120-yr old Mitsui Besso in Karuizawa at risk of demolition

The recent sale of the original Karuizawa holiday home of Saburosuke Mitsui (1850-1912) to a buyer from an offshore tax haven has locals worried the historic house may soon be demolished.

The house was built around 1900, making it the second oldest Japanese-built home in the area. The oldest home was built in 1893 for Yujiro Hatta, a navy captain.

The two-story wooden house includes a western-style portion of 144 sqm and a traditional Japanese-style wing of 140 sqm. It was fitted with western-style flush toilets and bathrooms, while the original gas lamp fixtures remain. 

Saburosuke was the brother-in-law of Asako Hirooka (1849-1919), a businesswoman, banker and Christian speaker. Asako often used the house herself. Other notable guests have included former Prime Minister Duke Kinmochi Saionji, and Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.

The home had remained in the Mitsui family until January 2019 when the acreage was transferred to a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. Rumors began to spread that the house would be demolished to make way for new construction. A local heritage preservation group sent letters to the new owner but received no response. They started collecting signatures last month and will send the petition to the town at the end of August. The group is hoping that the town will buy the house and relocate it. 

Over 10 years ago the former property owner had considered donating the house to the town but discussions did not progress further.

How you can help

Sometimes historic and culturally valuable homes similar to this are available for purchase. They usually come with a high price tag due to the relatively large and valuable land they sit on, and may require costly repairs and upgrades at the buyer’s expense. If you are interested in preserving a piece of Japan’s history, please let us know. Homes of this calibre are often not advertised publicly, with information only provided to selected clients on a need-to-know basis.

Sources: 
The Mainichi Shimbun, August 18, 2019. 
The Karuizawa Shimbun, July 2019.

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