Bringing History to Life in Central Osaka: The Osaka Museum of Housing & Living

Bringing History to Life in Central Osaka: The Osaka Museum of Housing & Living

Donna Sheffield

Think museums are all about walking around silently looking at things in boxes? Think again. With its unique Edo-period street display, visitors to The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living can literally walk into history, and make some very modern memories taking photos in kimono.

The museum occupies two floors of a giant building in Tenjinbashi. It’s easy to find, as an elevator direct from the subway exit takes you up to the 8th and 9th floor. The museum tour route begins with the impressively detailed Edo period streets. Before entering this area, for an extra charge, both men and women can be fitted in a kimono, making for a unique photo opportunity. Cameras can be used freely around this floor, unless there’s a show in progress.

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A real-scale Edo-period street scene is the highlight of this museum.

On the street itself, typical shops and homes from the 1830s have been recreated. During summer season, summer lanterns are hung on the street. In all seasons, you can peek inside the shop fronts and wander around the back too. Leaflets in English explain more details about each shop or home. Some also have things to pose or play with, like the toy shop. Around the corner from the shops, there’s a typical back street scene, a small shrine, and two dog statues waiting to be petted. Traditional back gardens, tatami rooms, and laundry on the washing line all evoke the era of a bygone era, and make for great photos.

Peek inside typical Edo-era shop fronts.

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Wear a kimono, take photos and don’t forget to pet the dogs!

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Look up for details like laundry hanging from the rails

Events are held regularly on these streets, for example, paper craft workshops, and puppet shows. National holidays will always have special events, and while you don’t need a reservation, if you want a good seat for a show, it’s best to arrive early. Check the museum’s website for times and info before you go.

Once you’ve returned your kimono, step down to the 8th floor, where you walk past a classroom exhibit to enter a more typical museum display about modern Osaka, but everything is still pleasingly interactive. A series of moving woodblock prints and jolly music shows the development of the area from the Edo period. There’s also moving models showing Osaka’s biggest festival, Tenjin Matsuri, and Shinsaibashi shopping districts.

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Some school desks and photos are on display

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A giant map of Osaka is on the floor of this exhibit

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Miniature Models of the Tenjin Matsuri

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All of the audio and signs on this floor are in Japanese, but QR codes are displayed around the room, so English, Korean and Chinese speakers can use phones or tablets to get access to a summary of what is being said. Free Wi-Fi is available on this floor. Simply scan the QR code and enter an email address to get 60 minutes’ free access.

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The models, like this one of Tsutenkaku and Runa Park, all have QR codes on the signs for English information

Six glass cases set around the room have tiny, detailed models that show the architectural development of Osaka’s housing districts. Here I learned that after World War II, many Osaka residents actually lived in buses. As you walk around this floor, a video plays describing one woman’s life in Osaka in various housing from the 1930s to the 1960s. Three of the model house cases have a second display that automatically pops down along with the audio, illustrating scenes from her life. There’s also some real home appliances, like irons, fridges and radios on display.

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Kansai-themed snacks and a guidebook are inexpensive souvenirs

As you exit the Modern Osaka display, there’s a free commemorative stamp, and a small gift shop. The shop sells some general Japanese souvenirs alongside reasonably-priced Osaka-themed snacks and postcards, like this English guidebook for ¥300 and some Kansai-themed rice snacks for ¥100. Overall, this museum offers an inexpensive, interactive trip back in time for both locals and tourists.

More information:

The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living

From Osaka, take the Tanimachi or Sakaisuji subway line to Tenjinbashisuji-6-chome.

The museum is next to Exit 3.

Admission: ¥600, student discounts available

Kimono rental: ¥500

Open 10am–5pm. Closed Tuesdays.