This came to my attention via Japan Probe, and as a lover of Japanese history, it immediately caught my attention. The Japan of the past that we might see in movies and read about in books is quickly disappearing. Here in Tokyo it sometimes seems like only the shrines and temples have survived the earthquakes, fires, carpet bombings and construction booms over the centuries. The Tokyo of today would be utterly unrecognizable to an inhabitant of the Edo Period (we’re talking as late as 1868, folks). Kyoto was luckily spared most of destruction of the American bombings during WWII and emerged from the war comparatively unscathed. While the other urban centers had no choice but to rebuild quickly (and seemed to continue that growth to this day), Kyoto has been been allowed to keep its classical beauty intact.
In this YouTube clip, Professor Jeff Berglund of Kyoto University gives a tour of his house. Maybe in Kyoto this kind of house is common. I don’t know. All I do know is that it’s absolutely beautiful and he’s taken great efforts to maintain it.
They say it’s a 160 years old. If that’s true, that puts the construction date at about 1850. At that time, Japan was still a closed country enjoying 260 some odd years of virtual isolation from the world.
But not for long.
Commodore Perry and his fleet of “Black Ships” arrived in the summer of 1853 and threw Japan into close to 15 years of turmoil culminating in civil war. That period, known as the Bakumatsu (end of the shogunate), brought much of violence and bloodshed to the quiet capitol of the Emperor. Professor Berglund’s house has a view of the Kamogawa River (which was the place where many a decapitated head was placed by radical rōnin seeking to overthrow the shogun’s government in Edo and restore “rule” to the Emperor). Basically the house saw the end of the feudal era, the modernization of Japan, the rise of nationalism, the defeat and subsequent American Occupation, the path towards superpower and the bubble economy and is still standing there in its Edo Period elegance. Absolutely amazing!!
Here’s the video:
if that doesn’t work, here’s a direct link:
Some interesting things about the house:
1 – It’s a 160 years old.
2 – He’s added a balcony (not a feature of Edo Period houses, if I’m not mistaken), which he uses during the hot summer months for dining and relaxing.
3 – The balcony affords a view of the Kamogawa River and Higashiyama Mountain (two of the main geographic landmarks in Kyoto).
4 – He states that 「水の横の京が一番涼しい」. Literally, “The capital on the water is the coolest.”
It’s a play on the kanji for Kyoto/”capital” (京) and the kanji for a cool breeze （涼） which is made of the kanji for “water” and “capital.” I don’t know if that’s supposed to be funny or something, or maybe I just didn’t get the pun – but basically he’s saying that in the hot summer months it’s best to be out on the water in Kyoto to cool down. I’ll buy that for a dollar.
5 – On the second floor, he has a little window area where he drinks coffee and reads the paper in the morning. In the evening’s he likes to kick back and booze it up there.
6 – If I’m not mistaken about the last bit, he has to replace all the tatami mats each year to keep the house in such pristine condition.
7 – Then the video cuts off. Dang.
Anyways, it’s a really nice house and I’d love to live in one just like it. If anyone wants to give me money to buy such a house, I’ll happily take donations (^_−)−☆