My favorite museum in Japan: The Takayama Showa Kan

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(In July, I went on a family vacation to Japan. Here are my posts about the trip: The Ghibli Museum | Watermelons in the shape of cubes, hearts, and pyramids | What happened to the Burgie Beer UFO of Melrose Avenue? | Shopping in Harajuku | A visit to Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto Japan | Nara Deer Park near Kyoto.)

I felt like I was in a giant thrift store bursting with Japanese products from the the mid 20th century. No guards were stationed in the many rooms crammed with household goods, educational equipment, tools, and other cultural artifacts. No items, as far as I could tell, were nailed down. This place would be a shoplifter's paradise (and a liability insurance abuser's motherlode) in the United States, but we were in Japan, where they don't seem to worry as much about that kind of thing.

The place is called the Showa Kan (Showa refers to the time period, 1926-1989, and Kan means hall). It's a privately run museum in Takayama, a beautiful city in the Chūbu region of central Japan. My wife, two daughters, and I spent a couple of pleasant hours wandering through the rooms here, which were decorated like businesses and institutions from the period. There was a doctor's office, a classroom, an appliance store, a bicycle repair shop, a living room, a bedroom, a barber shop, and so on.

Many more photos and remarks after the jump. (You can click any photo to embiggen it.)


The display in the front window facing the street drew us toward the museum. I don't consider myself a collector of things (too much clutter!) but I would like to have that motorized bike and some of those figurines.

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Before entering the museum proper (admission is ¥500 for adults, and ¥300 for kids), you walk past these cool-looking old cars. I'm not sure why Mickey Mouse is driving that three-wheeled pickup truck.

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Signs with happy faces on them are an old advertising trick, and one that I approve of.

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This hallway made to look like post WWII Japan, complete with a brothel on the second floor.

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In this simulacrum of an appliance store, products separated by decades happily sit beside one another.

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Too bad the washing machine in the middle can't wash itself!

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Mod lamps.

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Despite the missing ear, this dog keeps a cheerful expression.

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The less said about this guy's engorged, long, stiff nose, the better.

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Motorized bikes and a bike repair shop.

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A semi-westernized, semi-depressing Japanese living room.

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The next three photos remind me of Coop's collection.

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My daughter is trying to play a non-working arcade game. I wish it worked, because it looks like fun! UPDATE: It's a Bally Spinner arcade game from 1962. Here's a video. (Thanks, Darryl!)

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My daughter really wanted to sit on this toy JR train and take it for a spin around the museum. I didn't allow it, but I didn't blame her for wanting to. I recall reading that someone infamously sat on Rauschenberg's stuffed goat when it was on display and damaged it.

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You can find character statuettes like this in front of stores in Japan today. They are about three-feet tall. I'm not sure what their function is other than to lure customers.

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This creepy doll is a far cry from the kawaii look associated with contemporary Japanese characters.

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Slightly less creepy doll inside a very creepy wooden child containment device that looks like something the Pilgrims would have made to teach their babies about the misery of Hell. How long would those beads on a wire keep toddlers occupied before they went out of their mind?

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Bring back tin containers for food packaging! (Here's why.)

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Missing BOTH ears and still as happy as can be!

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This doctor's office could be used as a set for a scary movie.

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The food goes into slot A, and moves its way down and out. An Alan Watts quote comes to mind:

[L]iving organisms, including people, are merely tubes which put things in at one end and let them out at the other, which both keeps them doing it and in the long run wears them out. So to keep the farce going, the tubes find ways of making new tubes, which also put things in at one end and let them out at the other. At the input end they even develop ganglia of nerves called brains, with eyes and ears, so that they can more easily scrounge around for things to swallow. As and when they get enough to eat, they use up their surplus energy by wiggling in complicated patterns, making all sorts of noises by blowing air in and out of the input hole, and gathering together in groups to fight with other groups. In time, the tubes grow such an abundance of attached appliances that they are hardly recognizable as mere tubes, and they manage to do this in a staggering variety of forms. There is a vague rule not to eat tubes of your own form, but in general there is serious competition as to who is going to be the top type of tube. All this seems marvelously futile, and yet, when you begin to think about it, it begins to be more marvelous than futile. Indeed, it seems extremely odd.

Truer words were never spoken!

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Another look at the interior of a tube.

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Tube malfunction!

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Joseph and the liver of many colors.

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Making a new tube.

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A red eye is an unhappy eye.

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If I had to pick an eye disease based on the models alone, I think I'd pick the one on the lower right. How about you?

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The kawaii is starting to kick in.

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A classroom planetarium.

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This looks like a machine to demonstrate bell curves and standard deviations. People who know more than I do about statistics (and that would be just about everyone) can explain the real purpose of this. Maybe it's a pachinko machine for Zen Buddhists.

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Magnetic poles, electrical current, a rotor. What is it?

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A classroom orrery.

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As an early lesson in environmentalism, here's a model of a sea creature that bit into a can of expanding foam sealant that had been carelessly tossed overboard by a callous merchant marine.

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Before you scroll down to the next photo, take a look at the long glass tube with a liquid-filled bulb at the bottom and try to guess what it is used for.

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A fly catcher!

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Thank you for making it this far. If you ever find yourself in Takayama, Japan, I strongly encourage you to visit the Showa Kan.

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