Secrets in Suburban Tokyo – Part 2: Intimate homes of authors and painters in Shinjuku

If you love the architecture of traditional Japanese homes, the former home and studio of Hayashi Fumiko is a must-do activity in Tokyo. It’s an intimate place, located in a middle class neighbourhood of Nakai in the western part Shinjuku ward. This is part of Shinjuku, but it feels like a world away from the neon lights and nusy railway station – Shinjuku is said to be the busiest railway station in the world.

Local neighbourhood scene on the way from Nakai subway station to Hayashi Fumiko’s Memorial house – built in 1941. It is well signposted in Japanese and English.

Nakai is great for urban walking, as it’s an easy stroll to another small museum that of an interesting modern Japanese artist in the 1920s and Yakuoin, which is a beautiful temple complex with extensive gardens and a cemetery.

Entrance to Hayashi Fumiko’s Memorial house – built in 1941.

Getting out to Nakai Station was a breeze as its towards the western end of the Toei Oedo subway line, which also does a big loop through many neighbourhoods of central Tokyo. A seven minute signposted walk through the peaceful neighbourhood around Nakai station beings you to the former home of Hayashi Fumiko. Fumiko was a feminist Japanese author who is mainly known for two books, being “Diary of a Vagabond’ and “Floating Clouds”. The first book has been used as the story for the Japanese anime “Wandering Days”. Her life was relatively short (from 1903 to 1951), but she was very successful during, and not without some controversy. She regularly accepted sponsored trips to China and South East Asia during Japan’s occupation of these communities during World War II. Her personal life reflected many female characters in her books, with a focus on multiple troubled relationships and the seedy underside of Japanese culture.

Tea room at Hayashi Fumiko’s Memorial house – built in 1941.

After marrying a relatively unsuccessful painter (Tezuka Masaharu), the couple launched into building the home that still stands today. It’s a particularly large home of traditional Japanese design, on a decent block, with complete separation between two halves – one for living and one for a studio. This design was necessary in a way to avoid restrictions on the size of homes that were being during this austere period of Japanese history. Japan was fighting the Sino-Japanese War and World War II.
It was built as two homes to avoid restrictions and it has an ample sized garden, which has been remodelled quite differently to the original plans.

Garden at Hayashi Fumiko’s Memorial house – built in 1941.

The house/museum still bears the features of it’s original design, when it was completed in 1941. You enter the property through traditional timber doors, which are part of a high fence that surrounds the gardens. Fumiko specified that the home should be in traditional style, but with modern features. Most of the carpentry and fixtures are modern enough for today, with slick clean lines and large square spaces that open out into the beautifully landscaped garden. It’s a great place to relax, read or write notes, much in the same way that Hayashi Fumiko would have done during the late stages of her life.

Living area in Hayahi Fumiko’s Memorial house – built in 1941.

Given that it was a reasonable journey to this relatively quiet district from our hotel in downtown Tokyo, I decided to make a day of it by wandering through the neighbourhood. Close inspection of Google Maps revealed another home that had been converted into a small museum – that home of Japanese artist Saeki Yūzō.

Entrance to the courtyard and studio of Saeki Yūzō Commemorative Atelier Museum

Saeki Yūzō Commemorative Atelier Museum was a little harder to find than the previous site, as you need to work your way through a labyrinth of laneways that pass right next to individual courtyards and kitchens. Upon arrival, the garden and studio are very spacious and light filled. Yet another example of superior Japanese aesthetics when it comes to combining living spaces, nature and art.

Spring blossoms above the studio – Saeki Yūzō Commemorative Atelier Museum, Shinjuku, Toyko.

It seemed that today’s travels were tinged with sad stories of lives cut short, as Yuzo only lived from 1898 to 1928, suffering from tuberculosis for much of his short life. He was a Western style artist, who spent the majority of his working life in Paris, except for time in this suburban Tokyo studio in the four years up to 1923.

Prints of Saeki Yūzō’s work in Tokyo in the 1920s.

Some printed examples of his work are on display in the small studio – the studio is small but light filled, so it’s a great place for some meditation and reflection of this artist’s work. I’d summarise his work as being dark and sombre, with hints of impressionism. It is said to be influenced by the work of Vincent Van Gogh and Maurice Utrillo. I quite liked it.

Prints of Saeki Yūzō’s work in Paris.

The studio and garden were brightly lit when I visited on a clear spring morning. I was the only person there, apart from an elderly gentleman who volunteered at the front entrance gate, collecting the modest visitor fees.

Saeki Yūzō studio on a bright clear spring morning.

After finding your way out of the maze of laneways, head south-east through the narrow streets towards Yakuoin Temple complex. The walk from the house to the temple reminded me of walking through some middle class neighbourhoods in inner San Francisco, as the narrow streets are really steep, with cute houses in every direction.

Steep walkway in a suburban neighbourhood of Shinjuku, near Yakuoin Temple complex.

This Shingon Buddhist temple is impressively old, as parts of it date back to the 12 century AD. This complex is not too large, but it does have hundreds of trees surrounding the main temple, which is situated on the side of a steep hill.

Gardens and temple: Yakuoin.

At the top of the hill, there is a densely populated cemetery that has a very peaceful atmosphere. Beautiful buddha statues sit under a canopy of pink flowers at the height of the cherry blossom season.

Jizu statues at Yakuoin.

The temple complex is known for thousands of peony plants that are planted in the extensive gardens. 100 plants originated from a temple complex of the same sect in Nara (Hase-dera Temple). Although I didn’t see any peonies in late March, the complex still had some cherry blossoms, particularly around the cemetery at the top of the garden.

Useful information on places visited

Google map of places explored in this post

Website for Hayashi Fumiko Memorial Hall by Go Tokyo.

Review of Hayashi Fumiko’s most famous novel “Floating Clouds”.

Official website for Saeki Yūzō ‘s Studio in Japanese and another English Website from Tokyo Creative.

Saeki Yuzo’s Art on artnet (an art auction website)

Cherry blossoms at Yakuoin.

English Website for Yakuoin Temple Shinjuku.

Article on Bohemian Japanese artists, including Saeki Yūzō.

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