Kyu Asakura House - A Traditional Japanese Oasis in the Middle of Metropolitan Tokyo

Although many are attracted to Tokyo because of its cosmopolitan glamor, the fast-paced atmosphere can become overwhelming. However, even this hectic city hosts tranquil hideaways, such as the Kyu Asakura House, a quiet oasis nestled in the bustling urban landscape of Tokyo that transports you back to Japan’s early 20th century. Once home to an important Tokyo politician, the house now acts as an acclaimed example of Japanese architecture and masterful craftsmanship. For this edition of our “Area of Japan” series, we visited this Important Cultural Property that showcases quintessential Japanese aesthetics and lush garden views to get a taste of traditional Japan in the middle of modern Tokyo.

Tokyo

Things to Do

Klook.com

Kyu Asakura House - An Important Cultural Property That Transports You Back in Time

As being wrapped up in the quick-paced city life of Tokyo can sometimes become exhausting, it is important to find places where you can relax and slow down. This is how I found myself at the Kyu Asakura house, a short walk from Daikanyama Station in central Tokyo and hidden behind unassuming gates tucked away among concrete buildings and asphalt streets. While easily overlooked by the everyday passer-by, within the gates stands a magnificent traditional Japanese estate and garden, offering a serene escape to the Taisho period (1912 - 1926).

The property gets its name from its former owner, Torajiro Asakura, who built the house in 1919. Asakura was a local Tokyo politician in the former half of the 20th century, acting as chair of the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly and later the chair of the Shibuya Ward Assembly. The house belonged to the Asakura family until 1947, after which it became a national property. It was used for various government purposes until the early 2000s, and became open to the public in 2008. Lauded as one of the few remaining buildings from the Taisho era that was built before the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Kyu Asakura House is prized for its exemplary Japanese-style architecture, eventually being designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan in 2004.

As lovers of retro Japanese aesthetics, my fellow tsunagu editor and I were ecstatic to get to explore the traditional building. Though it has stood the test of time and modernization, as it is a wooden structure, naturally, the building is subject to wear and tear. However, rather than completely rebuilding those areas, the Kyu Asakura House employs a traditional Japanese carpentry technique called “ne-tsugi,” where only the rotted parts of the wood are cut out and replaced with fresh material, keeping the rest of the original wood intact. This allows visitors to get the most authentic and historically accurate experience possible, and we couldn’t help but imagine that we had slipped back in time as we walked through the dignified walls of the house.

Get a Glimpse Into the Living Situation of a Historic Politician

The grandeur of the exterior is an immediate clue that this house once belonged to someone of great standing. The two-story wooden structure peeks through the surrounding trees that hide the rest of its majesty, drawing focus to the warm wood of the welcoming “Uchigenkan” (Informal Entrance Vestibule), which was once used by regular guests and family members. Although labeled as “informal,” as soon as we stepped over the threshold into the Japanese-style foyer, we were amazed by the impressive structure, almost feeling the history emanating through the air from the warm wooden interior.

The foyer opens to a set of hallways that wind past elegant ornamentations and lead to the house’s several suites and reception rooms, including a single Western-style room, a traditional tea room, and more. The architecture of the residence is focused on hospitality, as Asakura welcomed many guests into his home. In fact, the majority of the rooms’ purpose was to entertain guests, and only three rooms were relegated to family use.

Built With the Utmost Regard for His Guests

Asakura was the epitome of a hospitable host, with every detail designed to guarantee his guests had the best experience at his home. An example of this incredible attention to detail that was particularly amazing to me were the tatami mats of the First-floor Corridor leading to the Reception Room. I had never felt such soft tatami under my feet before and learned that this was implemented to ensure that guests were comfortable while making their way through the house. Today, among the wealth of machine-woven tatami furnishing everything from homes to famous sightseeing spots, the Kyu Asakura House is one of the few places in Japan that still employs hand-made tatami, allowing visitors to experience an understated yet impressive sensation that ignites the sense of touch to transport us to times past. 

The wooden stairways connecting the first and second floors are also a subtle testament to the hospitable nature of Asakura, as I was surprised at how easy it was to walk up and down them. My impression of Japanese stairs, especially from castles, is that they are much steeper than the western height that I am accustomed to, but it didn’t even occur to me how mindlessly we were able to descend the stairs until we reached the first floor. When we inquired about this, we were informed that the stairs were designed to be easily used by all guests, so visitors unfamiliar with traditional Japanese step heights will certainly rejoice in how easy it is to traverse the property!

The influential Asakura built one of the rooms in a Western-style design to be able to greet and interact with guests while sitting on chairs. This type of architecture was also popular among wealthy Japanese households at the time, and while holding stark differences from the rest of the Japanese-style house, including curtained windows and a carpeted floor, it still maintains beautiful Japanese elements such as a sliding door and Japanese-style coffered ceiling.

Asakura was also a practitioner of Japanese tea ceremony, and had his own tea room within the house where he could practice and also entertain guests. Located in a corner of the house surrounded by the garden, the location and architecture of the room make it appear more open, blending in with the foliage of the garden and welcoming natural elements which traditionally play an incredibly important part in Japanese tea ceremony. Having practiced Japanese tea ceremony myself, I could only imagine the magnificence of being able to attend a ceremony in such an extravagant room, sitting atop the soft tatami with a bowl of matcha while feeling the breeze from the garden and listening to the musical rustling of the leaves.

