The chic streets of Daikanyama with its high end boutiques, foreign embassies, and world class cuisine represents the modern, bank account depleting reality that has come to epitomize Tokyo. But hidden amongst the luxury handbags and “vintage” (read shockingly expensive) clothing shops is a small glimpse of another reality, one of traditional Japanese architecture and meticulously manicured gardens. Kyu Asakura House is the perfect place to see both, especially when you need to escape that world of relentless retail and the sounds of high heels clacking on pavement. Why not replace that with the serenity of a moss garden, the comfortable give of soft tatami under your socks, and the creaking sounds of a well preserved wooden mansion?
Built in 1919 as a private residence for politician Torajiro Asakura, this Important Cultural Property is a fine example of architecture from the Taisho era. Only costing 100 Yen to enter (500 Yen for an annual pass), the home offers more than eleven beautifully preserved rooms on two floors, more than enough space to while away a couple hours. Following the suggested walking route, visitors will pass through the Drawing Room (Osetsuma), head up the steep staircase to enjoy two small Japanese Style Rooms (Washitsu) and a large Open Room (Hiroma), then return to the ground floor passing through three Cedar Rooms (Suginoma) and a long Conference Room (Daiichi Kaigishitsu). Along the way you’ll also see a Tea Room (Chashitsu), a Western-style Room (Yohma), traditional Japanese toilets, and a small inner garden so well maintained you’ll never want to leave.
However, the mansion is only one half of this incredible property. The Japanese garden following the slopes on the south side of the house has well spaced stone pathways that lead you through sculpted bonsai, bright moss covered roots, stone lanterns, and colorful flowers and shrubs best seen in the spring or fall. For Japanese horticulture lovers, the garden is worth the price of admission by itself.
The intimacy that the Kyu Asakura House creates, helping you to connect with the past, will linger with you even after you exit its gates and return to the posh streets of Daikanyama. Fortunately, it’s easy to find, just five minutes on foot from Daikanyama Station (Tokyu Toyoku Line), not far from the Embassy of Denmark and the shops at Hillside Terrace on Kyuyamatedori Avenue. And it’s open every day but Monday from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM (4:30 from November until March), so it’s a great stopping point during those weekend shopping excursions.
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I've lived in Japan for almost three years and have been constantly on the search for places that showcase the best of Japanese design and traditional culture. Fortunately, I haven't had to look hard as there are great places to visit often only a few train connections away. With careful planning, some linguistic effort, and an openness to new experiences, everyone can find special places that will leave lasting memories.I also have a great deal of help from my wife and her family, allowing me to travel to locations that I certainly wouldn't venture to solo. I'm excited to share those experiences and hope everyone can get on a new path of travel within Japan.