Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Todai Museum

I initially happened on the Todai University campus by accident a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to find the Yayoi Museum. At the time, the university information desk receptionist gave me directions to the school's own museum, plus a little flier good for "an omiyage" if I handed it over at the museum. Since I'd been trying to meet a self-imposed schedule that day, I just popped my head in long enough to tell that this wasn't the museum I wanted. However, the receptionist had been very helpful, so I kind of felt obligated to come back and visit longer the next time I had the chance. So, this last Friday, I went back by a different route. Instead of taking the Chuu-ou line to Kanda and then the Yamanote up to Ueno before exiting and turning right to walk up Kasuga street past the Yushima Shrine, I stopped at Suidobashi (two stations before Kanda) and walked out past Tokyo Dome to turn right on Kasuga street. Overall, the second route was probably 10 minutes faster, included about the same amount of walking, and saved me 300 yen ($3.20 USD). Plus, it took me past the Lupin Station, and the lovely Fujiko.

The Todai Museum is on the corner of the campus just off Kasuga and 17. When you enter the lobby-like area, it's easy to be tricked into thinking that the entire museum is only 15'x30'. There are a couple glass cases showing a selection of pottery shards and bone fragments, and a curator sitting at a small table to the right. However, going around the case to the left you discover a hidden doorway that goes past the back wall and into the museum proper. The front half of the museum has what's currently being called "Curatorial Graffiti", which consists of many glass cases containing human bone fragments, entire skeletons, a variety of skulls, and lots of pottery shards. Some of the bones are sorted to show the differences between ages and the sexes.

The back half of the museum has the iron exhibit, entitled "Fe". It's not very big, maybe 80'x150', but consists of several hundred mineral samples showing iron in naturally-occurring combinations with other metals and salts; weird crystals; large blocks of raw iron ore; and examples of processed iron for common-day use (such as the side panel of a car). The exhibit is set up chronologically, starting out a few billion years ago, with iron being formed inside the cores of stars. Then it moves up in scale to iron's importance to living things (such as for hemoglobin in the blood stream). Finally, we get to modern civilization, with iron-rich clay pottery, iron swords and plate mail, Japanese katana, and the production of steel. Video players in various areas show Japanese university staff discussing the science involved at each time period.

The entire exhibit is in Japanese, so if you can't read or speak it, most of the explanations will be lost on you. But, it is free, so if you're in the area, it won't cost you anything to check it out. And if you do, go to the university information desk 2 blocks in the direction of Ueno station first to get the little exhibit flier. Turns out that giving the flier to the curator at the front door nets you a little picture book (the "omiyage", in Japanese only) that describes the importance of recycling. "Chikyuu ni yasashii: Shin, Monogatari" ("Be Gentle to the Earth: New, A Story"). Printed by Nihon Steel Corporation.

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