Takayama Showa Era Museum 昭和時代

Today I bring to you a true Hidden Gem of Takayama-city – the Shōwa era museum. Hidden Gem in every send of the word. Hidden because it’s literally through the back of a toy & candy store, unseen until you enter through a curtained door. A Gem because while it is not huge in size, it’s uniqueness and quality make up for it in its brilliance!

The Takayama Showa-kan is located right in the middle of Takayama near the old town on a fairly nondescript side street, aside from some retro signs and animatronic sculptures that set it apart from the surroundings.

The windows give you a peek into the toy and candy store.
The windows give you a peek into the toy and candy store.

Once inside the toy and candy store… you wonder, how big could this museum be?? There’s really no way to tell without paying admission. My opinion – it’s worth the $8 to get in, and there was more to explore than I expected. Certainly not a huge museum – but an adventure for the eyes with plenty entertain you for an hour or two.

As you enter the museum you begin to feel transported to a part of Japan’s not too distant past (Showa period 1926-1989). A time that endured a lot of change and most of us have only seen in the movies, where industry, fashion and culture changed following the war. For some, that period may even be our original vision of Japan.

The layout of the museum breaks the art installations out into various themed rooms or shops that line a street.

You get the quaint feeling that this must have started as someone’s personal collection… which grew out of control, and then took on a new meaning – and then others began to contribute. Is this true? Maybe not – but i’d like to believe it is.

Some of the items are rare pop-culture relics that collectors-of-too-many-things like me would love to have in their own home, while other items feel more normal, as if you might be able to find them in a second-hand junk store. Together it works, building a vibe that allows the imagination to run.

It’s not hard to find a variety of classic movie posters, both foreign and domestic.

Another thing that makes this museum unique is the access. There’s no barriers, ropes or security guards – you are in it. Trusted to treat the place with a measure of respect.

Shōwa era restaurant
Recreation of a Shōwa era restaurant.
Buddy Mike steps into the past.
Buddy Mike steps into the past.

As i wander around, I wonder where all this stuff came from, and who in town still has treasures like these sitting in their own closet or storage house. I certainly don’t see these types of items in the local second-hand store. One side of the street we see a barber shop, while another corner has a recreation of a camera stores. You pop in and out of rooms, and inevitably your eyes are drawn to the tiny details

Video game nerds will be happy to know there is a small gaming area set aside with emulations of Nintendo, Intellivision, and other 80’s era game consoles where you can take a rest and relive some childhood memories.

The Classroom
The Classroom

And I can’t go without mentioning one room which i found to be especially endearing – the Showa era classroom. Is this classroom like the one that “the creator” of this museum went to school in? I can’t tell you. But I hope to answer some of these lingering questions about how and why this small but beautiful museum was created, and I hope that you check back if you are just as curious as I am.

Now go check out my post 8 Things to Love About the Japanese Countryside.

Ohinasama Hina Ningyo

Hina Ningyo Dolls 雛人形 Ohinasama お雛様

A holiday and festival called Hinamatsuri (雛祭り, or Girl’s Day/Doll’s Festival, is celebrated on March 3rd.  Before the holiday takes place families set out a display of ornamental dolls (雛人形 hina-ningyō) representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians (of the Heian period).

While I’ve seen these dolls in various settings, I’d never really learned the meaning behind it. As my Japan family recently set theirs up, it seemed like a good opportunity to document the occasion!

From sometime in February to March 3, the dolls are displayed, resting atop a platform of seven tiers. First the platform is assembled, and then covered by red fabric/carpet with rainbow striped at the bottom (dankake (段掛) or  hi-mōsen (緋毛氈). Platforms for the dolls are placed reflecting a very specific order, which varies somewhat depending on region ( Kantō and Kansai).

Various miniature tools, and furniture are added such as chests, a mirrors, and other items you’d find in the palace.

I found these old setup directions which weren’t much help, a bit dated judging by the hairstyle.

Once the dolls have been placed, they each receive their rightful accessories including instruments for the musicians, swords and bow/arrows for the ministers, crowns, fans, and more.

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Here you can see the before & after of the old minister (daijin)  getting his hat, weapons, and accessories.

When complete, you end up with a rather impressive display. Some doll sets are purchased new, while many others are handed down over generations. The dolls are put away promptly following the March 3rd holiday, as a superstition surrounds those being left out for too long!

