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Visiting The Saitama City Iwatsuki Ningyo Museum

Hi there everyone! This is Love Saitama Ambassador Jessica.

The other day I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting the newly opened Iwatsuki Saitama City Ningyo Museum. Ningyo means doll and human figures in English, and as ningyo is tricky to translate into English, the word was kept in the museum name.

The museum opened in February 2020 in the historic ningyo district of Iwatsuki and collects, conserves and carries out research on ningyo (human figures). Through exhibitions and educational activities, they aim to raise awareness of the culture of ningyo. 

Easily accessible by public transport (either train and a short walk, or train followed by a bus), on this occasion I chose to take the train. I took the Tobu Urban Park Line (Noda Line) to Iwatsuki Station, exited via the East Exit and walked straight along the main road leading away from the station. It's around a 10 minute walk from the station to the museum. 

   

The view from the ticket gate. The exit for the museum is clearly labelled.

There are many shops specializing in ningyo crafts around the station. This is one such shop and it is very well known for its high quality ningyo products.

After walking a little more I came across a map of the Iwatsuki area.

   

There are also many beautiful tiles embedded into the pavement. The one on the left depicts famous Hina ningyo, and the one on the right depicts Toki no Kane, a famous bell tower in Iwatsuki.

   

When you arrive at this intersection, there is an easy-to-read direction board showing where to turn for the museum.

Turn left at the second stoplight. The location is called Iwatsuki-eki Iriguchi Iwatsuki Station Entrance.

After turning left, walk straight for around 500 metres and you will see the museum on the right.

As I was walking I noticed this beautiful manhole cover. Japan has some charming manhole covers, with the designs varying across the country and usually depicting local landmarks and specialities. This one shows Toki no Kane (the Iwatsuki Bell Tower) and other famous places in Iwatsuki.

Just before arriving at the museum, I stopped by this famous shop that sells traditional dessert and senbei (rice crackers). I had heard their traditional desserts were famous and I wanted to try them for myself.

The noren in the shop was beautiful.

So many different types of sweets were on display in the glass cabinets. 

   

The shop's staff member recommended this traditional dessert. It has a Japanese red bean (azuki) filling in a crisp wafer shell shaped like the Iwatsuki Bell Tower, Toki no Kane.

   

I decided on these two desserts! The red bean version was delicious. The other one is yuzu (a type of citrus) with shiroan (white sweet bean). I hadn't tasted anything like this before so it was a really new taste experience. Very recommended.

After walking down the road for a few minutes, I arrived at the museum! I was in awe of the simple and elegant construction of both the museum as well as the museum precinct restaurant and amenity buildings.

The first thing that really struck me was the beautiful use of textures in both the building and the ground area. The contrast between different materials, stone, wood, brick, are quite amazing.

   

This is the main entrance:

As you walk inside, you will see an area that I think is a great place to take a commemorative photo before you start looking around. The museum's logo and name are both clearly visible.

   

To the left is the museum shop and reception area where you purchase entry tickets. 

     

The shop is visually very beautiful and well designed. They have commemorative books about the museum in English and pamphlets available too.

In the entrance area there is a sign which shows the cafe, nursery room, barrier free bathroom and coin locker area.

The museum also has free wheelchair rental, barrier free accessibility, disabled parking, mobility dog admissions and discounted admissions for people with disabilities.

After buying a ticket, the entrance to the museum is to the right of the reception. 

The exhibitions are divided into three categories.

Room One: Ningyo production in Saitama

Room Two: Japan's ningyo from the collection

Room Three: A special exhibition room where the theme changes several times a year

Let's visit room one, Ningyo Production in Saitama first.

Saitama Prefecture is Japan’s largest producer of ningyo, and this exhibition room introduces how ningyo are made, with a strong focus on ningyo from Saitama.

The photo below shows the different steps in the production of the head of a ningyo. The head is often made by a separate craftsperson who specialises in making heads.

The photo below shows the molds for the head and drawings and they can be pulled out as part of the exhibition.

The special tools that are used in the crafting of ningyo are displayed too.

There is a video library too and videos are available in English. The videos show craftspeople making ningyo and compliments the materials and tools that are on display. 

