa wo meguru sankan meguri ken” is a pass for visiting the Showa Retro Shohin Hakubutsukan, the Showa Gentokan and the Ome Akatsuka Fujio Kaikan. Available at all three facilities.
8. Tokyo Kite Museum
The museum is located on the fifth floor of the restaurant Taimeiken which was founded in 1931. Why? Former owner Shingo Modegi was a huge kite enthusiast. His son, Masaaki, still runs the restaurant. The museum has a collection of around 3,000 kites, of which 300 are on display at any one time. They are mainly Japanese, with some some from China, the rest of Asia, and beyond. Try to check out the restaurant while you are there – scenes in famous foodie film Tampopo were filmed on its premises.
Why is it odder?: It’s location and the juxtaposition of traditional kites and omu-rice
9. Okamura Chair Museum
Located in the headquarters of the Akasaka building of Okamura, the museum opened in 2009. Okamura have a varied history. They were founded in 1945 by Kenjiro Yoshiwara. The started off manufacturing pots, pans and garden tables and chairs, before turning to more industrial products such as torque converters. Along with the University of Japan they jointly developed Japan’s first post-war aircraft, the N-52. In 1957 they developed Japan’s first front-wheel-drive automatic car, the Mikasa. One of these beautiful machines is on display on the first floor. Over time, the company ended up focusing on its current mainstay, office chairs. It usually requires reservations to enter.
Why is it odder?: The ‘Ergonomic Seating Simulator”, quite possibly the world’s most advanced machine designed to measure… errr… seating-related… things. Also, a futuristic desk and chair arrangement which should please futurologists and any fans of Star Trek.
10. Kenji Igarashi Memorial Dry Cleaning & Laundry Museum
Kenji Igarashi was the founder of dry cleaning in Japan. The museum handles two areas, the man, and the cleaning. You can see belongings of the man himself, and historic laundry-related equipment such as washing boards, washing tubs, detergents and antique irons which used charcoal to create their heat. The museum is in the headquarters of the Hakuyosha Laundry company, whose slogan is ‘Clean Living’, which Igarashi-san founded in 1906.
Why is it odder?: The racks of laundry “mistakes”. Trek out to Ota-ku to see delights such as an unraveling sweater. Bonus: plants that can be used as detergents!
BONUS: In the spirit of this article, we highlight oddness no longer with us:
We really miss the Illusion Museum, which closed at the end of 2015. The Collaboration Research Center for Visual Illusion and Mathematical Sciences at the Meiji Institute for Advanced Study of Mathematical Sciences ended their Computational Illusion project. I think that is all we need to say to make those of you who didn’t visit incredibly jealous.
Why was it odder?: Their slogan was “Resistance is futile. We have computed your vision.” We rest our case.
The full British Airways list:
Treasure in the Trash Museum, NYC
Sewer Museum, Paris