Village Offers a Walk Through Japanese Past

Sklarewitz is a free-lance writer living in Los Angeles.

A surprise awaits travelers on the Tobu Rail Line out of Tokyo's Asakusa station en route to Nikko.

Just before reaching Nikko, the train stops at Shimoi-Imaichi, which is mere minutes from Edo-mura Village, an open-air museum resembling a Japanese settlement founded in 1603.

Edo-mura, with its 20 buildings each representing a different social class, takes travelers back to another era.

Mysterious Temple

Along the winding gravel road leading to Edo-mura Village, visitors pass a rice mill, a lookout tower used by firemen, a post for palanquin bearers and a mysterious temple.

Japanese and American visitors are familiar with the Edo era, for that is when countless samurai adventures, romantic dramas and tales of court intrigue took place.

Not only does Edo-mura come alive for the visitor, it also does so profitably for its owner.

He's Isamu Noguchi, president of Shinto Chiiki Kaihatso, a Tokyo-based land developer. In 1973, Noguchi saw the potential for more leisure-oriented activities in a Japan generally obsessed with work.

He discussed his idea for a historical theme park but received little support.

His dream, however, was pursued at a cost of 4 billion yen (about $1.6 million at the prevailing exchange rate). Edo-mura Village opened in 1985.

The village occupies about 35 acres, and the property extends to more than 106 acres.

Works in Costume

Minoru Ishikawa is an official of Edo-mura who turns out each workday in a Samurai costume.

"My job is much like that of Mickey Mouse at Disneyland," Ishikawa said. He poses for pictures and strolls around the grounds, twin swords at his belt, greeting visitors in the era dialect.

On a busy day, more than 25,000 visitors pass through Edo-mura's gates, paying 1,500 yen (about $12) per adult and 800 yen ($6) per child.

What makes Edo-mura its popularity is its authenticity. Each building is a replica down to its wooden nails. You can see the homes of farmers, merchants, craftsmen, priests and warriors.

Even the souvenirs and foods are as authentic as possible. Small gift shops also sell lanterns, paper umbrellas and fans and folk dolls.

In addition, copies of samurai swords as well as Ninja "throwing stars" and daggers are sold. The shooting gallery offers bows and arrows, but no guns.

Dressed in Period Clothes

All employees involved with the public are dressed in Edo era garb. There are Shinto priests, firemen, vendors, river boatmen, policemen, noodle makers, porters and, of course, the orian prostitutes who reigned over a section of the city.

The village was expanded this spring at a cost of about $2.4 million to include what is called Buke Yashiki Machi, "The Street of the Samurai." It's a building complex that represents the residence of a shogun baron called daimyo, administrative buildings and a prison.

Life-size models, many with sound effects and dramatic lighting, electronically controlled, depict criminals, political prisoners, maidens and lovers.

Although about 20 of the Edo-mura performers are professional actors who also work in television and movies, another 75 to 80 are students.

For a modern Japan almost dependant on electronic vending machines, Edo-mura Village is proof that the past can also be the present.

For more information on Japan, contact the Japan National Tourist Organization, 624 S. Grand Ave., Suite 2640, Los Angeles 90017.

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