I found this tiny set of arrows and a bow which are placed with ningyo.

The scale of these items, fans, instruments, is so very tiny! These items too are usually made by a craftsperson specializing in creating these intricate items.

Next, I visited room two: Japan's Ningyo from the Collection. There are many classic ningyo on display here. 

The museum has many ningyo in its collections. One important collection was gathered by the modern Japanese-style painting artist Nishizawa Tekiho (1889–1965). Nishizawa-san's collection has many varieties of ningyo which are on display at the museum.

During the Edo Period ningyo culture really started to emerge, and in the 1930s ningyo were officially recognised as an art form.

   

As you walk into the room, colourful and intricately made ningyo greet you. I found the standing ningyo very interesting as had only ever seen sitting ningyo before. 

I was most familiar with ningyo for seasonal celebrations, especially hina ningyo which is perhaps the most famous worldwide. Hina ningyo of many different sizes are on display along with intricate hina accessories. Together, they let you feel the atmosphere of celebration that is central to the hina ningyo.

Amazing tiny glass items. Delicate, miniature-sized items were everywhere!

   

This beautiful white ningyo represents a healthy and bountiful upbringing in a period where not all children lived through to adulthood.

More ningyo items that are both exquisitely small and beautiful! Drums, dogs, birds and a storage box, all intricately designed and painted.

After leaving room two, out in the hallway is an easy to understand visual timeline of the evolution of ningyo:

Onto the third room: the special exhibitions room. The displays in this room change periodically to preserve the fragile collections, with a limited number of the museums full collection on display at any one time. The lights are dim and the display cabinets are are also temperature controlled in order to preserve the ningyo on display. 

When I visited there was a special inu bako (dog-shaped storage box) exhibition and as I walked into the third room I was greeted by two large inu bako.

   

These inu bako cases are also from Nishizawa Tekiho's collection. They represent an easy childbirth and are made from paper mache and decorated in bright colours and symbolistic imagery, with almost human-like faces. Below is one of the boxes the inu bako case was stored in  – the case itself has a beautiful design too!

Very tiny inu bako cases! They are so cute. Again, painted with similar symbolistic imagery that adorn the larger cases.

This line up of musicians all playing different instruments was amazing. Their clothes were all the same.

This wonderful collection was given to the museum by a prosperous Japanese family so the museum could display their collection for everyone to see.

Very small-sized ningyo. In times where large displays of wealth were not allowed, smaller and more compact (but no less intricately made) ningyo became popular.

   

Lastly a Hoko ningyo from the Edo Period. Made from silk and modelled on the way small children crawl, these were usually placed beside a baby or pregnant woman to ward off evil spirits and protect from calamity.

There ended my tour of the Iwatsuki Ningyo Museum. I entered with only the knowledge of Hina ningyo and left with so much information and a new-found appreciation of ningyo culture and the craftspeople behind them. I learned about changes throughout the eras that affected ningyo, and that we can gather a lot of information about that period of time in history from them.

Even if you don't have a deep knowledge of ningyo I really recommend visiting the museum which has wonderful amenities and an outstanding building design which welcomes everyone.

English information is readily available too, making the museum visit very informative and fun!

Museum Hours

9:00am to 5:00pm

(Last entry 30 minutes before closing)

Closed every Monday (except national holidays). Closed over the New Year's holiday period (28 December to 4 January)

Admission Prices

General admission: 300 yen

High school and university students, persons over 65: 150 yen

Elementary school and junior high school students: 100 yen

Alternate way to access the museum: 

Community Bus (4 minutes). From the East West Gate of Iwatsuki Station, hop on the bus bound for Jion-ji Kannon, and get off the bus at Iwatsuki Shogakko Minami stop.

Name of the place Iwatsuki Doll Museum
Address 6-1-1, Honcho, Iwatsuki ward Saitama city, Saitama,  339-00587
Google Map https://goo.gl/maps/NJe8CM9CQT9azqdp9
URL https://ningyo-muse.jp/
Entry Fee

General admission is 300 yen.

High school and university students and persons over 65: 150 yen.

Elementary school and junior high school students are 100 yen.

 

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