Rokkaen: an architectural oddity
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Address: Kuwana City, Mie
Fifteen miles southwest of Nagoya, in Kuwana, Mie Prefecture, is a beautiful but strange building called the Rokkaen. Built in 1913 for what was Japan’s largest landowner, it is designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan and represents a juxtaposition of Japanese and Western styles of architecture. Surprisingly, this juxtaposition works.
The west part of the structure looks similar to other long Japanese-style buildings owned by successful merchants of the Meiji period. It has five tatami rooms—one of which was where the owner’s mother lived and another was a reception room for Japanese businessmen—all of which are connected by wood-lined tatami passages. The reception room has the best view of an adjacent Japanese garden with walking paths around a large pond.
The east part of the building looks like the type of European-style buildings that you might find in the Kitano-cho section of Kobe or in Meiji-mura architectural park in Aichi prefecture. It is a two-story structure with a slate roof, a veranda and a tower.
The ground floor foyer of the east section provides access to the second floor, parlor room, drawing room, dining room, west section, toilet and telephone room.
The second floor has a smaller hall that connects the stairs, bedroom, library, living room, maid’s quarters and another toilet. This Western-style section does have one Japanese feature: paper doors for the closets in the living room and the maid’s quarter.
On the southern side of the dining room and the drawing room is a wide veranda, above which is a spacious sunroom. Both the veranda and the sunroom have good views of the large Japanese garden, a grass field, and a rose garden.
The rose garden was part of the original design, but was removed after the first owner married. It was restored in a major restoration of the Rokkaen in 1992 and included a new waterfall.
The tower of the Western-style part is four-stories tall. Originally, it was going to have three stories, but the owner changed the plans because he wanted a better view of the Ibi River, which at the time was a busy avenue of commerce and was lined with about ten thousand cherry trees.
Seiroku Moroto II commissioned the construction of the Rokkaen in 1911, when he was only 23 years old. He inherited a very successful rice business from his father, was an auditor of the Mitsubishi Mining Co., and formed a company that controlled thousands of acres of farmland in Korea when it was still a colony of Japan.
The architect, Josiah Conder, is known as much for the architects he influenced as the buildings he designed. He was only 25 when he left London and came to Japan in 1877, recruited to be an adviser to the Ministry of Engineering and a professor of architecture in the Imperial College of Engineering (later part of Tokyo University). A statute of him on the campus of Tokyo University honors his influence on architectural students that became some of the most famous architects of Japan.
Conder built over 50 Western-style buildings around Tokyo, but his most famous was the Rokumeikan, or Deer Cry Pavilion, built in 1883 near the present location of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. It was where politicians held fancy balls attended foreigner dignitaries, and where the Empress wore Western clothes in a campaign to remove odious treaty restrictions.
Josiah Conder is also a published writer. Only six years ago Kodansha International Ltd. published a new edition of his book “Landscape Gardening in Japan,” originally published in 1893.
That same year he married his dance teacher, Kume Maenami, and they lived together until she died in 1920. He died only eleven days after her death.
The Rokkaen is a 15-minute walk east-northeast from Kuwana station on the JR and Kintetsu lines. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last entrance permitted at 4 p.m.. It is closed on Mondays, on the days following national holidays, and from December 29th to January 3rd. The admission charge for is 300 yen for adults.
You might want to combine a tour of the Rokkaen with a tour of the Moroto Garden next door. The Moroto Garden was arranged in the Edo period, and contains a guesthouse, main house, shrine and teahouse all constructed in the Meiji era. But be warned that it is only open from the middle of April to June, and from the middle of October to November. Its admission charge is 500 yen for adults.
Together, the Rokkaen and the Moroto Garden form an interesting day trip, combining architecture of both the Edo and Meiji era.