Daily Life in Edo-Tokyo – June 19

22 06 2010

by George Sanchez

How did average residents of Tokyo live their lives at different times over the past one hundred years? This was the day that we thought about this puzzle in a city that seems so new and modern, even postmodern, yet is also rife with historical sites that stretch back hundreds of years. On June 19, we started with a trip out to the Edo-Tokyo Museum which documents the social history of living in Tokyo since the Edo period which started in the 1600s. We had a lovely English-speaking guide, dressed in a traditional kimono. She helped us understand the distinctive lives of the elite and the commoner in the city, and the ways in which the city was divided in wards. Our students saw displays of the advanced water delivery system, the history of education and literacy, the city’s commerce, and the entertainment that developed in the city, including Kabuki Theater.

One of our week’s highlights was our afternoon visit to the Sasaki House, built in 1934, which gave us a highly personal view of life in mid-century Tokyo. Professor Masako Notoji grew up in this household, maintained and built originally by her grandparents, but now maintained as a historic site by Notoji-sensei in its original state. Her grandfather was an agricultural science professor, and the first part of the house was built in a western tradition. But behind this first room were more traditional Japanese rooms of wide open spaces and mats on the floor. This was the first visit to somewhere where each student removed their shoes, which prepared them well for the Korean restaurant where we ate together as a group later on near the Ekoda train station.

But what made the visit memorable for the students was Notoji-sensei’s own personal family stories, her memories of living in this house when she was a little girl. We learned that in this traditional house, babies were born and the elderly died. Surprisingly she mentioned that she still cannot stay in this house overnight because she senses her own ancestors here in the house. We all benefitted from feeling her family members there with us in spirit during our visit.




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