150+ year old tea house discovered in Kyoto backyard

Left: A current image of the tea house (via the Kyoto Shimbun). Right: An early photograph of the tea house supplied by Okubo’s great-grandchild.

A tea house that once belonged to Okubo Toshimichi (1830-1878) has narrowly escaped demolition in Kyoto. The owner has temporarily suspended demolition while the tea house is carefully dismantled and stored. Due to its historical significance, Kyoto City is considering potential ways to relocate and reconstruct it.

The pedigree of the tea house was discovered after careful examination by heritage experts. The tatami sizes matched those appearing in illustrations of a former estate, while the red pine alcove posts, lintels and other parts were estimated to date from the Bakumatsu period (1853-1867). 

The property, which is on the eastern side of the Kyoto Imperial Palace, was once home to a larger estate used by Okubo between 1866 and 1868. The tea house has even older origins, having been relocated from samurai Komatsu Kiyokado’s estate. Japan’s so-called  ‘scrap-and-build’ culture has its roots in the rapid post-war growth, and was much less of a phenomenon in earlier times. It was not uncommon for the upper classes to relocate older structures to their estates. 

Okubo was a samurai, politician and, most notably, one of the Three Great Nobles of the Restoration. He is considered one the main founders of modern Japan. He was the one to ban samurai from wearing swords in public, and also introduced a more standardized land tax system. Okubo was assassinated outside the Imperial Palace gates in Tokyo in 1877. His great-great-grandchildren include 92nd Prime Minister Taro Aso, and Princess Nobuko.

The Okubo family sold the Kyoto estate in 1959.

Image via the Kyoto Shimbun.

Source: The Kyoto Shimbun, May 20, 2019.

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