Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens: Photos of Josiah Conder’s Architectural Masterpiece

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens mansion
The Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens mansion.

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 want to see something that isn’t a replica or copy. Such a place is near Ueno Station, Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens.

You walk right into a little bit of Tokyo history at the gardens. It will show how the rich and famous once lived in the city. And famed English architect Josiah Conder designed it all.

Kyu-Iwasaki interior room

It 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. This is a sample of what you will see:

  • There are carvings on the doors and columns. 
  • Expensive kinkarakawa wallpaper. That used metal foil applied to washi paper through a woodblock roll and hammered with a brush. It looks like colored leather. The technique was exported to Europe.
  • Islamic-influenced tiles on the first-floor verandah.  
  • Engraved wooden surfaces.
Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens wooden ceiling

There is also a garden, more of a lawn with a few lanterns and stoneworks. Concerts have been held there. And as mentioned, there are two other buildings. There is a billiard house and a Japanese-style residence that is now a teahouse. It would be great to know how much it cost!

A brief history of Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens

  • The grounds were owned by the Sakakibara family of the Echigo Takada Clan 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.
  • Hisaya hired the British architect, Josiah Conder, to create the mansion. Conder designed a two-story Western-style main building and a Swiss-style billiards house. In the end, the project consisted of more than 20 buildings on 49,500 m².
  • After World War II, Allied Power confiscated the property. At some point, it was returned to Japan. The Supreme Court used it as the Judicial Research and Training Institute until 1970.
  • 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. In 1999, this was extended to the whole property. The metropolitan government has administered it since 2001.
English style mansion interior

Kyu-Furukawa Gardens details

See the house’s admission fees, opening hours, and location on the official website.

Other photo spots near Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens:

blue wall paper room

Problems with photographing the mansion

  • Some of you will want to photograph the front of the mansion. But that is very difficult to do without shadows on it. For more of the day and most of the year, the sun never directly shines on it. 
  • If you want the building with few shadows on it, you need to take it in the late afternoon from mid-May to mid-August. Be aware the window of opportunity is very slim. You will not have much time.
Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens rear

Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens rules

  • You are not allowed to photograph inside the house on weekends, as it gets crowded. But, you can take pictures inside on weekdays.
  • Shoes aren’t allowed inside the house (and that includes verandahs). You will be provided with a plastic bag to carry them.

Wrapping up

If you want to have a walk through a “real” garden, you might be better off looking elsewhere. Shinjuku Gyoen, Koishikawa Korakuen, Kyu-Furukawa, or Kiyosumi Gardens are all good options. But if you want a glimpse into how the ultra-rich lived in Meiji Japan, and how they lived, Iwasaki is the place to go. Anyone interested in architectural photography should also love it.

To see the people and places mentioned in this article, look at:

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