Tokyo is infamously known as the city that was twice destroyed: the Great Earthquake of 1923 and the bombings of World War II. Nevertheless, many old buildings from the 17th century have survived. When we talk about residential houses it is a different matter, they are subject to more frequent demolishment and renewal. In particular the evolving earthquake regulations have led to many buildings being replaced by more earthquake-resistant ones.
In Europe often only the facade of the old building is left, maintaining an old appearance of the city centre, but in fact the houses behind the facade are new. In Japan, as the buildings were built in wood, keeping the facade is much more complicated. An old character of a whole street can hence only be found in a limited number of streets/districts such as Shibamata in Tokyo or Higashiyama in Kyoto.
However, several traditional residential houses actually did survive. Not just your regular small dwellings, but houses of rich and important figures, now open for a visit. These types of houses are rare, rare in Tokyo, but also rare in the rest of Japan. Important for all of these houses is how the garden is an essential component of the house.
1. Old Yasuda House (1919)
Former residence of Kusuo Yasuda 1919. This two-story wooden building is built in Japanese traditional style, making the most of the long and narrow plot it occupies. The result is a long-shaped garden and the house in a zigzag shape. The attention to detail makes this house a must-visit. It is centrally located in Sendagi (close to Yanaka, Nishi-Nippori and Ueno). Read more.
2. Kyū-Asakura house (1919)
Prime example of an upper-class wooden mansion from the Taisho period (1912-1926). House from a chairman of Tokyo’s Prefectural Assembly with a keen eye to get the best timber for his house. It is located in Daikan-yama, close to Shibuya and Meguro. Read more.
3. Yamamoto-tei (mid 1920s)
Japanese house in which Western elements and techniques are incorporated. It was built mid 1920s and has been heavily renovated between 1926 and 1930. It was the former residence of Einosuke Yamamoto, a Japanese industrial who established a nearby camera components manufacturing plant. The house is an excellent example of sukiya-style residential architecture. The house is located on the edge of Tokyo in the Shibamata neighbourhood. Read more.
Names in Japanese:
旧安田楠雄邸庭園 (Old Yasuda House), 旧朝倉家住宅 (Kyū-Asakura house), 山本亭 (Yamamoto-tei)