Sightseeing in Niigata: The Ito Estate - Northern Culture Museum (北方文化博物館) - Vikingess Voyages

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sightseeing in Niigata: The Ito Estate - Northern Culture Museum (北方文化博物館)

The Northern Culture Museum (Hoppou Bunka Hakubutsukan / 北方文化博物館) is a part of the Ito Estate, the former home of one of Japan's largest landowners; the Ito family. The museum was established in 1946 as a donation in the same year as the Land Reform Act was officially proclaimed. Today the estate is open all year around for visitors from all over the world.

But the history of the estate goes back hundreds of years. The construction work of the main building began in 1882, and the 3,967 sq. meter home took 8 years to complete. You can among others slip into the past and get an insight into the life of the Ito-family in the main building known as the "Hall of the Wealthy Farmer" - 豪農の館, which holds 65 rooms. 
Although it goes under the name Northern Culture Museum this name is rather misleading, as it mainly is a gathering of traditional Niigata structures and doesn't have any direct relation to the northern parts of Japan. Inside the premises you can find anything from homes and storehouses, teahouses, carpenters’ quarters and even temples. The estate has been recognized for its historical value, and 26 of the major buildings were designated as Important Culture Heritage in April 2000.
A little fireplace in the waiting room where guests were welcomed
The Ito Estate was made into a museum thanks to the efforts of American Lt. Ralph Wright, officer in charge of educational affairs under and after World War II. Under the postwar Land Reform Act the estate was supposed to be turned into apartment complexes by the Occupation Forces, but during Lt. Wright's visit to the estate right after the end of the war back in 1946 he advised the seventh-generation Bunkichi Ito to donate the estate to the state and have it classified as a museum. Mr. Ito followed his advice, and thanks to his actions the family property was saved from demolition. Inside the main building you can find pictures and text that tells the touching story about the friendship between the two men.
Inside the main building you can also enjoy the sight of the beautiful Japanese gardens, and a number of artifacts and scripts dating back hundreds of years.
You also get to see the huge kitchen where they made enough rice to feed a whole family for a year, every single day. 

As you can see in the picture above and below there was a huge sakura tree in bloom in the garden just during our visit. The Ito Estate is however more famous for its wisteria (known in Japanese as fuji / 藤) which blooms late April/beginning of May. You can enjoy the sight of the 150 year old wisteria trees in the romantic garden located in the middle of the estate area. The reason behind the importance of this plant in the Ito estate is their family name - Ito is a common Japanese surname that also includes the kanji for wisteria: 伊藤.

The Ito Estate is truly a hidden gem for anyone interested in Japanese history and architecture, and well worth a visit if you're planning on a trip to Niigata. At the estate you can also find a ryokan - traditional Japanese hotel - called the Dairo-an Inn (大呂菴), which dates back to 1920. You can find more information about the ryokan here (Japanese only). 

Basic Info
  • ・Name of Place: Northern Culture Museum (北方文化博物館)
  • ・Address:2 Chome-15-25 Soumi, Konan Ward, Niigata, Niigata Prefecture 950-0205
  • ・Phone: 025-385-2001
  • ・Hours: Open every day from 9 am to 5 pm (to 4:30 pm from Dec. through March)
  • ・Admission Fee: Adults 800 yen; Kids 400 yen (kids free on Sundays and holidays)
  • ・Access: 
    • ※By car: 25 min from Niigata Station; 15 min from Niigata Kameda exit off the Nihonkai-Tohoku Expressway
    • ※By bus: At Bandai City Bus Center (10-min walk from Niigata Station) board bus bound for Niitsu via Somi. Ride about 40 min, get off at the Kamisomi Museum stop, walk 2 minutes.
  • ・Official Home Page:

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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