Government seeking to acquire and preserve historic villas in Oiso

The Japanese government is considering converting several privately owned historic villas in the coastal town of Oiso into a public park. The project may include acquiring the properties and restoring them so that they can be opened to the public.

The proposal covers a 6 hectare site including the Sorokaku Villa, former Ikeda Shigeaki Residence, former Okuma Shigenobu Residence, and former Mutsu Minemitsu Residence.

The properties are owned by private companies and not currently open to the public. Some of the homes, which are unused, have fallen into various states of disrepair over the years. The government may consider purchasing the buildings and land from their owners and has set aside 27.3 billion Yen (approx. 240 million USD) in the national park’s budget for the project.

[Left] The original Sorokaku villa during the Meiji era; [Right] The 1920s villa (image taken in 1988).

Sorokaku Villa

Built in 1890 in Odawara City as a holiday villa for Prince Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909), a London-educated samurai and Japan’s first Prime Minister. It was relocated to a 18,150 sqm block of beachfront land in Oiso Town in 1897, becoming Ito’s main residence. At the time, many of Japan’s top political rulers and industrialists had extravagant holiday homes in Oiso. By 1907, there were over 150 grand estates in the town.

In 1921, it was transferred by Ito’s adopted son to the House of Yi (Korean Imperial Household). It was completely destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake but rebuilt shortly after. It was briefly confiscated during the occupation following WWII, before being transferred by the Yi family to politician Narahashi Wataru in 1946. In 1951, the property was sold to Seibu Railway who redeveloped the property into the Oiso Prince Hotel, keeping the historic residence as an annex building.

In 2007 the hotel closed down. A year earlier, a construction company had obtained preferential bidding rights to acquire the property, but Oiso Town stepped in to prevent the potential sale in order to protect the building. The town continued discussions to acquire the property, offering 2.55 billion Yen, but this was much lower than what the construction company was willing to pay. The town could not meet the construction company’s offer and had to back out of purchase negotiations.

The former Ikeda Shigeaki Residence

Former Ikeda Shigeaki Residence

The current concrete Tudor-style house was built in 1933 for prominent businessman, politician and Harvard-graduate Ikeda Shigeaki (1867-1950). Throughout his career, Ikeda was a director of Mitsui Bank, governor of the Bank of Japan, and Minister of Finance. After WWII, Ikeda moved into this home until his death in 1950. The home is currently owned by a financial-related company. The company had previously used the home as a corporate retreat but it has been unused for many years.

The land was originally purchased in 1899 by Prince Saionji Kinmochi (1849-1940), two-time Prime Minister of Japan. Saionji built a traditional thatched roof house on the land. He later sold the property in 1917 to Ikeda.

The house has a total floor area of 815 sqm (8,770 sq ft) and sits on a 14,500 sqm block of land.

Former Okuma Shigenobu Residence

Built in 1897 as a holiday home of Marquess Okuma Shigenobu (1838-1922), 8th Prime Minister of Japan and founder of Waseda University. It was sold to Baron Furukawa Toranosuke (1887-1940) in 1905 and remains held by a corporation related to the Furukawa estate. The residence is currently used as a guesthouse. It has a total floor area of 800 sqm (8,600 sq ft).

Former Mutsu Munemitsu Residence

Built in 1894 as the holiday home of Count Mutsu Munemitsu (1844-1897), a statesman and diplomat. Mutsu’s son, Furukawa Junkichi, inherited the property upon Mutsu’s death three years later. Furukawa is from the same family that acquired the residence next door several years later. This property is also held by a related company and used as a guesthouse. It has a total floor area of 680 sqm (7,300 sq ft), and both houses sit on a 26,400 sqm block of land.

Sources:
The Mainichi Shimbun, August 29, 2017.
Jiji Press, August 22, 2017.