To get a real hands-on grasp of what life must have been like back in the dark days before instant noodles, the Shitamachi Museum is the place to go. Shitamachi ("low city") is the name for the low-lying parts of town that Tokyo's hoi polloi once called home. And the Shitamachi Museum does a remarkable - and inexpensive - job of re-creating the atmosphere of Shitamachi as it was lived by ordinary Tokyoites in the first couple of decades of the last century.
The museum is interactive, though in a homely, non-technical sense. You sit in the living area at the back of a store, open drawers and cupboards and find inside the utensils of daily life - dishes, cloths, bowls, teapot, chopsticks - as if the family that lives there has just popped out and will be back any minute. This museum could exist in few other places: in my native country, those cupboard contents would have been thieved away long ago.
A commonly heard exclamation among visitors is "Natsukashii!" ("This really takes you back!"). In the way it looks and feels, the museum certainly smacks of authenticity. Admittedly, everything does appear in a somewhat benign light, but the place is selective, not inaccurate: the museum does not set out to portray some dreamy Tora-san Tokyo that never existed.
The museum staff are little personifications of friendliness. As they go about in their happi coats, explaining old-style games and helping visitors, they are so charming you feel you want to wrap them up and take them home with you. And, astoundingly, the games they demonstrate are actually enjoyed by today's kids. Nothing is more surprising than the sight of sophisticated modern youth finding diversion in the pastimes of a bygone age.