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Diplomat’s House a Victorian original on Yamate bluff

by Satoko Kawasaki and Sayuri Daimon

Just a five-minute walk from JR Ishikawacho Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line, an old Victorian-style building known as the Diplomat’s House stands on a bluff overlooking Yokohama.

The house’s owner was Sadatsuchi Uchida (1865-1942), a prominent diplomat during the Meiji and Taisho eras.

The house was originally built in Nanpeidai in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in 1910. It was moved to its present location in 1995 after Uchida’s granddaughter, Hisako Miyairi, donated it to the city of Yokohama because she wanted to preserve it. The two-story wooden home now stands in the compound of Yamate Itariayama Teien (Yamate Italian Garden).

The house is designated an important cultural property.

Born in what is now Fukuoka Prefecture, Uchida was educated at Tokyo Imperial University, the precursor to the University of Tokyo.

After graduating in 1889, he joined the Foreign Ministry and was posted to Shanghai, Seoul and New York. From 1902, Uchida headed the New York Consulate General and supported Ambassador Plenipotentiary Jutaro Komura in signing the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905. After serving in New York, he was posted to Brazil, Argentina and Denmark, among other places, before retiring in 1920.

Uchida’s residence was designed by U.S. architect James McDonald Gardiner, who was born in St. Louis in 1857 and studied architecture at Harvard University, before coming to Japan to teach at what is now Rikkyo University in Tokyo.

Gardiner later became president of the university, and after leaving the post, he stayed in Japan and built more than 40 buildings.

Unfortunately, most were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake, and only a handful of his structures remain.

Besides Uchida’s house, Gardiner’s buildings include St. John’s Church, built in 1907 and preserved in Meiji Mura, an open-air architectural museum in Aichi Prefecture, and Nikko Shinko Church, built in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, in 1916.

Victorian-style buildings such as the Diplomat’s House were popular in the U.S. during the 19th century.

Uchida’s house features an octagonal turret. The first floor hosts two guest rooms, a dinning room and a sun room. The door to the entrance hall has art nouveau stained-glass windows with rose designs.

The house functioned not only as Uchida’s residence but also as an important venue for various international exchanges, making the dinning room the main place for hosting parties for his foreign guests.

Thus, the dinning room carries an air of substance, with lattice-shaped beams on the ceilings, and the fireplace’s walls and tiles are decorated with art nouveau designs that feature curved lines.

The second floor was Uchida’s private space, with bedrooms and a library.

The house was equipped with the latest facilities of the time, with electric lights and gas heaters installed from the very beginning.

The Diplomat’s House is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on the fourth Wednesday of the month. It is a five-minute walk from JR Ishikawacho Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line. Admission is free.