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A taste of Spain in Shinjuku Ward

by Setsuko Kamiya and Satoko Kawasaki

Just outside Wakamatsu-Kawada Station on the Oedo subway line in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, stands an elegant building with cream-colored exterior walls and an entrance with a modern canopy decorated with a motif of grapes.

Completed in 1927, the two-story residence was home to Count Nagayoshi Ogasawara, the 30th in the family line that during the Edo Period (1603-1867) reigned over the Kokura Domain, which today is Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture.

With a tiled roof, arched windows and a courtyard, the architecture is a prime example of Spanish colonial revival, a popular style for Western-type buildings in Japan in the early 1920s to the 1930s.

A large salon, lounge and a dining hall surround the courtyard, but one of the residence’s most prominent features is a cylindrical cigar room with an Islamic design, a touch reflected in its geometric mosaic marble floor.

The exterior of the cigar room has an eye-catching design of birds, flowers and grapes made of colorful terra-cotta tiles. Grapes and birds are some of the motifs frequently observed in this household, reflecting the taste of the original owner.

After graduating from Gakushuin, a school originally dedicated to the education of aristocrats, in 1913, Count Nagayoshi went to England and studied at Cambridge University. Returning to Japan, he eventually became a member of the House of Peers.

Nagayoshi was apparently an artist himself, and evidence of his talent can be found on the premises, including a sculpture of a woman placed by the fountain in the courtyard.

The architects who worked on the building, Tatsuzo Sone and Seiichiro Chujo, are known for designing several office buildings in Tokyo and elsewhere.

The residence survived World War II and was taken over as part of the headquarters of the Allied Occupation in 1948. The mansion came under the control of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1952 and was used as a child-welfare consultation center until it was closed down in 1975.

Surprisingly, the building was left abandoned for more than two decades and even faced demolition.

It was saved by private-sector efforts after the metropolitan government offered to make the building available for use provided it be restored to its original state and maintained.

Since 2002, the building has housed a classy Spanish restaurant as well as a cafe, and is also used for wedding receptions.

The exterior of the residence can be observed for free but admission is permitted to restaurant patrons only.