Former geisha office in Tokyo to re-open next month

The historic Shibaura Kenban building in Tokyo will re-open in April after undergoing a full restoration. Built in the 1930s, this is said to be the only surviving pre-war, wood-frame ‘kenban’ in Tokyo. A kenban was traditionally an office that oversaw the operations of the geisha in the district.  

Shibaura’s former history as a red-light district dates back to the Meiji period when it was relocated from nearby Shiba to the newly created man-made islands on Shibaura. 

The Shibaura Kenban was built in 1936 by Rikizo Hosokawa. At age 15, Hosokawa began working in a bathhouse in Kanda, Tokyo. In 1912, at the age of 23 he started operations of a bathhouse in Shiba 1 Chome. By age 30 he had amassed wealth through real estate activities, moving into construction and landlord activities in 1920. In 1928 Hosokawa converted his own home in Shibaura into a traditional ryotei-style restaurant called Shibaura Gajoen. A few years later he managed to acquire the former residence of industrialist Shoichi Iwanaga alongside Meguro River. He transformed this house into the Meguro Gajoen ryotei, (now the Hotel Gajoen Tokyo).

The Tokyo metropolitan government purchased the Shibaura Kenban building and land in 1944. After WWII it was used to provide accommodation for dockworkers up until 2000. In 2009 the building was donated to Minato Ward. In 2014 the ward set out to preserve the building. 

The 442 sqm, two-story building sits on a 618 sqm plot of land. 

The current restoration has included structural reinforcement, as well as wheelchair access. Minato Ward had budgeted 672 million Yen (approx. 6.2 million USD) for the restoration.


1-11-16 Shibaura, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Source: The Tokyo Shimbun, December 19, 2019.

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