Home » Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens – home of Tokyo’s rich

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens – home of Tokyo’s rich

Tokyo is often said to be one of the most modern cities in the world.  It has everything anyone could want.  There is a super transit system, glittering skyscrapers, great food, and shopping.  But, if you are like me, you might want to see some history that is real.  One such place is near Ueno Station, Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens.

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens living room

At the gardens, you can walk right into a little bit of real Tokyo history.  The mansion will show you how the rich and famous used to live in the city.  And most importantly, the famed English architect Josiah Conder designed it.  

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens kinkarakawa wallpaper

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens is a beautiful place.  The building has two floors and is in England’s 17th-century Jacobean style.  In its heyday, it must have been luxurious beyond belief.  There are carvings on the doors and columns.  Expensive kinkarakawa wallpaper was used throughout.  Islamic influenced tiles are on the first-floor verandah.  Drawings are on wooden surfaces.  It must have cost a fortune to construct.

There is also a garden, more of a lawn with a few lanterns and stoneworks.  It can be a pretty cool place as concerts are held there occasionally.  And as mentioned, there are two other buildings.  There is a billiard house and a Japanese-style residence that is now a teahouse.

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens staircase

A brief history of Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens

The Sakakibara family of the Echigo Takada Clan owned the land in the Edo period.  In the early Meiji period, the property was passed to the Makino of the Maizuru clan.  In 1896, Hisaya Iwasaki, son of the founder of the Mitsubishi group, purchased the land for his family.

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens itnerior with diorama model

Hisaya hired the British architect, Josiah Conder, to create the mansion.  Conder designed a two-story Western-style main building and the Swiss-style billiards house.  In the end, the project consisted of more than 20 buildings on 49,500 m².

After World War II, the Occupation Authority confiscated the property.  At some point, it returned the land to Japan.  The Supreme Court used it as the Judicial Research and Training Institute until 1970.

Unfortunately, the Department of Justice demolished nearly all the Japanese-style housing. That made the present grounds less than half their original size.  In 1961, the mansion was recognized as an Important Cultural Asset status.  The status now covers the whole property.  The metropolitan government has administered it since 2001.

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens wooden ceiling

Where is Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens?

Iwasaki Gardens is not far from Ueno Station.  It is easy to find.  Five major train and subway lines are nearby:

1)  Yushima station (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda subway line) – leave via exit 1.  It is about a five-minute walk;

2) Ueno Station (many JR, private, and metro lines) – about a fifteen-minute walk

3)  Ueno Hiro-koji station (Tokyo Metro Ginza subway line) – about a ten-minute walk;

4)  Ueno-Okachimachi station (Toei Oedo subway line) – about a ten-minute walk, and;

5)  JR Okachimachi Station – roughly a 15-minute walk.

Here is a Google map:

Opening hours

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens is open from 9 am to 5 pm (with last entry at 4:30 pm).  It is only closed at the end of the year, from December 26 to February 7.

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens interior

Admission costs

The entrance fee is 400 yen gains you entry to the house and the National Archives of Modern Architecture.  But, you must also present a numbered ticket that you can obtain online.  Do that through this website.

Other photo spots near Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens:

Bonus tips about the gardens

  1. You are not allowed to photograph inside the house on weekends, as it gets crowded.   But, you can on weekdays.
  2. Don’t wear shoes inside the house (and that includes verandahs).  You will receive a plastic bag to carry them.
  3. Next to the mansion is the National Archives of Modern Architecture.  They have various exhibits and are a must-see for lovers of architecture.  Your ticket to Kyu-Iwasaki will gain you entry.
Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens upper verandah

Wrapping up

If you want to have a walk through a “real” garden, you might be better looking elsewhere.  You could try:

But if you want a glimpse into how the ultra-rich lived in Meiji Japan, and how they lived, this is the place to go.  The official website for the mansion is here. Anyone interested in architectural photography should love Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens.

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