Stylish simplicity & representative splendour
The “Western style” villas of Tōkyō are – by all means – important cultural assets and touristic spots, as many of them were already built during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and are rather posh representatives of an attitude towards life of the high society of those days.
The former residence of the Iwasaki family (旧岩崎邸 / いわさきてい), the founders of the Mitsubishi Group and the villa of Toranosuke Furukawa (古河虎之助 / ふるかわとらのすけ) located in the stylish gardens of the same name (旧古河庭園 / きゅうふるかわていえん) – both built by the British architect Josiah Conder (whose work I basically don’t really treasure) – may serve as well-known examples.
There were many more of those representative mansions in Tōkyō, but most of them were destroyed either during the great earthquake of 1923 or during the US-American air raids at the end of World War II.
A particularly noble ensemble of buildings was (like the marvellous buildings housing the Teien Art Museum) lucky enough to be built after the earthquake of 1923 – and to survive the last war: The former residence of the Maeda (旧前田家本邸 / きゅうまえだけほんてい) in Komaba (駒場 / こまば) in Tōkyō’s Meguro ward (目黒区 / めぐろ).
The construction of this residence was ordered by Toshinari Maeda (前田利為 / まえだとしなり). Let’s take a brief look at the gentleman’s background:
He was born on 5 June 1885 as the fifth son of the former daimyō Toshiaki Maeda (前田利昭 / まえだとしあき) of the Nanokaichi Domain (七日市藩 / なのかいちはん) – located in what is now called the Gunma prefecture (群馬県 / ぐんまけん) – and as such he originally belonged to a branch line of the Maeda. However, already in the year 1900 he was adopted into the main branch of the Maeda, as he was supposed to carry on their fortune as the main heir. On 13 June 1900 he was made “marquis” and became the 16th head of the Maeda Clan. As customary in those aristocratic levels of society, he became a member of the upper house of the Japanese parliament, while pursuing his military career. He graduated from the military academy in 1911 – already at that early stage of his career he proved to be an outstanding student (he was awarded the “Emperor’s Sword”). After graduation he continued his military studies in Germany (1913) and went on the Great Britain. In August 1923 he became battalion commander in the 4th Regiment of the Imperial Guard of Japan and served as military attaché to Great Britain from 1927 to 1930, before he became regimental commander of the 2nd Regiment of the Imperial Guard of Japan. After that he was superintendent of the military academy and was promoted to lieutenant general. With this rank he also retired from active duty in 1939.
His knowledge, however, was again required during the Pacific War, when the commando of the Borneo theatre of war was assigned to him. In the same year he lost his life in a plane crash in September. Only posthumously he was promoted to the rank of general.
So much about the person. Obviously, he had the building of his new residence already ordered while still serving as military attaché in Great Britain, as the larger of the two buildings of the ensemble (the one in Western style) was completed in 1929 already – with the smaller, Japanese style building following a year later.
Here some of the basic data of the buildings:
Western style residence:
- Reinforced concrete construction by the architect Yasushi Tsukamoto (塚本靖 / つかもとやすし) representing some sort of “Tudor style” with three stories above ground and one below.
- Building area: 1,129.44 m²
- Total floor area: 2,930.96 m².
The premises on the ground floor:
The staircase to the first floor:
The premsises on the first floor:
Japanese style residence:
- Wooden structure with two floors above ground and relatively high ceilings.
- Building area: 353.89 m²
- Tatal floor area: 456.68 m²
- Light weight tile roofing (combination of broad concave tiles and semi-cylindrical convex tiles), copper eaves.
Both buildings also express the refined taste Maeda had acquired during his years in Europe and the fact that got quite accustomed to the advantages of Western housing. The additional building in Japanese style was mainly dedicated to entertain his numerous foreign visitors and guests of honour.
While the rooms in the main (Western style) building were all built and equipped in Western style, only the rooms for the domestic personnel were kept in traditional Japanese style – tatami flooring – hence rather frugal.
Rooms for domestic personnel on the upper floor of the main building:
One of the main characteristics of the rooms of the Maeda family was their generous layout – but also the high ceilings and functional, but high-class and modern furniture (unfortunately, most of the furniture can only be seen on fotographs of the time), while even in Maeda’s times the rooms in the Japanese style building remained with almost no furniture whatsoever – maintaining the “wabisabi” (humble simplicity) of the Japanese atmosphere.
Originally, there were some more buildings and a glass hous in the park surrounding the residence, but they haven’t survived the passage of time and events.
After World War II. the buildings were requisitioned by general MacArthur (who was allowed to grace himself with the humble title “Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers”), who used it as a residence for general Ennis Whitehead, the commander of the 5th Air Force. Only in 1957 the whole plot was handed over the ward of Meguro. In our days it represents a particularly gorgeous example for a stately home in the early years of the Shōwa era (1926-1989).
Daily, except on Mondays, from 9 am to 4.30 pm (Japanese building until 4 pm).
Should Monday be a public holiday, the buildings stay closed on following weekday instead.
Also closed during the New Year holidays.
Please observe: The Western style main building has been undergoing extensive restoration works since 1 July 2016 that are excepted to take until September 2018. During these efforts the building cannot be entered.
The pictures you can see here were taken about four weeks prior to the restoration works – you’ll probably agree with me: All that doesn’t look THAT much in need of refurbishment. But, obviously, the buildings did no longer comply with present requirements for crime prevention and disaster control.
How to get there:
Take the Keiō Inokashira line (京王井の頭線 / けいおういのかしらせん) to Komaba Tōdai-Mae (駒場東大前 / こまばとうだいまえ) and from there via the west exit (西口 / にしぐち) in northwestern direction to the Komaba Park (駒場公園 / こまばこうえん).
4-3-55 Komaba, Meguro-ku