Science museum Tokyo – A day out for kids
When your eight year old runs around chasing the heavy ball as it glides in its path, you know it was good outing. Science museum is the place for learning the sciences in the most enjoyable way possible. If you are planning to help your kid enjoy learning, you cant be wrong with a day out in Science museum. Crank that shaft, push that lever, turn the pulley, things move. A chapter of mechanics done. Could things be any better?
The imposing 5 storied white building inside Kitanomarukoen, Imperial palace gardens, has a huge number of displays. And not just displays, there are a large number of hands-on experiment sessions that run every hour, separately in each floor. It becomes difficult which one to choose.
The first floor is the ticketing area and souvenir shop. The display halls start from second floor. Each floor has about four halls with their own exhibits. A central atrium on each floor has a few minor or accompanying displays, a sitting area for the tired visitors and extended area for cafeteria.
Second floor focuses on basics of machines, and motion. One hall here has display of bicycles, starting from old wooden ones through till modern day varieties. Another hall looks at cars. Most young crowd tend to spend a good amount of time in this area as there are real driving experiences to have. One can drive a real full size truck -stepping into the drivers cabin, pressing the accelerators and controlling the driving wheel! Only the truck does not move, but simulates driving with a big LCD screen showing in front as if the driver is navigating city traffic.
Then next there is a full size car with its innards bared open, covered with glass. A driver can sit, press the accelerator, turn the driving wheel. There will be real engine sound, and gears and pistons will move. There is also a motor bike with real working accelerators and turn sensors.
Another hall teaches all about levers, pulleys and forces. For that it has a full cage in the shape of a large spring circling around the hall. A heavy metal ball moves through the cage as it is pushed forward. There are obstacles in between in the cage, where the viewers have to push a lever or pull a pulley so that the ball continues to move ahead. It requires several people to work together so that the ball can move around. And these people quickly become friends helping each other with that little extra power to lift the lever and push the ball through. Then there is the pulley mechanism that allows kids to lift a whole car – a real car! And then there is the pulley and gear arrangement that lets two kids rotate two dials and move a set of sticks that beat a set of drums. All these to teach about how gears work.
The floor next up is the Denki floor, teaches kids about electricity. Starting with Fleming’s three finger rule, it shows in a simple but interesting way how magnets and copper wire can be used to generate electricity. Then shows how wind energy is used to generate electricity. There are ample ways to engage the youngsters. One can play with every exhibit, see how the volt meter reading changes with action. And not just volt meters, one can paddle an exercise bike that generates electricity then creates magnetism and pulls up bits of metal. Several bikes in a row with colorful display scales on the wall are enough to make a bunch of kids engage in fierce cycling and seeing who can reach the maximum height on the scales.
Apart from such exhibits, there are live experiment classes held every hour. Care is taken to ensure the presentations are understandable to even the tiniest of participants. While being interesting to all. It’s difficult to do it, and perhaps even more difficult to explain. Let us not even try to explain either, because that will be a kill joy. You should experience it yourself.
In the same 3rd floor there is a slightly different exhibit, with a curious looking sets of metal horns poking out of floor and walls. The horns are not dissimilar to the ones one see in old gramophone pictures. One is supposed to listen on the gramophone like end. These play the sound generated by earth’s magnetosphere when hit by solar plasma. Clearly in the audible range these are strange extraterrestrial sounds, somewhat hypnotic. We actually came back once more to listen to these sounds, as strange and magical as it were. You may have heard these sounds in NASA TV programs, in those ones talking about deep space journeys and extra terrestrial life. In that hall there was another display again dwelling on the subject of earth’s magnetosphere and Auroras seen in north and south poles. Here it was like a movie on a giant LCD screen. Viewers could sit and see the effect of plasma rays on our atmosphere as the colors of aurora swept across the screen in a surreal display.
The fourth floor next above focused on liquids and minerals. For kids there was this podium on which as a kid stepped, a hand cranked ring would go up enveloping him/ her in a soap bubble. Blowing the soap bubble out the kids stepped down as if a prince or princess coming off his/her magical chariot. Expect long queue here.
Same 4th floor in another hall, named Constrium, exhibits showed the latest in building construction technology. Here one could see how earth quakes occur, and how Japanese buildings are engineered to absorb the shocks. We reached in time for a live experiment class that explained the different types of shock waves and their varying effects on small low rise buildings versus high rises. On a table there were two glass plates. The plates had a small separation allowing one to move with respect to the other. The lower one was made to vibrate, simulating quake waves, as the instructor turned some knobs. With one kind of wave the tall building wobbled, with another the short one was vibrating. The instructor explained the traditional engineering how old Japanese buildings were protected with diagonally places planks between the upper and lower floors. She mentioned the same principle is used in construction of the tallest building in Tokyo – the Tokyo Sky Tree. Next she demonstrated how putting a little jar one third full of water at the top floor of the tall building helped reduce the effect earth quakes in the building. This is the reason the natural disaster prevention booklets tell us to keep the bathtubs partially filled. Would not have realized how important this simple step is, if we did not see the demo.
But probably the most impactful exhibits were at the 5th floor optics and optical illusion area. The design patterns on a plane wall can make us think the walls are curved, or the angle of walls can make us think we are on an incline! These were all demonstrations of how our eyes make us perceive our surroundings. In one exhibit one stands in the center of a platform. The wall in front had a whirling design. This wall started rotating in a circle. Immediately one felt like the entire platform started moving in circle along with the wall. This was based on visual feedback. Instinctively our body tried to balance. But the sensory feedback from rest of the body did not support the feeling of movement, resulting in our body feeling strangely out of sync. In simple terms, we felt fooled, out of control of our own body!
All the floors and the halls held exhibits of that made impact in one way or the other. If however still your little one was not impressed, there is the old favorite King Kong, siting in a cage. It senses movement. Kids can go up a small ladder to peek inside the cage. King Kong roars. This one does leave an impression, trust me.
Despite such superb collection, the center maintains a relatively low profile though compared to more recent ones like Miraikan or Panasonic Risupia or Sony Explora science. You can follow the links here to read more about those.
This center is somewhat more academic, more focusing on the fundamentals. That is not to say it is less interesting in any way. Rather one may argue to the contrary in some senses.
The easiest approach if going by public transport is to get down at Kudanshita station and walk for approx ten minutes. Well seven minutes, to be precise as per the center. For the latest information on exhibits, timing and prices please follow this URL