Category Archives: Museums

The Toy Film Museum – おもちゃ映画ミュージアム

IMG_0262 (Medium)

Kyoto’s newest museum, the Toy Film Museum,  opened on May 18th 2015 on a tiny little side street just off Koin Doori in the Mibu area. I ventured down there shortly after it opened to see what it was like. My general feeling after visiting is that the place has a lot of potential, but if you are not fluent in Japanese and/or super interested in old movies then this place isn’t really for you. I am interested in old movies, so I really liked the place, but I would understand if it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, they will be holding events, talks and movie screenings there, which may be of more general interest. More about the events later. First here’s what I found when I visited:

* It’s in a cute old machiya building, but at present only a small part of that building contains exhibits.
* The main exhibits are antique cameras and home movie projectors. These are not individually labelled with information.
* I was given a print about the contents of the museum and there is some information on the surrounding walls about movie history but naturally this is all in Japanese.
* Likewise the staff only speak Japanese, but they are super friendly, and they very kindly gave me a cup of coffee and a biscuit!
* There are some toys and toy projectors you can play with, but by themselves they are probably not enough to warrant the 500 yen entry fee.
* They also have some old silent movies on show on a TV screen hooked up to a computer. These seemed to be mostly swashbuckling samurai chambara movies, which back in the golden age of Japanese movie making were as popular as Hollywood westerns.

Some of those old timey projectors.

Some of those old timey projectors.

I rather enjoyed talking with the people at the museum who were very happy to talk about old movies with me. It’s also nice to see this aspect of Kyoto’s heritage being celebrated. Kyoto has a long historical connection with the movie industry, Japanese movie making was basically born here, and during Kyoto’s movie-making heyday in the 1930s the local studios at Uzumasa were knocking out 4 movies a month. Remember, in those days, people didn’t have TV, so movies were the most popular form of entertainment and showings were always packed.


Some of the exhibits at the Toy Film Museum.

During the silent movie era, Japan had a rather unique way of presenting movies. In addition to musical accompaniment, there was also a narrator, called a 活弁士 (katsubenshi). Like the very best storytellers, this narrator wouldn’t just explain the action on screen but would give voice to the characters and really bring the movie to life. Some of these narrators were extremely popular in their own right and people would go as much to enjoy the katsuben performance as to see the movie itself.

Now this brings me to an upcoming event at the Toy Film Museum which presents a unique opportunity to enjoy a silent movie screening in an old-timey Japanese style. As I wrote above, the organizers of the museum are planning to hold some talks and old movie screenings at the venue and there is a special movie screening coming up this Sunday on June 14th. The movie is called 僕らの弟 (Our Little Brother), a 1933 movie by celebrated screenwriter Yoshitaka Yoda, and it will be narrated live by expert movie narrator, Kataoka Ichiro. You can read more about the movie in the flyers which I shall post below. The fee for entry is 1,700 yen and the doors open at 18.30 for a 19.00 screening. Of course the whole event is in Japanese, but if your language skills are up to scratch this could be a really entertaining event. And if they aren’t up to scratch, well it’ll be good practice for you. Here are those (clickable) event flyers.

僕らの弟_表 僕らの弟_裏

Location: The Toy Film Museum is on a tiny side street on the east side of Koin Doori: the diagonal street that runs betwen Shijo Omiya Station and Nijo Station. The side street is easy to miss but there’s a shop with a sign reading “National Bicycle” just opposite and a Toy Film Museum sign to point the way. You can find a map here: MAP.
Address: 〒604‐8805
Telephone Number: 075(803)0033

Many thanks to Akira Yamamoto for posting about the Toy Film Museum on the Deep Kyoto Facebook Page, and to the folks at the Toy Film Museum for keeping me posted on events.

Pictures from the “Hall of New Knowledge” – The New Wing of Kyoto National Museum

Entry to Kyoto National Museum grounds

Entry to Kyoto National Museum grounds

I have a guest article on Chris Rowthorn’s Inside Kyoto today, all about the new Heisei Chishinkan wing of Kyoto National Museum. This new wing presents a thought provoking contrast to the main building, the Meiji Kotokan. The latter was built in the late 19th century, when designing public buildings in a European style was seen as modern and progressive, and it has an ornate French Renaissance magnificence. The new wing however, expresses 21st century functionality in sleek, simple lines based on traditional Japanese aesthetics. Whereas the older building is showy, grand, and imposing, the Heisei Chishinkan presents itself with modest grace. In the hands of a lesser architect, such a contrast in styles and could have been a glaring eye-sore, but Taniguchi Yoshio has positioned his new building carefully in a deferential bow to the past.

