National

British Embassy’s Meiji Era villa reopens in Tochigi

Kyodo, Staff Report

A ceremony was held Thursday to celebrate the reopening of the renovated British Embassy villa in Tochigi Prefecture, offering a glimpse into the lives of British diplomats more than a century ago.

During the ceremony, British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens said he was delighted the villa will continue to be a symbol of the long-lasting friendship between Japan and Britain.

The wooden, two-story structure was built in 1896 by British diplomat and Japanologist Ernest Satow (1843-1929), in Oku-Nikko, a summer resort near Lake Chuzenji.

Satow’s enthusiasm for Oku-Nikko prompted other diplomats and embassies to build villas there as well. Since many foreign delegates spent their summers in the town, the phrase, “The foreign ministry moves to Nikko in the summer,” entered widespread use.

After Satow left Japan, the 467 sq.-meter villa became property of the British Embassy until 2008.

It was donated to the Tochigi Prefectural Government in 2010, and the prefecture spent some ¥419 million renovating it.

The facility, which will open to the public on Friday, retained its original brick fireplace on the first floor and now has a cafe on the second floor. It is also adorned with displays about Satow and furniture from his time.

Admission is ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children.

Satow, who arrived in Japan in 1862, before the Meiji Restoration, also wrote the first English-language tourist guide for the area, which was published in 1875 under the title, “A Guide Book To Nikko.”