Although Yoshihiro Takishita spent 18 months looking for land on which to place a house, he had his reward. The site he found is superlative, on a Kamakura hilltop surrounded by countryside and overlooking an expanse of sea. The unusual part is that he had already bought the house, “one with big columns and curved beams, a peaceful and honest dwelling, atmospheric with the lingering smell of an old farmhouse,” had it dismantled and stored, and was impatient to reassemble it. The story of the house is the first chapter in the saga of The House of Antiques.

Yoshihiro Takishita

Takishita was a boy in Gifu Prefecture. His village deep in the mountains gave him a birthright feeling for the old and the genuine. He said, “I remember running around the village, playing around the rice paddies and along the riverbanks. The mountains were covered by snow in the winter, and were beautiful. Today, gosh, it’s terrible, with highways and new houses and no native style left.”

He came to Tokyo to enter Waseda University, where he studied law. He had the good fortune to meet John Roderick, an authority on China and a well-known Associated Press reporter and bureau chief. “Three months after I met him, I took him to Gifu. My parents liked him very much from the very first minute. John adopted me as his ‘son,’ ” Takishita said.

“At that time John was renting a house, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to own your own house?’ Then we forgot about it. Suddenly my mother telephoned me and told me about a district, two hours deeper into the country from our village, that was to be flooded for the construction of a new dam. We rushed there, and found a house for John. We bought it for 5,000 yen.”

Takishita said that to buy and move an old house would never have occurred to him had he not seen, when he was only 18, the Weatherby house in Roppongi. He was inspired by what had been done there. Something else that had hardly occurred to him was that the operation might be difficult. Enthusiasm drove him on. “I was an amateur, but I knew it had been done in Japan before, many times,” he said. “Those old houses were built by carpenters who were really architects as well as craftsmen. I found carpenters and said, ‘Please have this house dismantled, bring it to a new site, and reassemble it.’ “

Since that first restoration more than 30 years ago of a “minka” private house, as a professional Takishita has moved many. Some have been to locations abroad, including Buenos Aires and Hawaii. By the time the Hawaii project came up, he had married Reiko, who undertook full working partnership in her husband’s enterprises. He said: “I took 17 craftsmen to Hawaii, and Reiko had to cook country-style for them there. They were big, difficult undertakings, but looking back everything was wonderful, beautiful, enjoyable. I forget all the hardships.”

He has his own restored house, The House of Antiques, next door to the first one on the Kamakura hilltop. The House of Antiques provides a magnificent setting for Takishita’s sales items: porcelains, screens, baskets and scrolls. It features a large fireplace in what is known as the West Gallery. Nowadays, Takishita says, he can make old houses very comfortable with modern heating and cooling systems, and new kitchen and bathroom units. The difficulties lie in the disappearance of old craftsmen and genuine materials.

Up until now, Takishita has been renting for his work an additional, nearby house. Aesthetically, it did not please him. Now he has bought it, and has transformed its appearance to blend in with the other houses, “to look like a traditional, wooden house, giving an impression of the Meiji era,” he said. “This will increase my gallery space, and is to be my last project. Reiko says she wants to travel instead of spending so much money on building.” His plans for his additional pavilion, or East Gallery, or whatever name he eventually chooses for it, have been occupying most of his recent time.

“I want to show more Japanese screens, full-size,” he said. “They are too heavy to carry up and down stairs, so I am going to buy a computer and take digital photos of my screens, and have a projection room where clients can see them first.” Takishita says he has trouble with modern technology. He has no trouble in living with the full artistry of Japan, and will be sure his installations have totally Japanese settings. “I look back,” he said. “I am more interested in the past than the future.”