One of Tokyo’s older ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) is set to close at the end of March, ending 112 years of operations. Choyokan-honke is located in Hongo, Bunkyo-ku – an area that was once bustling with ryokans and old bathhouses. During the 1920s there were over 120 ryokans in the neighbourhood, but by the 1960s the number had dropped to around 50.
The building is schedule to be demolished in the summertime. It will then be replaced with a high-rise condominium.
Choyokan first opened during the Meiji period in 1904. It started as an inn providing accommodation for students visiting Tokyo from Gifu Prefecture. The ryokan’s success spurred the development of numerous other ryokans in the area and the neighbourhood soon became known as an accommodation quarter. In 1929, over a third of all inns in Tokyo were located in Hongo-ku (now Bunkyo-ku).
The original building had miraculously survived the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and the WWII air raids. After the war, additions were made by local carpenters. The current interior remains largely unchanged from the 1950s renovation.
The ryokan sits on a large 1,300 sqm (14,000 sq.ft) site that was previously the villa of a samurai. The two storey wooden building had 45 guest rooms and a large banquet room. Rooms were rented for around 5,000 ~ 6,000 Yen per night.
Smaller residential house blocks of land in the Hongo area may be priced at around 1,200,000 Yen/sqm (990 USD/sq.ft) in the current market, which means the ryokan’s land would potentially have a market price of around 1.5 billion Yen (13.2 million USD).
Urban development and changes to zoning laws over the years have led to many of the historic inns in Hongo being demolished and replaced with high-rise apartment buildings. The addition of a Category 2 School Zone overlay means that the construction of any new hotels or ryokans is prohibited in this area. In August 2011, Hongokan – Japan’s oldest 3-storey wooden inn – was demolished and replaced with an apartment building. The inn was built in 1905, just one year after Choyokan.
Craftsmen who are skilled in repairing these old, traditional structures are also becoming fewer and fewer in number, which means maintaining these historic properties is both expensive and difficult.
The Tokyo Shimbun, February 18, 2016.
Bunkyo Keizai Shimbun, February 17, 2016.
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