Inuyama is quite famous for its castle, which has the oldest castle tower in Japan. However, Inuyama City has another attraction that is even more special: Hakubutsukan Meiji Mura, or as it is more commonly referred to: Meiji Mura. Some feel that this museum in Nagoya is Aichi Prefecture’s most underrated tourist destination, if not all of Japan’s. This “museum” is a sprawling open-air architectural extravaganza featuring 67 buildings moved from all over Japan and then rebuilt on 250 acres of land approximately one hour north of Nagoya.
Opened in 1965 with 15 buildings, Meiji Mura does not only feature buildings from Japan’s Meiji era but also those from the Taisho and early Showa eras. Most of the structures are in the Meiji-era-style (buildings that mix classical Western architecture with Japanese construction techniques), so this is where its name comes from.
“This ‘museum’ is a sprawling open-air architectural extravaganza featuring 67 buildings moved from all over Japan and rebuilt on 250 acres of land.”
One of Meiji Mura’s founders, Yoshiro Taniguchi, noticed the demolition of the Rokumeikan (a prominent Western-style building) in Tokyo in 1941. The loss of such an architectural landmark planted the seed in his mind that such buildings should somehow be preserved. In 1962, along with a classmate from college, he created a preservation foundation for these treasures. With funding from Meitetsu (Nagoya Railroad Company), the Meiji Mura opened just three years later.
Of the 67 structures on the site, 11 are designated as Important Cultural Assets of Japan under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. The destruction of Horyuji Temple in 1949 prompted the government to create and unify several similar laws going back to 1871. Over the years, many amendments have been made to the law to expand it to various cultural properties as more were realized to be of significant cultural value.
By 2004, the amendments enabled the government to not only protect tangible items of cultural importance (such as paintings or buildings), but also landscapes, entire districts, buried assets and even intangible assets, such as folk techniques.
The Cabinet Library of Meiji Mura. Photo: James M. Rogers
There is a variety of Western styles of architecture at Meiji Mura. The Cabinet Library is neoclassical and features interior woodwork using zelkova, a wood native to Japan and prized for its beautiful grain. All rooms also have beautiful centerpieces on their ceilings and light fixtures with understated beauty.
However, the most famous building at Meiji Mura is the entrance and lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel Tokyo, which was brought from Tokyo, where it stood from 1923 to 1967. Wright chose to use lava rock in his design, along with intricate decorative carvings throughout, which adds to its distinctive look. Its reconstruction at Meiji Mura was finished in 1985. Although only these two parts of the building remain, it is still the largest structure at Meiji Mura. Looking back, many probably agree that the old hotel should have been kept where it was in comparison to the unremarkable hotel that took its place. However, at least it was preserved, which cannot be said for other structures torn down around that time, such as New York’s original Penn Station.
The original entrance and lobby of the Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photo: James M. Rogers
Religious structures are there as well. While Christianity was — and still is — a minority religion in Japan, these structures teach us that Buddhism and Shintoism were not the only religions that existed in Japan in the past. Two churches from Kyoto — St. John’s Church (1907) and St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral (1890) — are preserved at Meiji Mura. As a bonus, the cathedral can even be rented for weddings.
Pews in the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church at Meiji Mura. Photo: James M. Rogers
One building at Meiji Mura stands out from the rest for a unique reason. The head office of the Kawasaki Bank is unique in that it looks like part of the building was just sliced off at an angle and brought here. Regardless, it still is impressive to see, perhaps even more so because of this fact.
Comforts of yesteryear
An antique telephone in the Sapporo Telephone Exchange Bureau and a Showa-era light fixture hanging in Tomatsu House. Photo: James M. Rogers
Many of the interiors of the building are full of period items as well. The churches have antique harmoniums in them, and the Sapporo Telephone Exchange Bureau has telephone operator boards and handheld transmitters of yesteryear. Walk into a study, and you’ll see an old wooden desk with a period radio on top of it. Lighting many of the rooms are Showa-era hanging lights with vintage Edison light bulbs shining a warm glow onto wood craftsmanship long gone from today’s buildings.
Let off some steam
A working steam locomotive engine built in 1874 featured at the museum. Photo: James M. Rogers
You can even rent Victorian dresses and frock coats to dress the part while you stroll along and see the sights. However, do keep in mind that you will be strolling for quite some distance. In fact, most people need at least two days to see everything. If you get tired halfway through, you can take one of three vintage modes of transport. For an additional 1,300 yen, you can freely ride a steam train built in 1874, Japan’s oldest streetcar, and a vintage bus.
Interior of a steam train car at Meiji Mura in Nagoya. Photo: James M. Rogers
Meiji Mura is undoubtedly a unique marvel to behold, not only because entire buildings were moved hundreds or even thousands of kilometers but also because of the sheer volume and age of the buildings. You would imagine buildings this old would be falling apart, but they all are in remarkable condition for their age. The world owes much gratitude to Mr. Taniguchi for his foresight in recognizing the importance of preserving such landmarks and figuring out how to do it while allowing the cities they were in to modernize. Amazingly, his efforts were successful, so while you have a chance, don’t miss out on visiting this unique tourist attraction.
- Web: https://www.meijimura.com/
- Phone: 056-867-0314
- Address: 〒484-0000 Aichi, Inuyama, Uchiyama, 1-Banchi
- Google Map
- Public transportation: From Nagoya station, take the Meitetsu Inuyama line to Inuyama station (30 minutes, ¥570 one way) and transfer to a Meitetsu bus to Meiji Mura (20 minutes, ¥430, one to three departures per hour).
Dr. James Rogers is an associate professor at Meijo University who has published over 50 articles in academic journals on linguistics, Japanese studies, race and the environment.
© Japan Today