Tokyo’s Best Kept Secret
There is one hidden Tokyo spot that Haruna Yamashita always heads to when she craves some peace, quiet and a touch of nature: a beautifully-preserved Japanese house, complete with tatami mat floors, painted screens and exquisite gardens.
And luckily for Haruna? It’s discreetly located behind a gated entrance just seconds on foot from where she works at Caramel’s Japan flagship store in the leafy Daikanyama neighbourhood.
Kyu-Asakura House is perhaps one of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets. The house was built as a family home in 1919 by the prominent politician Torajiro Asakusa in a quiet hilltop location.
Since then, it has somewhat miraculously remained intact, surviving both the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and World War Two bombings which wiped out vast swathes of the capital’s architectural heritage.
Today, the house and gardens are protected by the government as an Important Cultural Property and its existence is a welcome – and atmospheric – reminder that Tokyo is not just a city about fast-paced fashion, fast trains and skyscrapers.
After passing through the gates (and paying an impressively good value 100 yen entry ticket), a gravel walkway leads to the scene-stealing house, with its traditional tiled roof and sliding wood door.
Shoes are slipped off at the genkan entrance of the house, before visitors are left to their own devices to explore the often-empty two-level property, with its creaking wooden floorboards, white lanterns and sliding paper screens.
A favourite spot is the sunlight-bathed first floor wooden corridor – with a wall of windows on one side framing courtyard views across the gardens plus a serene string of tatami mat rooms with delicately painted panels on the other.
“It’s really special,” explains Haruna, who is also an illustrator. “They have amazingly beautiful artworks throughout the house – in particular stunning Japanese paintings. It’s hard to believe they were created almost 100 years ago.”
The gardens are another highlight: the landscaped hillside, explored via a narrow stone pathway, is surrounded by a cornucopia of trees and flowers, all carefully designed to showcase each of the four seasons.
“I particularly love walking in the gardens in spring, as it’s full of beautiful fresh leaves,” adds Haruna. “But there are lovely flowers and trees all year round.
“It’s one of the few places where I can feel nature and calmness in Tokyo. It makes me feel relaxed even though I’m in the middle of a big urban city.”
Haruna wears our Belted woman wrap dress in Camel.
Words and images by Danielle Demetriou