The Former Residence of Marquis Maeda

Curriculum: The Sights, Sounds, Smells, and Tastes of Japan
Published: 2023-12-02
The Former Residence of Marquis Maeda

The Former Residence of Marquis Maeda, as it is formally called on the English brochure was a multi-building home that completed construction in 1930. A western style building was completed in 1929 that served as the main residence for the Maeda family.  A Japanese style home was constructed close by, which served mainly as a place to entertain guests.

But who was Marquis Maeda?  Toshinari Maeda was born in 1885 in what is now Gunma-ken.  His father was Toshiaki Maeda, a daimyo of the Nanokaichi Domain.  In 1900 at the age of 16, Toshinari was adopted by Toshitsugu Maeda, who was the 15th head of the family governing the Kaga Domain, and was given the title of koushaku (侯爵、in English, marquis) that year.  Toshitsugu Maeda had no male children, and so Toshinari became his heir.

What was a domain in feudal Japan?  In the late 17th century Japan was divided into over 250 relatively autonomous domains, or regions, all under the oversight of the shogun in Edo (Tokyo). The Kaga domain was the most wealthy domain. Many of its leaders served as high-ranking officials in the shogunate.  Kaga was located in present-day Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, and was ruled by 14 heads of the Maeda family from 1583 until the abolition of the shogunate and system of domains at the beginning of the Meiji era (1868–1912). 

The Nanokaichi Domain was located in Kōzuke Province (modern-day Gunma Prefecture), Japan.  Nanokaichi was ruled throughout its history by a junior branch of the Maeda clan of Kaga.

In 1906, Toshinari married Marquis Toshitsugu's eldest daughter, Namiko, and their first son, Toshiken, was born that year.  Two years later, their second son, Toshikuni was born, but died of an illness the following year. 

As an aristocrat, or kazoku, Toshinari became involved in government, briefly taking a post at the House of Peers while at the same time in military school. He graduated from the Army War College in 1911, and went to Germany to continue his studies. Later he spent time traveling in Europe with his wife, and continued his education there at his own expense. Unfortunately, his wife Namiko fell ill while in Europe, and passed away there.  Toshinari then married Kikaku, the daughter of the head of the family governing the Himeji Domain, Count Tadaoki Sakai. Kikaku bore her husband four children, three girls and a boy.

Over the years between 1923 and 1930 Toshinari took various positions in the army, but his most notable position was as a military attaché to the embassy in England in 1927.  

Toshinari stayed a number of years in England, and grew to appreciate the design of homes there. In 1928 he commissioned the construction of his new home in Tokyo.

Location and Land

In 1922, Tokyo Imperial University was experiencing growth and the need to expand. Marquis Maeda owned a residence adjacent to the university that was desired by the university for expansion.  The university owned land in Komaba that housed the Faculty of Agriculture.  A suitable agreement was reached between the Marquis and the university to exchange the two, making the land in Komaba available to build Toshinari's new residence.

Design

I found stated in multiple online sources that the design of Toshinari's home was an English Tudor style, but I beg to differ. To me it does not resemble a Tudor style home, but rather an elaborate 30s Semi design, which was popular in the period 1918-1939. Or perhaps it was a hybrid of both Tudor and 30s Semi, with some Japanese architecture style mixed in.  In any case, it turned out to be a masterpiece.

The Japanese style home was built in shoin-zukuri style. The most distinctive characteristics of this style are the incorporation of square posts and tatami floors. The earliest record of this style dates back to the 14th century.

After returning to Japan in 1930, Toshinari lived with his family in the newly built Komaba main residence. It was said that he enjoyed living in the quiet Komaba area, which perhaps was reminiscent of the English countryside.

Between 1930 and 1939 Toshinori held various posts in the army, and was briefly the superintendent of the Army War College.  He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1937, and in 1939 he retired to the reserves.  When the Pacific War broke out he was recalled to active service.  In 1942, Toshinori was assigned to serve as commander of the Borneo Defense Forces.  But Toshinari's life as a lifelong soldier met its inevitable fate.  Toshinori was killed in action in a plane crash off the coast of Borneo. 

After Toshinori's death, one account I found stated that Nakajima Aircraft purchased the Japanese-style building and used it as its headquarters. I have yet to find any corroborating evidence of this. In any case the estate was taken over by a "private group" until the end of the war, details lacking.

After the war, both buildings were taken over by the Allied Forces and used as the official residence of General Ennis Whitehead, commander of the 5th Air Force, and subsequently the official residence of General Matthew Ridgway, commander-in-chief of the Far East.  The Western-style building was used as military command offices, and the Japanese-style building was used as the main residence.

After the US Military vacated the buildings in 1957, responsibility was turned over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in Meguro. Today the estate is the centerpiece of Komaba Park, with free admission to all visitors.  Note that most of Komaba park is not as well developed or maintained as one would expect, but the Japanese garden outside the Wakan is quite nice.

The Yokan

When I first arrived I could hear someone playing the piano inside, and so after I went inside I searched the piano playing out, and found a mini piano concert in one of the first floor rooms. Quite nice actually, and unexpected.

I took a number of pictures in the main building. Quite a few built-ins, like fireplaces and bookcases, looked like the originals and were in beautiful condition.  Note that the furniture is not the original furniture, but is in the English style of the era.

What struck me most was high ceilings, elegant chandeliers, and stunning fireplaces. They did a great job of restoring the residence, and added just the right amount of period furnishings, curtains, and area rugs to make it look like it did during the 1930's. There are pictures of that period there so you can compare for yourself.

The Wakan

The Japanese style building was absent any furniture.  According to the information I found, the Maeda's favored a simple style inside, with very little furniture. Which kind of explains why there is no furniture in the Wakan today.  Still, one can imagine guests staying in its spacious rooms, and having such a nice view of the Japanese garden from their window.

Don't forget to take a walk around the park before you leave, especially the Japanese garden. I can imagine that it must be quite nice in the spring!

Some final points:

  • Entrance Fee: FREE
  • Shoes: Yes, you will need to remove your shoes.
  • Pictures: No flash pictures please.