That was a text message from Ricky my private English teacher on September 4th. I take his lesson once a week. We usually meet at a donut shop in Hoshigaoka, where you can get a donut for free if you buy something to drink, and talk in English for an hour. But he suggested another place that day. A ‘new’ historic building? What does it mean? Many question marks crowded my brain. But they disappeared soon, when I happened to open a Nagoya’s community paper that night: Nagoya City had completed the restoration of the historic Choshokaku reception hall and opened the building to the public at the end of August. Ah, the ‘new’ historic building is a reception hall called Choshokaku!
The hall is part of the estate called Yokiso which was owned by Suketami Ito, the first president of Matsuzakaya department store. He bought a 35,000 m2 land near the Nittaiji Temple in Kakuozan and built about 30 buildings on the estate by 1940. That area used to be a place for guests like the imperial family, nobility, politicians, and foreigners, and for social interaction for them. But most of the buildings were burned down in an air raid in 1945, and some remained ones were occupied by the US Army Forces for a while after the war. The Yokiso Villa has been managed by an NPO since 2003, and was donated to Nagoya City in 2007. Since then some parts of the place has been opened to the public. Choshokaku was originally built in 1937 as a guest house. The renovation began in 2011 and finally opened on August 29 this year.
Ricky and I met near Kakuozan Station next day and walked to Choshokaku together. According to the community paper, the ‘new’ historic building is in the south area. Both of us had visited other buildings in the north area of the villa, but did not know from where we could enter the south area. However, we arrived at the building without notice while following two women who we saw walking before us. There was a striking red house in front of our eyes. Those ladies were also visitors to the heritage. We paid for the fee, which was 300 yen, and stepped inside.
The building is a western-style house, but you have to take off your shoes at the entrance. We had a direct view of a tea room when we entered. We decided to have a lesson over tea at the tea room before touring the house. But Ricky ordered a set of curry and rice instead of tea. He has not had lunch yet. The tea room was quite cozy. This is a sequel, but Ricky liked its atmosphere and has spent a lot of time there recently…We talked about Syria’s situation, Turkish movements, and a Serbian revolutionist Popovic at the comfortable and quiet tea room. Ha ha…
After my lesson, we started touring the house. There was a miniature land of the place at a corner and we imagined the way the villa used to be. Now in the most of the land there are many houses and tall condos. In fact, many of the windows of the house were closed and blocked not to look outside. A guide told us it was because of privacy protection for the residents around the heritage. The interiors were exotic mixed up Japanese, other Asian countries’ and European cultures. According to the guide, many of the parts of the house are made from chestnut trees and they look rough because the wood is very hard to curve. But the roughness has brought to the house its special avant-garde atmosphere.
The house is two-story and has a basement floor. There are two rooms and a tea room on the first floor, five rooms on the second floor, and a ball room on the basement. The same guide highly recommended visiting the basement floor and came down with us. There was a hall with beautiful Indian paintings on the wall at the bottom when we descended the staircase. According to the guide, the paintings were painted by an Indian exchange student. The ball room also is designed with Indian motives. There are many relieves of Hindu gods and Indian geometric patterns on the wall and the pillars and the windows have Himalayas in the room. Actually you can rent the room at night from 3,000 to 4,500 yen. It might be nice to have a party with your friends there!
Interestingly there is a set of stairs down to the lower level from the basement. And you see a set of doors at the bottom. There is a tunnel behind the doors. Unfortunately it is not to open to the public…According to the guide, the tunnel connects to other places in the villa and there is a dome room in the way. It seems that the tunnel was made for evacuating or hiding important people during the war. It is not clear whether it was used really…As I mentioned above, Ricky liked the tea room. So, he bought a year pass when we left the house. He seems to visit the building and have curry and rice or tea almost every day. But I am suspecting that he might be waiting for a chance to explore in the tunnel…