Friday, 25 January 2013

The Curious Case of Watanabe Kinzou's House

In the years 1925-26, after the Great Kanto Earthquake, Watanabe went on a trip around the world. When he returned he began to renovate his building situated in the corner of a shopping distrcit in Fukagawa, Tokyo. He began in December 1927, but only gave verbal instructions to the carpenter – no blueprints were made – and work was frequently postponed while he made changes.

In August 1931, the building was completed but Watanabe soon began further construction work on the house. During this time, unable to tolerate his strange behaviour any more, his family left him, leaving him alone in the house with a maid. In the Spring of 1936, Watanabe offered to give up his free phone line, which was quite valuable. The authorities couldn't understand why, but they removed the telephone all the same. By chance, his estranged family heard about this, and thought it reason enough to hospitalise him. Two years later, his house was torn down.


The psychiatrist Shikiba Ryuzaburou wrote about it in a magazine in 1937, and these articles became a book, 「二笑亭綺譚」 (no official English translation, I'm afraid) which is now out of print. He tried to save the house, insisting it should remain standing as a work of art, but to no avail.

From the article on Wikipedia Japan, and other sources, I've collated this incomplete list of curiosities about the house.

The plot of land measured 95.7 tsubo (a tsubo is equal to 3.95 square yards or 3.31 square meters) but the floor space only added up 67 tsubo.

Despite being a two-storey wooden house, the storeroom and kitchen were made of steel.

Three large windows at the front on the second floor in a curious arrangement.

The ceiling of the entrance hall, just as you enter, went all the way up to the roof.

Hooks for hats and coats were placed in a haphazard manner, at a height of four metres.

The back gate was blocked by a diamond framework, so that it got in the way of anyone going out or coming in.

Detail from this source

Peep holes in the thick wooden fence around the house, made in the knots in the wood and filled with glass.

A Japanese-style bath and a Western-style bath next to each other

A ladder out of the roof that doesn't go anywhere

A titled set of shelves

Interior walls painted with a mixture that included insect repellant

A ladder in the storehouse that just went from floor to ceiling


Unusually shallow closets of just 30cm deep

The toilet is separated from the courtyard by only the lower half of a door

One source mentions many rooms that were unusable, but doesn't specify why. Or perhaps I've mistranslated.



I have followed the Japanese style of name order, such that Watanabe is the family name, and Kinzou was his given name.

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