Kyū-Asakura house: traditional Japanese home at its best in central Tokyo

Kyū-Asakura house is one of the few large traditional houses remaining in Tokyo. Built in 1919, it survived the major calamities that destroyed the rest of the city. Kyū-Asakura house is a prime example of an upper-class wooden mansion from the Taisho period (1912-1926).

While modern buildings were all the rage from the Meiji period (1868-1912) onwards, Torajiro Asakura (1871-1944) opted to build a traditional Japanese wooden house as his private residence. Torajiro was born as Torajiro Sugiura and married into the wealthy Asakura family. He came at a young age to Tokyo to work in the Fukagawa lumberyard, but showed great potential and started managing his own store at the age of 15. This experience helped him to choose the ideal timber to build the Asakura residence later in life. By marrying into the Asakura family, he also inherited his father in law’s position in the Shibuya Council at the age of 34 (1905) and from 1916 he was also elected into the Tokyo Council and became later Chairman of Tokyo’s Prefectural Assembly.

View of the garden from the Conference room/living quarters

The house was designated as an important cultural property rather recently (in 2004) as there are not that many examples of the building type around in Tokyo, but also to understand the development of pre-war Japanese houses. It is a fine example of the type of Japanese-style houses that were built between the beginning of the Meiji period (1868) and mid Showa period (ca 1955).

A ground plan is available of all the rooms in the building on the property’s website and on panels at the building. I would like to draw your attention to the following rooms (in the order that you see them on the suggested route):

  • Large open room on the 2nd floor (hiroma): one large room with a stunning surreal character looking into the greens of the garden. This room was used for official meetings.
  • Cedar rooms (suginoma): these are the rooms on the ground floor on the west side (farthest from the entrance) made in the Sukiya-zukuri style. They feature cedar grain/texture and Torajiro used this area to meet his private guests that came to make petitions.
  • Conference room/living quarters (butsuma/nakanoma/nema): in the middle of the house on the ground floor used to be the main living space of the family. There is now a seating area where you can spend some time to take in the environment and various information panels about the house (also in English).

View from the garden from the large open room on the 2nd floor (hiroma)

One of the hallways

The attached garden is full of bushes and trees making it rather dark, a far cry from the many other landscaped gardens in Tokyo. The character of it being based on a cliff makes it enjoyable nonetheless. Its main strength is its integration with the house as the views from inside the house are fantastic. I keep reading very positive reviews about this garden though, so some people must really like it (or have never been to gardens such as Rikugien).

Do not mistake this house as how life must have been like in Tokyo one hundred years ago. This house should rather be compared to a large villa or even castle in Europe. Not the type of house for your regular Tokyoite. For that it is better to visit the Shitamachi museum.

The west side of the house, the outside of the cedar rooms

The front of the house

In practice

29-20 Sarugakucho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Closest station:
Daikanyama Station – 5 minutes walk (Tokyu Toyoko Line)

Opening hours:
10:00-18:00 (entry allowed until 17:30) March-October
10:00-16:30 (entry allowed until 16:00) November-February

Entrance fee: JPY 100 (discounts in some cases apply)

When to best visit? On a sunny day, it gets rather dark when the sun is not shining

Why visit? One of the few remaining large traditional large houses in Tokyo


Name in Japanese: 旧朝倉家住宅