Gaze Upon Breathtaking Artistic Details Decorating Every Nook and Cranny

Surfaces across the house, from fusuma sliding doors to cabinets and panels, are decorated with different mesmerizing designs. Not only is this a testament to Asakura’s financial success, but also the meticulous attention paid to every inch of the residence. Each room has its own unique details based on its location and use, with captivating elements hidden even where one might not expect. While the sliding doors and such clearly boast elegant designs, pay extra attention to the nooks, crannies, and fixtures that seem like simple wood - you may be surprised at what is concealed here. For example, look up while in the Western-style Room to see a beautifully carved chandelier post adorning the ceiling, nestled among the geometric panels, as well as the delicate latticework of the windows built throughout the house.

When walking through the house, also pay heed to the view of the gardens from each room, as the house was designed with traditional Japanese architectural aesthetics in mind, making sure the buildings and gardens harmonize with each other. The designs in each room are different depending on their use and placement, such as the cherry blossoms being painted on the bottom part of the sliding doors in the Main Suite on the second floor, to give the impression of being viewed from above as the garden's trees would be from that height.

For the most part, I felt as if I had traveled back in time while exploring the historic corridors of the serene house. However, there were moments that snapped me back to reality and reminded me that we were in the middle of downtown Tokyo. While walking along the Second-floor Corridor, we could see gray concrete buildings that tower over the lush verdure of the garden and now obstruct the view of Mt. Fuji, which was visible upon the house’s construction. Another window on the second floor not only showed the sturdy tiled roof of the Kyu Asakura House, but also the modern shops with their glass windows located just beyond. It was fascinating to see the contrast between the historic and modern eras right before our eyes, and acted as an astonishing visual example of the rapid modernization of Tokyo.

Take in the Beauty of the Traditional Japanese Garden From the Wealth of Scenic Vantage Points

As gardens are an integral part of traditional Japanese architecture and landscaping, the layout of the Kyu Asakura House ensures breathtaking views of the gardens throughout the house, from the many windows, glass panels decorating the doors, and corridors running alongside the side of the residence. With not only the outer garden but the inner garden located in the center of the house as well, we let the enveloping nature excite our five senses as we enjoyed what felt like a stroll through a secluded manor in the countryside.

One of the highlights of the house is the outer garden, and one of the best places to view it from within the house is the now Western-style Conference Room Number One, which was once a Japanese-style room for Asakura’s own private use. The sliding glass doors open up to and frame the lush garden, revealing an opulent scene. Although now called “Conference Room Number One,” this majestic room was once Asakura’s private living quarters, and with the scenic views of the garden, it is easy to understand why he would choose this space for himself. Time passes slowly in this house, and it felt as though the peaceful atmosphere cleansed my mind, making me want to stay and stare at the view for hours.

Ease Your Mind and Soul Among the Lush Foliage of the Traditional Japanese Garden

After taking in every detail we could of the refined interior, we made our way outside of the house and curved around to the side, where the wooden gate to the Japanese garden stood enveloped by the bright verdure of the trees. Continuing along the stone path, we found ourselves standing in the middle of the garden we gazed upon from Conference Room Number One. Surrounding us were hills of thick green moss, gently-swaying trees and bushes, and magnificent stone lanterns. The manicured stone path suddenly turns into a road made from massive rocks embedded into the ground, and I enjoyed playfully stepping from rock to rock while taking in the surrounding natural beauty.

The trees are tended to by professional Japanese gardeners and manicured to stay trim, yet still display their natural beauty and complement the rest of the elements in the garden. The garden emanates the beloved Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, obviously being well-kept but not so polished that it interrupts the innate earthiness of the scenery.

The view of the house from the garden offers a different perspective, with the foliage seemingly protecting the house from the busyness of the surrounding city. We were able to walk right up to the wooden balconies surrounding the house, peeking into the grand rooms to enjoy an angle unavailable from the inside. The garden extends around the house, and we merrily explored the grounds, finding different spots from where we could peer into the quiet inner chambers.

As we visited during the hotter months, the garden was enveloped in bright greenery, from the leaves of the trees to the moss covering the grounds. However, the garden boasts enchanting seasonal scenery, ensuring a captivating sight whenever one visits. With dainty cherry blossoms in the spring, fresh verdure in the summer, vibrant autumn foliage in the autumn, and calming snowy landscapes in the winter, the Kyu Asakura House is a pleasure to visit year-round!

Experience Traditional Japanese Aesthetics in the Middle of Downtown Tokyo

Its location in the middle of urban Tokyo makes it hard to believe that such an exemplary traditional Japanese building would be standing here, yet the Kyu Asakura House remains steadfast as a glimpse into past Japan. It is not only the perfect place to observe traditional Japanese architecture, but also acts as a calm, lush oasis in the middle of busy Tokyo. As it is conveniently accessible from major hubs such as Shibuya and Ebisu, it is the perfect stop during a trip downtown.

If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!

Kanto Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.


About the author

Kim
Kim S.
Klook.com

Restaurant Search