The scene of roses in front of the beautiful brick mansion at the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens has long been something I’ve wanted to see with my own eyes. Though it pops up often in my Instagram feed, this garden has somehow remained off the tourist trail. In fact I rarely see it promoted anywhere. Unexpectedly, my visit revealed there is much more to see than just roses. I have to say it is one of the most underrated spots in Tokyo!
The Kyu-Furukawa Gardens are best known for their colourful roses. The spring roses bloom in May and June, and the autumn roses bloom in October and November. The rose gardens are not all that expansive but strategically surround the house on two sides. The idea was to have the scent of roses waft in through the bedroom windows. Bliss!
That’s not the only thing the architect thought of. Taking a guided tour through the house gave a fascinating glimpse into the history of the place and the people that lived here. The house and rose gardens were designed by prominent English architect, Josiah Conder. He was hired by the Japanese government to become an architecture professor at an engineering college when he was just 24. He remained in Japan for the rest of his life, developing a keen interest in Japanese arts like flower arranging. He became so invested in the Japanese lifestyle that he was known to be more ‘Japanese’ than most Japanese!
Master bedroom on the top floor overlooks the rose garden
Perfectly trimmed hedges
Completed in 1917, the house has two living floors plus rooms in the attic. While the size and style shows how wealthy the owner was, at the same time it does feel very homey and comfortable (even with no furniture in it now). The owner, Toranosuke Furukawa, was a businessman and the third head of the giant industrial company, Furukawa Group. He lived at this villa with his wife and adopted son, and they had around 40 staff taking care of them, the house and the property!
Judging by the stories, the house seemed to be always full of people. At one point, it even became a refuge for earthquake survivors. Downstairs, the rooms were separated into a gentlemen’s quarters and ladies’ rooms. The men had a billiard room with adjoining smoking room as well as a small library. The women had a bright sunroom and often sat on the terrace that overlooked the garden. The ground floor also had a huge red velvet-walled dining room where the family entertained many guests. The kitchen was built in a separate building so as not to disturb the diners.
The most interesting part of the house is the upper floor, which is a harmonious mix of Japanese and western architecture. The spacious Victorian-style master bedroom looked out over the rose garden, and there was even a huge walk-in closet for Mrs. Furukawa. The guest rooms on the other hand were all traditional Japanese style with tatami floors and paper sliding doors. The wood detailing on the doors are beautiful. It was intriguing to see this blend of two very different styles within the one house. (Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside).
Front entrance to the house
The gentlemen’s quarters: Billiard room and smoking room
Beautiful afternoon light flooding into the sun room
Unique combination of pine trees, roses and hedges
It’s not only the house that has a unique mix of Japanese and western features. The garden actually extends far beyond the roses. Following the path through the forest will bring you to a whole other world. Surprisingly, a Japanese garden takes up the majority of the land space. The garden is centred around Shinji Pond, and comprises groves of momiji trees, plum trees, a white stone feature, a giant stone lantern, a tea house and a waterfall. You could easily spend an hour strolling through this part alone. It would be amazing to see the garden at the peak of the autumn colours.
A grove of momiji trees still in their summer greens
First signs of autumn!
Tea house hidden among the trees
After WWII, the property was handed over to the government. From 1952, it remained deserted for 30 years and the condition of the whole place deteriorated. The chandeliers fell off the ceilings, the glass windows were broken, and the flooring was ruined. It wasn’t until 1982 that the house was designated a Cultural Property and underwent a 6-year restoration. Now, it opens its doors once again to the public and to a whole new, 21st century crowd.