Mitsubishi Estate began demolishing the former residence of Yoshikoto Nakamura, also known as the Hanezawa Garden, in Hiroo on October 3rd despite countless attempts by local residents to preserve the house and Japanese gardens dating back to 1915.

About 50 residents gathered at the entrance early Sunday morning to hold a public protest. Although access to the property is prohibited, construction workers could be seen installing scaffolding and preparing trees to be cut down. Demolition is scheduled to finish by May 31, 2012.

The property was most recently used as a restaurant, banquet hall and wedding hall up until 2005.

The History

The house is located in Hiroo 3 Chome – a low-rise expensive residential neighborhood in Shibuya-ku, central Tokyo. The original owner, Mr. Nakamura, was a government bureaucrat, businessman, former Mayor of Tokyo, Railroad Minister, as well as the second Chairman of the South Manchurian Railway Company. He built a 2-storey house, detached house, tea room and other structures on the 10,000 sqm block of land. The main house was a fine example of Taisho-period Japanese architecture. The house was built in a style similar to the grand Samurai residences but also had a western-style reception room and fireplace, making it a blend of Japanese and western styles (called wayo-secchu).

After Nakamura’s passing in 1927, the property passed through several owners. It was even used as a banquet hall by a related party to General Douglas MacArthur during the occupation of Japan following World War II. It was then opened to the public as a reception hall and used by a company called “Hanezawa Garden” from 1950. During the summer months, the space was used to hold beer garden events.

In 2000, large scale renovations were carried out on the property. The Japanese style room in the main house was converted into a western-style one. The land and property owners were Hiyama Group – a butcher shop in Nihonbashi. The operators of the banquet hall, Hanezawa Garden, did not renew their lease on the property in 2005 and it was closed to the public.

In 2007, Mitsubishi Estate announced plans to build a 3-storey, 3-basement (6 floors) apartment building on the site and were scheduled to demolish the property in November. In October of the same year, local residents started a preservation group along with poet Makoto Ooka to try and preserve the building and gardens. They met with the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to demand that the house be listed as an Important Cultural Property. Many well-known figures from the literary, arts, architecture and law world supported the protection group.

The property owners, Hiyama Group, said the house had no historical or cultural value and demolition would go ahead as planned. Hiyama Group also own the vacant lot opposite the entrance to Hanezawa Garden. The protection group started litigation which is still ongoing in 2011. The judge visited the site in October, 2010, to meet with both parties and to inspect the property.

Prior to the change in Hiroo addresses in 1966, the Hiroo 3 Chome area around the Tokyo Jogakkan School for Women was called Hanezawa-cho. Hanezawa Garden is the only remaining reminder of the former neighborhood.

Mitsubishi Estate’s plans for the site:

The construction site in June 2012. [Image source]

3-12-15 Hiroo, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

The Sankei Shimbun, October 3, 2011.
Hanezawa Garden Wikipedia Page (Japanese)