House with a Cosmopolitan Interior

Japan ended its self-imposed isolation in 1868 with the Meiji Revolution, and soon emerged as a leader in silk trade due to the techniques in dying and weaving that had been developed over its long history. The Kawabata house was built 120 years ago in the middle of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) by Mr Kawabata, a silk merchant who had made his fortune by exporting Japanese silk from Yokohama, one of the first ports to be opened to foreign trade. With an estate of over a million square meters, Kawabata was one of the biggest landowners in this part of Gunma Prefecture, not far from Tokyo. This remarkable man had also served as the village chief since the tender age of 17, and later governed a vast domain as a squire. As befitting his status, Kawabata built an imposing two-storied wooden house in Fujioka City amid mulberry fields where silkworms were raised. Built with the choicest materials —selected after much care and consideration—this house took almost ten years to complete. Legend has it that the amount of wood deemed inferior and thus discarded during the construction process would have been enough to build yet another house.

Nestled among age-old willow trees, the grounds of the house also includes seven storehouses (kura) for stocking rice and fermented soybean paste (miso), a majestic boundary wall with several gates, and other small buildings. The estate is so impressive that the Ministry of Education in Japan has designated 19 of the structures on the compound as Registered Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan

This 300-square-meter house on this very large estate is now owned and lovingly taken care of by Yoshiko Tsai, the great-granddaughter of the builder. It is quite unusual in Japan for this large a property to stay in a family over several generations due to the very high inheritance taxes in Japan. Yoshiko managed to inherit it from her mother only because of the special efforts made by her ancestors to keep the property in the family. She and her husband Jaw Shen Tsai. a Chinese-American physicist, use it as a vacation home on their frequent visits from Tokyo.

Yoshiko feels that although the Japanese are quite comfortable removing their shoes outside the house and living on tatami matted rooms without chairs, it was difficult for her husband and their foreign guests to enjoy the house in this manner. She also believes that the usual Western furniture looks inappropriate in a traditional Japanese home, but that the lines of Chinese furniture and Western antiques are quite suitable for it. Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese have a long tradition of sitting on chairs and have developed their own style of furniture with linear beauty. Thus Yoshiko, who studied interior design when she was in New York, redecorated her family home by adding Chinese furniture and other comforts to it. The new furniture in the house includes several pieces which Yoshiko bought from Shanghai—these pieces now happily co-exist with the ancestral furnishings in her home. As a result of her talent and efforts, the interior of this historic house now showcases an international flair well suited to its modern use.

Interior Cosmopolitan HousesComopolitan Interior

Above: Visitors are greeted at the entrance (genkan) by an arrangement of fresh flowers. A single-panel gold screen (tsuitote) dresses up the genkan and provides privacy to the interior. The frames of the shoji screen have been made with black lacquered wood. Such frames are found only in very formal rooms, while unpainted wooden frames are the norm in more casual interiors.

Left: All shoji and fusuma doors have been opened to allow the breeze in during good weather, providing a clear view from the genkan all the way to die garden at the back of the house.

Above: These shoji doors with intricate patterns were made by very skilled craftsmen over severaJ years. The delicate frames are fashioned from the straight-grained, warp-resistant central portion of tree trunks with even growth rings.

Left: This folding screen (byobu) with calligraphic work is an heirloom which now finds its place behind the white lily that elegantly announces the arrival of summer. The traditional byobu use special paper hinges that allow the front as well as the back of the screens to be used. Chinese furniture from Shanghai complements the Japanesque atmosphere. A sitting room with Chinese furniture can be seen through the open fiisuma doors.

Right: A blend of East and West, this high table and the antique chairs from England sit in front of a Chinese scroll painting.

126 JAPAN STYLE

Above: Designed as a display platform, the base of the tokonoma alcove is usually raised one step above the floor level. One side of the tokonoma is supported by the toko-bashira post. Here the toko-bashira is made of natural black persimmon wood. The white colors of the kakejiku scroll and other decorations reveal Yoshiko's sensitivity to the dark finish of the tokonoma walls.

Right: A blend of East and West, this high table and the antique chairs from England sit in front of a Chinese scroll painting.

Above: The veranda overlooking the garden serves as an informal place in which family members relax or entertain friends. Perched in a corner, a bamboo basket bearing chrysanthemums of various colors is softly lit by daylight coming through the shoji.

Right: Yoshiko's taste is evident in her collection of animal objects. The lacquered wooden cow sitting in front of the cupboard was the first antique she ever bought. A pheasant-shaped incense burner (koro) rests on the middle shelf of the cupboard.

Opposite: Yoshiko's collection of favorite things includes a Chinese-style bamboo birdcage, a Japanese doll and tableware pottery.

Above: The veranda overlooking the garden serves as an informal place in which family members relax or entertain friends. Perched in a corner, a bamboo basket bearing chrysanthemums of various colors is softly lit by daylight coming through the shoji.

Right: Yoshiko's taste is evident in her collection of animal objects. The lacquered wooden cow sitting in front of the cupboard was the first antique she ever bought. A pheasant-shaped incense burner (koro) rests on the middle shelf of the cupboard.

Opposite: Yoshiko's collection of favorite things includes a Chinese-style bamboo birdcage, a Japanese doll and tableware pottery.

Overleaf: A small three-mat dressing room feels expansive as it is filled with soft light coming through the shoji. Movable sections within s/io/i windows allow the user of this room to control their view. The shadows of the shoji frame form a decorative pattern on the floor, which changes as the sun moves across the horizon.

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