My family also had a small side table displaying some older style ceramic dolls.

That’s all for now, check back for a post on the Hinamatsuri itself, which like other Japanese festivals is about to include traditional food and drink to accompany the day.

雛人形 [ひなにんぎょう (hinaningyou)]
お雛様, 御雛様 [おひなさま (ohinasama)]

Sanno Matsuri まつり 祭り

As the seasons change one exciting form of public entertainment is the many festivals, often regional or for specific purposes, which take place in Japan. When I say Japan I’m really speaking about my own very limited experience, in the Hida Takayama region of Gifu prefecture, and the Takayama Spring and Fall festivals.

In April you can truly witness the change of seasons, with drastic changes happening overnight. Literally, I’ve woken up to fields of flowers that were not there the day before.
Takayama’s spring festival, or Sanno Matsuri, celebrates this change of season. Takayama’s festivals are generally regarded as one of the best in japan, due to the sheer beauty of the elaborate displays called Yatai.

Now let me take a step back here. It’s hard to know how to describe what the Yatai is, and the closest english is probably “parade float” but I really hate to use those words for two reasons. 1. I’ve never been a fan of parades, and I wouldn’t compare one to the festivals. and 2. When I say “float” it makes me think of an inflatable Donald Duck ballon or something, and the Yatai carts are ornate wheeled displays with intricate carvings, lacquering, woven-work and decorative metal-work, found both on the outside and inside – some with intricate mechanical puppets which perform as part of the entertainment.


My understanding is that the different Yatai carts were created by different surrounding communities, with contributions from various artisans from those communities. Over time they would be further improved, and with a bit of competition between the communities the carts would become even more beautiful.

As expected there is music, dancing, performances, and of course my favorite… many differed food stalls to choose from. I recommend attending one for yourself if at all possible.

Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) “Pure Water Temple”

I want this Blog to document my move to Japan, a “fish out of water” experience. But it’s not as if I’ve never visited. It is the beautiful experiences with the country, people and culture which strengthen the siren call to make the big leap. Being married to a Japanese citizen means that I’ve had the fortune of a few trips, usually focused around family, food, travel and fun.

One such trip was my Honeymoon, in 2010. On this trip we stayed with family in the countryside, but also made it a point to visit a few other cities including; TOKYO, KYOTO, and IZU.

Today my mind wanders to a fond memory from Kyoto. With literally hundreds of temples and shrines in Kyoto, I only had the time to pick a couple to visit. One was Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺).


I remember clearly how it was not only the hottest day of the year, but also the hottest day on record for decades. We didn’t let it deter us and it made for a vivid memory. I’ve heard that extreme cold/heat can make for stronger memories. Maybe there’s some truth to that. As always, the streets and people in route to the destination always grab my attention.

A few facts about Kiyomizu-dera:

  • Founded in 780
  • Like most ancient structures it has been built, and rebuilt with current buildings from around 1633
  • Not a single nail in the entire structure, notched wood
  • It’s named after a waterfall that runs through it
  • The Main Hall hangs off the side of a cliff, overlooking maple trees and the cit of Kyoto
  • An old tradition states that if you jump off (49′), and live, your wish is granted (jumping not allowed)
  • In 2007 it was a finalist for the New Seven Wonders of the World
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

I guess it’s typical of my curiosity to focus on the oldest structures first. And with this temple being founded around 780, perhaps as early as 657, I can’t help but be fascinated by it.

The reality is that no man made structure lasts forever, and the temples and castles of Japan have often been partially or even completely rebuilt at times due to fire or various battles. This one is no exception with many of the buildings having been rebuilt in the 1600’s. One amazing feat is how faithful they are to reproducing the original structures.

Not a single nail is used in the construction of the 13meter high main hall which sits on the edge of a mountain. 139 pillars, each 49 feet high.  What a testament to the mastery of the creators. It is said if you jump off and survive – your wish will be granted. While the practice has obviously gone out of fashion (banned), 234 jumps were recorded in the Edo period and 200 survived. I’d love to know what their wishes were.

As you can probably guess, I recommend checking out this temple regardless of the fact that it is a popular destination. It is large enough, with enough history and interesting things to explore that you are sure to have your own unique experience.