View of the old Meiji Kotokan from ground floor of the new wing.

View of the old Meiji Kotokan from the ground floor of the new wing.

Here’s a snippet from my article:

One of the most delightful features of this new exhibition area is that it too is open plan, so that you can enjoy multiple views of the floors below as you ascend through three levels. Unlike a traditional museum, where you would follow a strict route of one dimensional views of each exhibit in turn, at the Heisei Chishinkan all the exhibits are open to each other and each floor offers fresh perspectives. This also affords the visitor the opportunity to make fresh and startling connections. Having reached an upper floor and studied a gorgeous 17th century folding screen depicting scenes from Gion Festival, you can then immediately glance down and review the giant 11th century Buddhist statuary on the first floor – but this time from above.

You can read the rest of the article here: A New Home for Ancient Treasures – The Heisei Chishinkan Wing of Kyoto National Museum

And here are some more pictures from this fine new building.

Entry to the Heisei Chishinkan

Entry to the Heisei Chishinkan

Lobby shop

Lobby shop

Lobby - Audio guides are also available

Lobby – Audio guides are also available

Rest area

Rest area

Digitalised picture scrolls can be viewed at your leisure

Digitalised picture scrolls can be viewed at your leisure

Lobby - Rest area

Lobby – Rest area

View from the ground floor

View from the ground floor

What would Rodin think?

What would Rodin think?

Kyoto Gion Udon Museum

Out walking by the Kamo river one day, we encountered a happy bowl-headed mascot (pictured below) hopping about on Shijo Bridge. We took the obligatory 360 degree picture together and received in return two drinks coupons for the Udon Museum. What more of an incentive do you need to explore the magical world of thick Japanese wheat flour noodles? Our curiosity piqued, we duly paid a visit.


Click to see the Udon Museum Mascot up close & in 360 degrees!

The first thing you need to understand about Kyoto’s Udon Museum is that its claim to be a museum is somewhat tenuous. They do have a display room along one wall of which you can see the differing sizes, shapes and colors of udon noodles from across the Japanese archipelago. In one corner there is a brief history of its origins too (but frankly you can learn more from Wikipedia). Continue reading

Kyoto Kaleidoscope Museum ~ 京都万華鏡ミュージアム

Mewby at the 万華鏡ミュージアム

Though small, this is certainly one of the most charming museums I have been to in Kyoto. Entry for adults is a mere 300 yen, and for that you get to play with around 50 of the 250 varied, inventive and frankly quite wonderful kaleidoscopes the museum has thus far collected. A sweet old gentleman and lady were very happy to show us how each instrument worked and once an hour they will turn off the lights and fill the room with kaleidoscopic lights! A very pleasant way to spend around an hour of your time if you are an adult and are in the area… and if you have kids, then stick around and let them make their very own  bespoke particolored looking glass.
Kyoto Kaleidoscope Museum is located to the rear of the Museum of Kyoto, just a stone’s throw away from the Shimpukan shopping center and a 5 minute walk from Kyoto Manga Museum – so lots to do in the vicinity too!

Please note: photography is not permitted within the museum. this was taken looking into a giant kaleidoscope on the outside of the building.

Please note: photography is not permitted within the museum. This was taken looking into a giant kaleidoscope on the outside of the building.

Information (from the Museum website)
Open: 10:00‐18:00 (last entry 17:30),
Closed on Mondays (open if Monday. is a national holiday and closed the following weekday),
Also closed during the Winter holidays December 25th – January 4th.
Admission for Adults (high school students & above) ¥300
Children: ¥200
Below school age: FREE
Access: The Kaleidoscope museum is a 3 munite walk from Exits 3-1 & 3-2 of the Karasumaoike subway station, on the south side Aneyakoji‐dori, east of Higashinotoin‐dori. Here is a map.

Japan’s largest train museum to be built in Umekoji Park, Kyoto.

As reported earlier this week in the Asahi Shimbun, Kyoto City is “lending” land to JR West for a mammoth train museum to be completed by 2016.

Kyoto Train Museum

I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I think a museum celebrating Japan’s railway history and culture is a fine fit for Kyoto – and personally I love trains. I’m sure I’ll pay the museum a visit once it is open… And it may help to revive the economy of a rather run-down section of the town.

