Most Japanese history buffs know that Kyoto is a must-see, but for those who prefer not to be one in a mob of tourists, it’s essential to find the hidden gems like the Kyū Asakura House. It is one of those rare places where you can experience what it may have felt like to live in another era—and this one is in the middle of Tokyo! Because it is relatively small and not too well known, visiting is a peaceful experience.
Built in 1919 (the eighth year of the Taisho era), this building was the former residence of the Asakura family. Torajirō Asakura had it constructed not only as a residence, but also as a place to hold formal meetings. He was the chairman of the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly as well as the Shibuya City Assembly, so you can see why he’d need rooms as large as the conference rooms that are so prominent in the floorplan. In 2004, it was designated as an Important Cultural Property and is now open to the public.
From the approach, you can appreciate the style typical of the period, with clay roof tiles and clapboard and stucco exterior walls.
Homes this lavish and elegant were rare even in the Taisho Era; only the rich would have been able to construct a mansion like this. It survived both the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and the razing of Tokyo during World War II, so we’re lucky that it still stands today. The current caretakers do not take their role lightly—not only must you remove your shoes upon entry, but slippers are also banned to protect the floors.
The gardens are especially spectacular. You’d never think you’re in the middle of Tokyo with such lush plants growing so thickly!
The garden is also typical of the era: it is designed for strolling through, with a central pond and a path subtly created by changing the terrain with thoughtfully placed rocks and shrubs. The garden is also lined with stone lanterns and other elements that add to the picturesque qualities of the space.
▼ Even the mossy ground lends atmosphere.
The plants were also thoughtfully chosen, giving the inhabitants something to enjoy in each season—though visitors are most impressed by azaleas in spring and the bright red maple leaves in autumn.
Much of the charm comes from features that are unique to traditional Japanese buildings. Most of the rooms in the house are floored in tatami, woven reed mats. For those who have never had the pleasure of experiencing a tatami floor, it is firm but springy underfoot and perfumes the room with a sweet, grassy scent. The fragrance is most noticeable in the summer, but is the comforting smell of home year round for millions of Japanese residents.
▼ Did you just sigh? We sure did!
▼ This is the view from inside the Suginoma, or one of the “Cedar Rooms.”
▼ This is the same room as seen from the garden.
Another feature that adds enjoyment is the corridors that run alongside the outer walls.
▼ Fans of Akira Kurosawa films will be hearing the rustle of hakama right now.
▼ It’s not just the view that’s beautiful; the feeling of the old, polished wood floors through your socks is a pleasure.
It only costs 100 yen (US$1) for adults and 50 for children to gain entry, while people over 6o or with disabilities can come for free. For visitors who want to enjoy it frequently, a year pass is just 500 yen ($50). For a place that feels so remote, it is unbelievably easy to get to. It’s just a 5-minute walk from the Daikan’yama bus stop or Daikan’yama Station on the Toyoko Line or a 3-minute walk from the Hillside Terrace bus stop.
▼ Would you ever imagine you’d find such a gorgeous place in a neighborhood like this?
Now that you know about the Kyū Asakura House, you have no excuse not to stop by the next time you’re in Tokyo. You may never get another chance to step into old Japan!
Sources: Naver Matome, Shibuya City Office,
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