Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A villa in Japan

Where I grew up, outside of Los Angeles, there are myriad residential architectural styles - Spanish Colonial Revival, Bungalow, Tudor Revival, Mid-century Modern, etc.  That is California.  The architecture reflects the free-to-be lifestyle.

Japan is different.  A little less free-to-be.  There is classic minka (traditional residential) architecture including machiya (townhouse), nōka (farmhouses), gyoka (maritime houses) and sanka (mountain houses).  And that is about it.  While there is of course some variation among these building styles they are all quintessentially Japanese.  Following the War bland Western-style architecture was almost unanimously adopted.  Contemporary residential architecture is generally of the humdrum, cookie-cutter variety.

It is rare and surprising to see a house here built in a pre-War American or European style.  South-west of Kyoto, perched in the hills above where the Katsura, the Uji and the Kizu Rivers meet is such a house.  The Oyamazaki Villa is a British-style residence built by wealthy businessman Shotaro Kaga over a 20 year period beginning in 1912.  I can only guess he must have been a bit eccentric to shun convention and design a house like this.  If you block out some of the indigenous flora you would swear you were in the English country.

The villa was rescued from demolition in 1990 by Asahi Brewery and following an extensive renovation was reborn as an art museum complete with a stylish new wing by internationally renowned architect Tadao Ando.  In 2004 it achieved "Tangible Cultural Property" status, which is impressive for a piece of 20th Century Western-style architecture.

There are thousands of little towns across Japan, station stops on a local train that you pass on your way to somewhere else.  They all have some claim to fame - a shrine, a temple.  Some, like Oyamazaki, have the first Japanese whiskey distillery (Yamazaki, est. 1929) and perhaps the only Tudor-style villa in the country that is a historical landmark.

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