The Katsu Kaishu Memorial Museum opened near Senzokuike Pond in Ota City in September 2019.
Who was Katsu Kaishu?
Katsu Kaishu’s life spanned the turbulent years that saw the end of the Edo Era and Japan’s metamorphosis from a feudal society into a modern nation during the Meiji Restoration. Among other things, he was the captain of Kanrin Maru, a ship that was an accompany of the very first Japanese delegation to the United States, and saved Edo (Tokyo) from destruction at the hands of the Imperial army by successfully negotiating a last-minute peaceful surrender of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Katsu Kaishu and Ota City
The bloodless surrender of Edo-jo Castle was accomplished through countless negotiations by Katsu Kaishu and Saigo Takamori, one of the samurai leaders of the Meiji Restoration. Day before the bloodless surrender, Kaishu visited Ikegami Honmonji Temple in Ota City.
Katsu Kaishu’s private home, Senzokuken, was also in Ota City near Senzokuike Pond. The graves of Katsu and his wife are there. After his death, the home was relocated to land owned by the Seimeikai Foundation. The Seimei Bunko Library was built there, opening in 1928, and featured a large book collection, a reading room and also hosted lectures on Katsu Kaishu’s life and other related history.
Katsu Kaishu’s villa was later destroyed by fire, but the Seimei Bunko Library survived, and was designated as a Tangible Cultural Property in 2000, and has been renovated to house the new Katsu Kaishu Memorial Library.
The museum’s exhibits
The museum is an audiovisual style museum featuring artefacts from Katsu Kaishu’s life such as seals, letters, and formal clothing on display. On the first floor, visitors can learn Katsu Kaishu’s life from many historical records and panels.
On the second floor there is a spacious reception room with a wooden stage where Seimeikai meetings and lectures were once held. There are also two scaled models, one of the Seimei Bunko Library building which is now home to the museum, and the other of Katsu Kaishu’s home, Senzokuken.
The museum building
The museum building’s design implements a mixture of neo-gothic and art deco styles with some beautiful architectural features. There are handmade wall tiles and an attractive mosaic floor in the original entrance. High ceilings and tall, narrow windows make the rooms seem airy and spacious. An annex has been built onto the original building enclosing one wall, and a corridor with a glass ceiling runs along it. On the second floor, you can see a sample of the original parquet flooring and a reproduction of that floor in a small room off the reception hall.
The museum location
After visiting the museum, you may want to take a stroll to Senzoku-ike Pond and look for Katsu Kaishu’s grave and a monument of his sworn friend, Saigo Takamori.
The pond and its surroundings were selected as a Scenic District in 1930, and maintained by the Senzoku Scenery Preservation Association since then. The area is preserved without support or funding from the government, which isn’t common in Tokyo.
Some of the written information accompanying the museum’s displays have been translated into English, and there are audio guides available. Some of the staff can also speak English.
Take Tokyu Ikegami Line to Senzoku-Ike Station. Alternatively, you can take Tokyu bus from JR Omori Station to Senzoku-Ike Bus Stop. The museum is six-minute walk from the station and bus stop.
2-3-1 Minamisenzoku, Ota City, Tokyo 145-0063
10:00-18:00, closed: Mondays
Adults ￥300; Children (to junior high school age) ￥100; Discount available for groups of 20 or more.