Are you the kind of traveller who tries to squeeze as many museums as possible into every trip you take, be it a week-long break, a cheeky weekend away or just a manic day trip? Well, I’m certainly one of those travellers, and on my recent trip to Kagoshima one such museum that I made a bee-line for was Reimeikan – Kagoshima’s Prefectural Museum of Culture. As Kagoshima isn’t a massive city I wasn’t expecting much, but in reality I was blown away by the size and quality of this museum, which had so much to offer and so much to see. Let’s explore this museum and see if it’ll be one to add to your list.
While the museum was founded in 1968 (to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Meiji Period) the history of the location of the museum goes back much further than that. The museum is situated on the site of the old Tsurumaru Castle (which was built in 1601 after the Battle of Sekigahara). Historical remains of the castle are still visible and open to the public such as the moat which is filled with murky water, giant water lilies and vibrant koi carp. On entering the museum grounds, you can cross over the ancient bridge and see the stone walls of Tsurumaru Castle which still stand today.
Placed on such an ancient monument, the design of the Reimeikan building has been kept quite traditional and is not overly modern or imposing. In fact, from the outside the size of it is deceptive and you don’t realise how big it is until you are inside. One of the exhibition rooms juts out into the square pond which you’ll see at the entrance.
The museum was first opened to the public in 1983. It has many cultural items which are an asset to the people of Kagoshima. Permanent exhibitions offer a good introduction to the history of the Kagoshima people from days gone by, as well as displaying their artistic works and information about the local folklore. It was refurbished most recently in 1996.
Spread over three floors, there is much to see and do at the Reimeikan Museum and I recommend at least an hour for your visit. The largest floor is the first floor, which has the permanent exhibition about the history of Kagoshima. On the second and third floors are extra exhibitions, as well as a section where they have special exhibits a couple of times a year. Let’s take a detailed look at what is on offer on each floor of the museum.
The first floor of the Reimeikan Museum is split into four main sections – as you travel through these different parts, it will be as if you are also travelling through time. On entering the first section, you will believe yourself to be in a cave because of the installation at the entrance – this is introducing you to the first section – Kagoshima in prehistoric days. From the time period of 300 BC to 300 AD (Paleolithic times until the Yayoi Period), these exhibits will teach you about the people who first lived in Southern Kyushu. Their distinctive culture (called Jomon culture) spread from Kagoshima to the rest of Japan. Items on display include pots from the Jomon Period and a model of an old house made of straw and wooden posts. The pots on display came from Uenohara where a 9,500-year-old settlement was unearthed in 1997.
The second section is about Kagoshima in Medieval times – a turbulent part of the history of the area. People from the Kanto region were constantly invading and it was a time of much unrest for the local people. Ancient monuments were built by local people at this time, who hoped that such items would grant them salvation from the fighting. It was in the Medieval period that Christianity was introduced to Kagoshima, along with firearms – two symbols of European culture that became well known throughout Japan.
The third section of the first floor is about Kagoshima in early modern times when the Shimazu family put in place a harsh feudal system. At that time, Japan was closed to the outside world. However, Kagoshima was in a prime position to access trade and knowledge of foreign lands through Okinawa (known at the time as the Ryukyu Kingdom.) The Shimazu family started ruling in the twelfth century and only stopped in 1947 when the Constitution of Japan rendered such titles as antiquated and superseded.
The final section of the first floor details Kagoshima in Modern Times. The crowning glory of this part is the display model of the famous Tenmonkan street in the 1920’s (the start of the Showa Period.) The Satsuma Rebellion ended in 1877, after which Kagoshima and the surrounding areas began to modernize rapidly. The lives of local people improved drastically. However, this was also a time of much trouble for the people of Kagoshima, as they saw the Great Eruption of Sakurajima in 1914 and the turbulence of World War II. A very interesting section with artefacts and documents on a great number of topics. Just off this section there is also the Bogakudo corner (the little room which juts out onto the pond) which has a scale model of the Tsurumaru Castle as it was in the Edo period (1600-1868).
When visiting the first floor don’t forget the garden – you can ask one of the attendants to open the door for you and they’ll let you back in when you’re finished. The garden isn’t big but its worth seeing – the pond is very picturesque and you can see a traditionally reconstructed house. Walk back along the car park and look out for the funny little statues that stand guard over the cars.
After how extensive the first floor was, I was surprised to learn there was more, but I was very pleased to continue my experience at the Reimeikan Museum. On the second floor are the folklore exhibitions. These were some of the most interesting things I saw as I could relate the objects on display to real people and their traditions, particularly evident in the old black and white photographs. These exhibits are interesting not just to foreigners unfamiliar with Japanese history – owing to the geographical location of Kagoshima (right at the southern end of Kyushu) the traditions and culture of the Kagoshima people are quite different to that of people from the rest of Japan.
There are several sections to explore with different themes: Life in Kagoshima, Festivals, Speech & Song, Prayer, Production, Food, Clothing, Housing, Cultivation & Gathering and the Southern Islands. There is also a detailed introduction to certain historical figures from the region as well as important parts of local history.
By this point in your exploration you might be getting tired – don’t worry, the third floor has far fewer things on display and will take a fraction of the time to look around. The main exhibit is of Fine Arts and Artefacts, including Satsuma pottery items, Japanese paintings and calligraphy, Satsuma Swords and Western paintings and sculptures.
Also on the third floor is the video room where you can see two short films about Kagoshima (although they are probably in Japanese only), access more information on the computer library, look through the multi-media library which has a great many more videos about Kagoshima, and visit the Hands-On Learning Room. Particularly good for younger visitors, in this room you can dress up in traditional Japanese armour, play with old-fashioned toys, or try your hand at handicrafts such as using a traditional loom for weaving cloth.
The Museum is much bigger even than what has already been described – there is a lecture hall, restaurant, tea room and small gift shop section. Opening times are 9am-6pm, closed on Mondays. Also closed on the 25th of every month (unless that day is a Saturday or Sunday) and over the New Year period (December 31st – January 2nd).
Entry is 310 Yen for adults, 190 Yen for high school and college students, and 120 Yen for children aged 6 – 15. Under 6’s go for free and there are discounts for groups of 20 or more. At only 5 minutes from the Shiyakushomae tram stop, the museum is in a prime location for day trippers wanting to get the most out of their day – nearby you can find the Kagoshima City Museum of Art, the Terukuni Shrine, the Statue of Saigo Takamori and, of course, Shiroyama – one of the best viewing points for seeing Sakurajima. A visit to Reimeikan is a good value for money option that is both fun and informative, so make sure that visiting the Kagoshima Prefectural Museum of Culture is top of your tourism list if you visit Kagoshima.