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Old 01-02-2018, 11:03 PM
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Default Japan Tour: Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum


Kabutocho is where the Tokyo Stock Exchange is, and this area, along with the adjacent Kayabacho district, in Tokyo's Chuo ward, has been a lively part of Tokyo, with strong business associations, ever since the land here was reclaimed from Tokyo Bay in the 17th century, from shortly after the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603.

Lighting up a corner of the park: the Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum, inside Sakamotocho Park.
This afternoon I was walking through the bleak Sakamotocho Park in Chuo ward. Sakamotocho Park dates from 1889 and was apparently the first small park to be created in downtown Tokyo, but it has nothing to show for its venerable history, being an ugly stretch of dirt with a small patch of basic playthings, and an equally ugly prefab elementary school. Again, in a sad commentary on how the ruthless practicalities of life in Japan often run roughshod over the historical significance of places and things, this drab, cheaply built school that looks more like a temporary warehouse was where the great novelist Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (born in nearby Ningyocho) was once a pupil.

Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum entrance.

Coming to the other side of the park, what looked like a colorful shop window caught my eye. It seemed an odd place for a store, and on closer inspection I discovered that it was not a retail outlet at all, but a tiny museum, chockablock with ornate Shinto-festival-related paraphernalia, giving off a wonderfully luxuriant golden glow, cheering up a corner of this dismal park.

Omikoshi portable shrine at the Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum

Inside the Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum, on full display through big department-store-style plate glass windows, are four portable shrines and a festival float on wheels used in local Shinto festivals. The festivals are associated with the main Shinto shrine in the area, Hie Shrine Nihonbashi Sessha, just a little north-east across Route 10, and which was established in the early-to-mid 17th century as a sessha auxiliary shrine to the main Hie Shrine in Tokyo's Akasaka district.

There is also a display of antique photographs, and traditional hanten jackets (made of leather rather than the normal cotton) that, back in the day, were used as protective wear by the local fire brigade. Local fire brigades in Japan, made up of volunteer members of the community, took an active part in the neighborhood festivals. (The Nihonbashi Fire Station is near the park.)

Festive gold lion mask belonging to the Kayabasho 1-chome neighborhood.
The big festival float is the prize exhibit here, and is distinguished for being topped by a samurai-style helmet (i.e., a kabuto, after which the Kabuto-cho area is named) instead of the usual phoenix. The portable shrine (o-mikoshi, carried aloft on poles rather than wheeled around) used by the Kabutocho neighborhood sports not an actual helmet, but the kanji for "helmet" (kabuto), as well as ornaments in the shape of the kabuto character.

Portable shrine of the Kabuocho neighborhood association
All the portable shrines here are exquisitely and gorgeously designed and decorated. The one for the Kabutocho neighborhood, dating from the 1920s, has white dragons depicted writhing up and around it, while others take more closely after a Shinto shrine, with black lacquered roofs.

The Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum probably won't ever make it to the mainstream guides on Tokyo and, unless you're a local Japanese festivals aficionado, you won't feel you're missing much if you don't make it here; but, it's a must-see if you're in the Kabutocho-Kayabacho neighborhood, both for its historical interest and for the fascinating little island of antique glamor that it forms in the middle of one of Tokyo's glummest townscapes.

Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum, seen from the eastern end of Sakamotocho Park.
Kabutocho and Kayabacho Machikado Museum
Nihonbashi-kabutocho 15-3, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Open daily, 8:30am-8pm.
2-minute walk from Exit 12 of Kayabacho Station (Tozai Subway Line and Hibiya Subway Line)
Free entry.

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