Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens
Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens is the former estate of the Iwasaki clan who were the founders of Mitsubishi. The main attraction is the impressive two story (with basement) manor house that was completed in 1896 and was the Iwasaki's main residence. Around half of the original lands and most of an extensive complex of Japanese buildings have been lost to development but the northwest corner of the estate remains remarkably intact.
While other parts weren't so lucky, the manor house and nearby billiard house have been well preserved and the gardens as a whole were declared important cultural assets of Japan in 1999. The manor and billiard house was designed by Josiah Conder (1852-1920), a British architect, who is responsible for many early western style buildings in Tokyo during the Meiji period and Taisho period.
The first thing you see as you enter the park is the pale golden rod manor house. The exterior is said to have been designed to look like a Pennsylvania country house. The carriage entrance at the back of the house is where you enter after removing your shoes. Around the side, is a sun room that was added later and, overlooking the lawn, is a wide veranda supported by columns in front.
The interior of the house was designed and built with a level of craftsmanship that is rarely seen. A mixture of different motifs such as Islamic in upstairs rooms and renaissance in others can be seen throughout the building. Parquet floors are balanced with intricate wood ceilings.
The high quality wallpaper that can be seen in the house is called kinkarakawa paper (金唐革紙). Similar wallpaper was first introduced to Japan from Europe in 1662 and was used to decorate many western style houses from the same era. To create the embossing, a cylinder about 50 cm in diameter is carved with the design. Paste is rolled onto the backing using the cylinder which creates the embossing.
There used to be a traditional samurai manor behind and attached to the house but only a small fraction remains. A similar level of quality was dedicated to it as well and a few rooms and beautifully painted but faded sliding panels can be seen. Interestingly, it's thought the Iwasaki's used the Japanese section for mainly ceremonial purposes.
The gardens may now be little more than a lawn but another important building, the billiards house, has been preserved. It is actually connected to the main house by an underground passage. The Swiss mountain lodge design is extremely rare in Japan and a unique choice.
Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens is probably the most well preserved and impressive early western style building in Japan. The subtle combination of western and Japanese styles in the building and the intriguing history behind the adoption of western manners and lifestyle by Japan's elite during the Meiji period (1868-1912) make it well worth the time to visit.
Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens is south of Ueno and just west of Shinobe Pond. The closest JR train station to Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens is JR Okachimachi Station on the Yamanote Line. Simply exit the station and walk to the west along the main road and follow the signs to the gardens. You'll have to walk a bit towards the lotus pond, Shinobazunoike, when you get close and the last sign is a bit hard to spot.
The closest subway stop is Yushima Station (3 minute walk) on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line. Ueno-hirokoji Station on the Ginza Line and Ueno-Okachimachi Station on the Oedo Line are the two other Tokyo Metro Stations near the gardens. They are located a few minutes walk west of JR Okachimachi and so are a bit closer.
Posted: April 18, 2011 Updated: February 24, 2015