When asked about the history of Nagoya and the surrounding Owari district, many will no doubt think of Nagoya Castle and the three heroes of the Sengoku period, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. But the region is home to a number of major sites that are reminders of much earlier times that remain shrouded in mystery.
Here we introduce a couple of newer museums where visitors can not only see artifacts unearthed from the surrounding archaeological sites, but also learn about life and culture in the Yayoi and Kofun periods through workshops and other hands-on attractions.
Aichi Asahi Site Museum (あいち朝日遺跡ミュージアム)
Opening in November 2020, the Aichi Asahi Site Museum showcases the Asahi archaeological site, once the largest Yayoi-period settlement in the Tokai region.
From the early Yayoi period through to the early Kofun period (around 6 BC to 4 AD), the Asahi Site was one of the largest settlements in Japan. Flourishing as a population and cultural center, the settlement played an important role at the crossroads of the Yayoi cultures of eastern and western Japan.
In preparation for road construction in the 1970s, a large-scale archaeological excavation began, and what was previously thought to have been a number of scattered shell middens and other individual artifact-bearing sites was discovered to have been a single consistent human settlement, and thus collectively labelled the Asahi Iseki (朝日遺跡, Asahi archaeological site). Studies thus far have estimated that the site spans 1.4km east to west, and 0.8km north to south, covering an area of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 square meters.
Dwellings were concentrated on the slightly elevated areas to the north and south of the valley that ran from northeast to southwest, and a cemetery precinct surrounded the living quarters, with extensive burial sites to the east and west.
Many significant discoveries have been made at the site, from the remains of robust defenses, consisting of a moat and fortifications of branches and sharpened logs, to the bell-shaped bronze dōtaku, the remains of a bead production workshop, and one of the oldest remnants of a fish trapping structure.
In the Museum's Exhibition Room 1, a 4-minute animation introduces life at the Asahi Site in the Yayoi period, and the settlement and the activities of its community at its peak between the 3rd and 2nd century BC are recreated in a series of dioramas.
Within the Museum are some of the many artifacts unearthed at the site. From pottery and ceramic items, wooden tools, stone implements, glass beads and metal items, to artifacts made from bone, horns, tusks and shells, the wealth of artifacts from the region's prime Yayoi-period settlement is a valuable national resource for the insight it gives into Yayoi life and culture. 2,028 of the site's significant artifacts were designated Important Cultural Assets in 2012.
Try out Yayoi-period tools and costumes at the Kids' Archaeology Lab, and magatama curved jewel-making and pottery workshops in the Experience and Learning Room. Outside is the Kaigarayama Shell Midden, part of the Asahi Site and a designated National Historic Site. The adjoining Experience Yayoi Village, with a rice paddy and recreations of a pit dwelling and elevated storehouse, provides opportunities to learn through various seasonal activities such as rice planting and harvesting. (See the website for details of workshops and activities.)
Aichi Asahi Site Museum
When: Open 9:30 - 17:00. Closed Mondays (or the following weekday when Monday is a national holiday) and 28 Dec. to 3 Jan.
Where: Kiyosu City (清須市) Asahi Kaizuka 1 (朝日貝塚1番地)
Access: A 9-minute walk northwest from Owari-hoshinomiya Sta. (「尾張星の宮」駅) on the Jōhoku Line (城北線) (transfer from JR Tōkaidō Line [東海道本線] at Biwajima Sta. [「 枇杷島」駅, CA69])
Admission: General admission 300 Yen; University & Senior HS students 200 Yen; Junior HS students and younger, and holders of a Certificate of Disability and up to 1 accompanying person free.
Combined admission tickets to Kiyosu Castle and Shidami Kofungun Experience Museum (SHIDAMU) also available.
Website: https://aichi-asahi.jp/ (Japanese)
Village of Ancient History Shidami Kofungun & Shidami Kofungun Experience Museum (歴史の里しだみ古墳群・体感！しだみ古墳群ミュージアム)
Located in the northeastern corner of Nagoya City, the Village of Ancient History Shidami Kofungun consists of the Shidami Kofungun (Shidami burial mound cluster / しだみ古墳群) and SHIDAMU, the Shidami Kofungun Experience Museum, where you can view artifacts unearthed from the area's burial mounds and try your hand at making some of your own.
SHIDAMU, the Shidami Kofungun Experience Museum opened in 2019, bringing the Rekishi no Sato Shidami Kofungun historical preservation precinct in Moriyama Ward to long-awaited completion. Visitors to SHIDAMU will be able to take a guided tour to learn about the kofun in the precinct, see exhibits of rare items excavated from the area, and try ancient crafts by making magatama curved jewels and haniwa clay figures, and experience ancient life through fire making and more.
When visiting the Village of Ancient History Shidami Kofungun, be sure to drop into SHIDAMU first and pick up a walking map (English map also available; ask staff for details).
Shidami Kofungun Experience Museum, Village of Ancient History Shidami Kofungun
When: Open 9:00 - 17:00 (Last entry to Exhibit Room 16:30) Closed Mondays (or the following weekday when Monday is a national holiday) and 29 Dec. to 3 Jan.
Where: Moriyama Ward (守山区)
Access: From Ozone Sta. (「大曽根」駅, M12, CF04, ST06) on the Subway Meijo Line (地下鉄名城線), JR Chūō Line (JR中央線), Meitetsu Seto Line (名鉄瀬戸線), take the Nagoya GuideWay Bus / Yutorito Line (名古屋ガイドウェイバス[ゆとりーとライン]) bound for Kōzōji (高蔵寺), alight at Kamishidami (上志段味) Stop (around 35 minutes), from which SHIDAMU is a 7-minute walk southeast. From Kōzōji Sta. (「高蔵寺」駅, CF09) on the JR Chūō Line, take the CityBus (市バス) Shidami Circuit Bus (志段味巡回), alight at Kattezuka (勝手塚) Stop (around 6 minutes), from which SHIDAMU is a 1-minute walk.
Admission: Museum admission free. (Regular Exhibit Room admission 200 Yen, free for Junior HS students and younger.) Additional fee required for some experience programs.
Website: https://www.rekishinosato.city.nagoya.jp/ (Japanese)