The Old Asakura House

An architectural thinkpiece in Daikanyama, Tokyo

By Scott Brause    - 2 min read

For those who prefer the traditional warmth and sabi of a prewar Japanese home to the cold minimalism of modern Tokyo architecture, consider paying a visit to the old Asakura Residence in Sarugakucho. This splendid Taisho-era mansion, with its many lovely rooms, detailed woodwork and mossy gardens, was designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government in 2004.

An inconspicuous prewar treasure

Tucked away on a side street a few minutes' walk from Daikanyama Station, the location is rather guarded, certainly not crying out for attention. It offers no parking, hence no possibility of bused-in tourists. 100 yen gets you into the grounds, and - if you look like I do - pays for an attendant to show you to the front door, and remind you to remove your shoes. After that, you're on your own.

Money well spent

As I mentioned, the wood finish work in these prewar mansions is pretty classy. Torajiro Asakura was a wealthy rice merchant and the Chairman of the Tokyo prefectural government. He built this home as his private residence, clearly with an eye to impressing his many visitors and business associates.

The patina of a world past

Coved cedar ceilings, ornate partitions, latticed doors and old-style tatamis (some of sizes and weaves that I have never before seen) are found in the many distinctive rooms and halls of this somewhat rambling structure. The inner garden is lovely, and the veranda and window views of the surrounding landscape and gardens are illuminating, carrying light into the typically dim interior of an old Japanese home. Over many years visitors like myself, by walking the hallways in our socks, have each contributed something to the soft patina of those polished wooden floors.

For those with modern tastes

If your architectural taste runs instead to modern concrete and glass, just down the hill in Aobadai there’s the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery, and hundreds of smaller restaurants, boutiques, shops and ateliers. If you prefer to continue with the theme of tranquility and gardens, you can follow your visit to the Asakura House with a stroll through nearby Saigoyama Park, where the cherry blossoms are effulgent in early April, and one can see snow-capped Mount Fuji rising augustly over the helterskelter skyline of Nakameguro.

Getting there

Walk from Daikanyama Station in three minutes, or from Nakameguro Station in six or seven.

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Scott Brause

Scott Brause @scott.brause

Scott lived for many years in Japan, first in Beppu, later in Tokyo.  He continues to return to his former haunts, spending time with old friends and relatives, yet never failing to get out and explore – and be amazed by – the world of Japan.