On the other hand, I’m not in favour of JR West building this on the city’s precious green space. How much will this impact Umekoji Park itself? What with the bite taken out of it from the controversial Kyoto Aquarium, it seems like the poor old park is being gradually whittled away. Will the new museum require an increase in parking areas? And will an increase in incoming traffic add to traffic pollution in this residential area (the park sits beside an elementary school)? Indeed, how much input have local residents had in these plans?

Hopefully, the builders can leave the better part of the park untouched and won’t plan any more construction schemes there in the future. Hopefully also, rail links direct from Kyoto station can deter people from traveling by car. However, the controversy raised over the building of the aquarium a couple of years back  made it very clear that Kyoto City does not value either green space, or local opinion. And decisions about how best to use public space are very much top-down.

Local people should have a say in how their city is shaped instead of having grand designs imposed from on high.

Kyoto International Manga Museum

I’m a big fan of Kyoto International Manga Museum. Jointly administered by Seika University and the city of Kyoto,  it is clear that a lot of  consideration went into its layout and design. Here are some things to love about the museum:

*They have a massive manga collection you can browse and read at your leisure. And if your Japanese isn’t up to scratch, they have Japanese manga that have been translated into various foreign languages and some foreign comic books too. There are also lots of quiet spots in which to sit and read both inside and outside the building.

*There’s a lovely children’s library. In the middle of the floor is a kind of well with soft flooring that the kids can sprawl around in while they read. It’s just the sort of thing kids love to sit in. Clearly whoever designed it knew how a child’s mind works. I remember being quite moved when I first saw all the little chisellers lounging comfortably with their noses buried in their books…

*They have regular 紙芝居 (kamishibai) performances which continue throughout the day. Kamishibai is an old form of storytelling using illustrations in a wooden frame. There aren’t so many opportunities to see kamishibai performances these days, so the museum is doing a great service by preserving this cultural tradition.  And it’s fun too! I was surprised how much I enjoyed it when I went.
Continue reading

An Interview with Mara Alper

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of ties between Mexico and Japan the Kampo Museum is currently exhibiting the art and crafts of the indigenous Huichol people. Dominating the exhibition are the extraordinary peyote inspired yarn paintings of the late Huichol artist and shaman José Benitez Sanchez. On the 24th of January, Professor Mara Alper, award winning media artist and documentary maker, will be giving a presentation at the Kampo Museum entitled “Visions of the Huichol”. She has been kind enough to grant me an email interview in advance of this event.

Mara Alper with Celia and Luis Ruiz family in San Andres. Photograph by Shauna Leff

DK: Could you give me a brief synopsis of your own story so far?

MA: Professionally, I’ve had a great career working in film and video for over 25 years. I started out as a film editor then learned to produce and direct videos. At the same time, I worked as a freelance writer and puppeteer and taught film, video and animation. Plus I love dancing and traveling. Since teaching video and animation in college full-time, I’ve focused on making video art and documentaries. An eclectic background all tied together by a devotion to motion!

DK: You have traveled all over the world. What first drew you to the Huichol in particular? Continue reading

The Glorious Art of José Benitez Sanchez

Undoubtedly the most colourful exhibition in Kyoto right now is the exhibition of Huichol yarn paintings at the Kampo Museum in Okazaki.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of links between Mexico and Japan the Kampo museum is currently exhibiting the visionary art of the artist/shaman José Benitez Sanchez. I visited yesterday and was completely blown away by the gorgeous colours, the sense of joy and vitality, and the mystical energy that radiates from these images. I was given permission to take a photograph of just one picture so I chose this one. Continue reading

The Miho Museum

Miho Top
If you fancy a day out of Kyoto and a bit of fresh country air, a trip into Shiga to visit the Miho Museum might be a nice little adventure for you.  This is a most extraordinary private art collection, held in a most extraordinary building, and in an extraordinary location! The building itself is remarkable, designed by I. M. Pei (he’s the guy that designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre – you know the one Mary Magdalen is buried under),  80% of it lies below ground but what lies above somehow balances respect for Japanese tradition and surrounding nature, with a clean modernist line. Inside natural light from the glass roof illuminates beautiful art and treasures from all over the ancient world. I heard about this place years ago but for some reason I always had the idea it was in some remote inaccesible part of deepest darkest inaka. Actually, though it is in the middle of nowhere, it is fairly easy to get to. Here’s how: Continue reading