A fire early Sunday destroyed the residence of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, one of the most prominent venues in modern Japanese politics and a place where Prime Minister Taro Aso spent some of his youth.
The blaze at the two-story, uninhabited building was largely brought under control by 9:36 a.m. and no one was injured, a police spokesman said. An investigation was launched to determine whether it was arson or an accident.
Kyodo News, quoting unnamed police officials, reported that an alarm bell went off to warn of a short circuit before a security guard phoned the fire in at 6:02 a.m. Police declined to comment on the report.
Yoshida, prime minister in the 1940s and ’50s, was the key Japanese leader during the postwar U.S. Occupation.
Until he died in 1967, an endless stream of politicians would travel from Tokyo to see Yoshida at his home. The visit was widely known as the “Oiso Pilgrimage,” given its political importance.
Yoshida was the grandfather of Aso, who adored him as the model politician and was his inspiration in seeking to become prime minister.
“The building has so many memories. It’s really regrettable,” Aso said in a statement released later in the day.
According to the Oiso municipal office, the main building was located within a compound covering 33,000 sq. meters that also has a pond and Japanese-style gate.
The main building was destroyed, and nearby trees also were burned, the police said.
The compound and buildings are owned by Seibu Railway Co., but given its historical importance the Kanagawa Prefectural Government had planned to turn the area into a public park by the end of fiscal 2011, Oiso official Takashi Nakategawa said.
“We had high hopes” that the park would promote tourism to Oiso, Nakategawa said. “(The fire) is really a shame.”
The garden in front of the main building was open to registered visitors about 20 days a year, and the last visit was Saturday. At that time, nothing abnormal was noticed, Nakategawa said.
The compound was not tightly guarded and it would not have been difficult to get inside as some of the boundaries are nothing more than planted trees, he said.