By Erica Kameya
On a bluff overlooking Matsudo City is a stately Edo Period house and garden that belonged to Akitake Tokugawa, one of the heirs of the ruling shogun family. In 1867, Akitake, destined to be the next shogun, was sent off to Europe on the first diplomatic mission to cooperate with kings and emperors. It seemed that a great future was ahead of him, as a ruler of Japan with powerful European friends. But while he was away, the emperor system was restored, and his potential rulership dissolved. Tojo-tei and the gardens became the retirement project for Akitake, the last man who would be shogun.
The modestly sized mansion overlooks the Edo River and is noted as having one of the 100 Kanto area viewing spots of Mt. Fuji. Surrounding the house is a garden with arbors and groves of trees separated by lawns. This combination of landscape features are unique to Tojo-tei, and the lawns inspired by European models are the first of their kind in Japan.
Inside the house are both cozy and spacious rooms shaded by the trees, where Akitake’s family members enjoyed the views and cultural pursuits. The preserved woodwork and fixtures feature emblems of the Tokugawas, such as butterflies and the famous aoi, hollyhock that appears in the kamon, the family crest. Observant visitors will notice the period hardware such as the rings mounted high up on the walls which were used to hang mosquito nets. A favorite room of the tour guides is the envoy’s receiving room which has bats carved into the transoms and a hidden window in a closet.
The gardens are a lovely place for photography, and you might catch visitors in furusode or more demure traditional kimono for tea ceremony at Shoun-tei, the tea house across the path from the main house.
A visit to Tojo-tei is an easy day trip from Tokyo. Combine your visit with lunch at Tomita Shokudo or Tonikaku for ramen, the Matsudo Nanbu Ichiba for the market atmosphere, and a little further up the Joban local line, Hondoji, a temple famous for its hydrangeas in May and June.
Walk 10 minutes south from Matsudo Station east exit.
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You will see many of my stories on Japan Travel are about places and events outside of big city centers and tourist destinations. While I highly recommend the big name sights and experiences, I encourage visitors to see and feel the atmosphere off the beaten path, too.