Museums Most ODD 2

by Julian Ryall

bonsai-museum-leadKunio Kobayashi opened the Shunkaen Bonsai Gallery, in a residential district of eastern Tokyo, eight years ago aiming to promote the art of miniaturized plants to a wider—and increasingly international—audience.

Within the walls of the museum, the ground is covered with gravel or paving stones, reminiscent of a temple. Apprentices are carefully pruning plants atop turntables in the workshop, the tools of their trade alongside them.

On the other side of the compound, a glass-fronted building houses dozens of carved wooden tables designed to best show off the plants’ attributes. Nearby are hundreds of pots, ranging from shallow containers several feet long to delicate fire-glazed bowls.

In the window, a miniaturized zelkova, a member of the elm family, has received years of tender care. Its branches have been teased in just the right direction to make a perfect umbrella shape atop the trunk. Grown from a seed and worked on for 50 years or so, the shape is entirely man-made.

In contrast, the other two entrants are far more the work of nature. Discovered high in the Japanese mountains several hundred years ago, juniper trees that had suffered damage at the hands of wildlife or the elements were brought down and their still living parts were encouraged to grow. The result is the darker, living wood twisting around the dead white parts.

Equally devoted to Japanese culture is The Edo-Tokyo Museum. Covering some 30,000 square meters, visitors enter in grand style by crossing a replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge of the 1590s.

edo-tokyo-museumThe museum’s exhibits are divided into three distinct areas, starting with the Edo Zone. Rare scrolls, pictures and ukiyoe woodblock prints are used to tell the story of how the city developed, with scale models—perfect down to the last detail—catching the kids’ attention.

Other eye-catching displays include replicas of wooden houses, shrines and boats that used to ply the coastal areas. The Tokyo Zone depicts the metropolis as it leaves Edo behind to become a modern city, with foreign influences increasingly apparent. This area also shows how Tokyo rebuilt itself after the devastating impacts of both the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II and traces that regeneration through to the start of Japan’s economic miracle years. The third zone is given over to alternating special exhibitions related to the history and culture of Tokyo.

yokohama-coast-guard-museumFar more modern history is on display at the Japan Coast Guard Museum, in Yokohama, while some might argue that the incident it was opened to showcase is more out of a spy thriller than real life. On December 22, 2001, the Coast Guard received reports that a suspicious vessel had been spotted in waters to the southwest of Kyushu, with aircraft and patrol ships dispatched to investigate the intruder. The chase was shown repeatedly on television news programs over the next few days, and can be seen at the museum in a video that depicts the Coast Guard chasing the suspicious vessel, ordering it to halt and then firing warning shots across its bows.

The Coast Guard vessels sustained damage from 173 rounds from the North Korean ship, which caught fire and eventually exploded in what has since been determined as a detonation set off by the crew. Ten months later, the vessel was recovered from the seabed - and the authorities were stunned at what they found. As well as the remains o f 10 crew members killed when the ship sank, Japanese authorities recovered shoulder fired rocket launchers, AKS-74 assault rifles, hand grenades, waterproof suits and diving equipment, maps of coastal regions of Kagoshima Prefecture, an inflatable dinghy, electronic equipment, documents and a lapel pin bearing the smiling visage of Kim Il Sung. The museum is small—but gives an excellent indication of the impressive work that the Coast Guard does. ❖

The Shunkaen Bonsai Museum
1-29-16 Nihori, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3670-8622

Edo-Tokyo Museum
1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3626-9974

The Japan Coast Guard Museum

The Yokohama Maritime Disaster Prevention Base
1-2-1 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Tel: 045-662-1185