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Park preserves home of old zaibatsu family

by Mizuho Aoki and Satoko Kawasaki

In the nearly 80-hectare Koganei Park in the western Tokyo suburb of Koganei stands a house that once belonged to the 11th head of the famed Mitsui zaibatsu.

The home of Takakimi Mitsui (1895-1992), who is also known as Hachirouemon Mitsui, is one of 27 architectural gems in the park’s Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum.

The two-story house was built in 1952 on a 4,000-sq.-meter plot in the Nishi-Azabu district of Minato Ward, Tokyo. Mitsui’s earlier residence was destroyed in an air raid in 1945. The house was moved to the open-air museum in 1996 after Mitsui’s offspring donated it to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government when they gave away the Nishi-Azabu land to the tax authority as inheritance tax.

Although the house was built after the Mitsui zaibatsu was dissolved under the Allied Occupation in 1946, the flourishing history of the conglomerate is still in evidence on the premises.

A glittering chandelier hanging in the second floor corridor once lighted the First National Bank, which later merged with Mitsui Bank in 1943 to form Teikoku Ginko (Imperial Bank).

An art deco lampshade by famed French glass artist Rene Lalique decorates the entrance hall, where also stand “fusuma” sliding doors with delicate paintings of birds and flowers.

Some of the materials in the residence were gathered from Mitsui-affiliated facilities in Kyoto, Oiso in Kanagawa Prefecture and elsewhere.

The reception and dining rooms on the first floor were constructed from materials taken from a home in Kyoto built in 1897 and a tatami-mat room at the southeast corner was taken from a Mitsui family villa that once stood in Oiso.

A three-story structure next to the residence is thought to have once been used to store silk for Echigoya, a fabric enterprise the Mitsui zaibatsu evolved from. The phrase “Built in year 7, Meiji Era,” can be seen written on a roof beam on the third floor, suggesting the storehouse was one that once stood in the Nihonbashi district and was built in 1874 by Kisuke Shimizu, founder of Shimizu Corp.

A five-minute bus ride from JR Musashi Koganei Station on the Chuo Line, the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (till 5:30 p.m. in April-September). Admission is ¥400 for adults, ¥320 for college students and ¥200 for high school and junior high school students. Elementary school and younger kids get in free. The museum is closed Mondays and between Dec. 28 and Jan. 4. For information, visit tatemonoen.jp.

This is the last in a biweekly series introducing the luxurious mansions once owned by historically significant people.