The Nagano Inbound Summit team members and I held our 3rd in a series of “Unique Nagano” cultural activities “monitor tours” today. 12 of us toured the Tanaka Honke museum in Suzaka, highlighted by not just eating, but experiencing their bento lunch recreated from a 300 year old menu.
Entrance to Tanaka Honke museum
The Tanaka Honke museum is a unique place. It is the residence of Suzaka City’s Edo-era merchant family. The buildings and gardens will please lovers of Japanese traditional architecture and formal gardens. Besides, that, the museum’s artifacts give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of this wealthy merchant family. Some samples of the fascinating stories we gleamed from curator Tanaka-san’s explanation:
The "Autumn Garden"
*What was the 2nd storehouse originally used for? (Hint: the ceiling was stained a pitch black.)
Answer: sake making (smoke from cooking the sake rice blackened the
*What was the room next to the vegetable garden for? (Hint: There is a channel with water running down the middle.) Answer: Mill room (there used to be a water wheel there.)
*In the tea items display, there was a bowl painted with a design of an elephant surrounded by monks. If you see it, try to guess how many monks are there.
*There was a lidded bowl amongst the tea display. It’s exterior was completely black exterior, but open the lid and the inside was decoreted with and autumn color leaves.
*The dolls in the antique toy display had caucausian, not Japanese features. Why? Because they were for export to Western countries. In the past, toy export was as big an industry as car export is today.
So what did us foreigners think of the esteemed Tanaka Honke museum? Here are our results.
*760 year old tea items
*the Bento (more on this later)
*tools used to move the garden stones
*300 y.o. pines
*sake making room
*Lack of English explanation
*audio guide in English
For us, the main draw besides the buildings, gardens and museum displays, was the bento lunch. The museum painstakingly recreated the lunch from a 300 year old menu discovered in the premises. It is a fabulous chance to see what a wealthy merchant in mountainous Nagano ate during the Edo period. The bento was full of suprises, like mozuki seaweed — that must have been a delicacy, as it would have had to have been carried by horse up from the Sea of Japan, and salmon that had also been carried up from the ocean, where it would have been caught before the long trip up the rivers as opposed to salmon caught in the nearby Chikuma river that had already depleted their stored fat by climbing up the river. So many amazing stories, that really took us back to the Edo period. All while enjoying the beautiful formal garden and the classic construction of the buildings.
Enjoying the 300 year old bento lunch
More than a museum that serves a 300 year old bento, we felt the Tanaka Honke would be best considered as featuring the bento and also offering a tour of the museum. It would be a great addition to a trip to Nagano, for example to see the snow monkeys.
Tanaka Honke Museum is located in Suzaka, the city renowned for its earthen walled storehouses, just to the east of Nagano City. The 300 year old bento is 4000 yen (reservations required), museum admission is 700 yen. Hours are 9am-5pm (shorter in winter), closed most Tuesdays (days of operation are shown on their website). For more, see www.tanakahonke.org