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"YODOKO Guest House(former residence of the Yamamura family)" designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a master of modern architecture, and experience the charm of architecture blended with nature.

Updated: Apr 16


YODOKO Guest House (former residence of the Yamamura family) stands in the mountainside of Ashiya City, Hyogo Prefecture. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), a master of modern architecture, as a villa of the Yamamura family who ran a sake brewery about 100 years ago in the Taisho Period. Soon after the World War II, it became the property of Yodogawa Steel Works, Ltd. and has been open to the public since 1989.

The former Imperial Hotel is the most famous Wright architecture in Japan, but this is the only Wright residential building that retains almost all of its original appearance. Here are some of the highlights of YODOKO Guest House and the charm of Wright's architecture, while tracing its history.

Interview and text by AKASAKA Shino



YODOKO Guest House (Former Yamamura Family Residence), a National Important Cultural Property



The Yamamura family, which runs a sake brewery, commissioned Wright to build the building.

From Hankyu Ashiyagawa Station, walk uptown along the Ashiyagawa River for about 10 minutes. After walking up "Light Slope," you will see the four-story reinforced concrete YODOKO Guest House (former residence of the Yamamura family), built in 1924 as the villa of YAMAMURA Tazaemon, the 8th head of the Yamamura Sake Brewery (now Sakura Masamune Co., Ltd.), a sake brewer in Nada Gogo.

Mr. Yamamura's son-in-law was friends with ENDO Arata (1889-1951), a disciple of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was visiting Japan at the time to build the former Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, and asked Wright to design the building. Wright returned to the U.S. after working on the original design in 1918, and his apprentices ENDO and MINAMI Makoto (1892-1951), taking over from him, completed the building.


The Yamamura family residence was sold to a industrialist in 1935, and immediately after WWII, it was used as a social gathering place for the Occupation Forces in 1947, and became the property of Yodogawa Steel Works, Ltd. and was used as the president's residence and company dormitory, but for a long time it was not known that it was a Wright architecture. Later, the building became vacant and faced the threat of demolition in 1971 when a plan was proposed to rebuild it into an apartment due to its aging. The plan was withdrawn due to opposition by architects, and in 1974, the building was designated as a National Important Cultural Property, the first reinforced concrete residential building of the Taisho period.




Four-story building integrated with nature, taking advantage of the southern slope

Frank Lloyd Wright, whose ideal was "the fusion of nature and architecture," actually visited Ashiya and was intrigued by the hilly site stretching from the Rokko Mountains. The building takes advantage of the gentle southern slope, and the floors are arranged in a north-south staircase pattern, so that although the entire building is four stories high, the ground can be felt close to every floor.


YODOKO Guest House is surrounded by nature. In 1998, Ashiya City purchased the land north of the building and developed it into Yamate Minami Green Land to protect the landscape.

The long approach to the front door is finished with lights that enhance the appearance of the building.



The southernmost ground floor is the entrance with an elegant porte-cochere. The symmetrical design is characteristic of Wright's architecture, and the ornate Ooyaishi stone carved with geometric patterns adds warmth to the stately building.


In the center of the entranceway there is a large basin with a stone pillar into which water flows (currently, water does not flow into the basin).


Ribbons also decorate the exterior lights that illuminate the entranceway.



Experience the charm of Wright's architecture, including geometric patterns of Ooya stone and decorative copper plates with plant leaf motifs.

After climbing the stairs and passing through the entrance on the right, a wide reception room opens up. The space is designed symmetrically, with a massive fireplace decorated with Ooya stone on the north side and large windows and decorative shelves on the east and west sides. Not only the exterior, but also the interior walls, pillars, and interior decorations are detailed and full of the charm of Wright's architecture. Wright was the first to carve Ooya stone, which is generally used for exterior walls, and to use it extensively in the interior. Ooya stone from Ooya-cho, Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture, is soft and easy to process, and the same Ooya stone was used for decoration in the former Imperial Hotel, which was designed around the same time.


The design is symmetrical with the fireplace as the centerpiece. Tables and chairs were made by Yodogawa Steel Works with consideration for the design of the Wright


The door on the left is for visitors and the door on the right is for employees and leads to the water room.

In order to create a sense of unity in the space, the display shelves, storage furniture, and sofas are also built-in. All materials are made of expensive imported mahogany, and the small wooden pieces on the shelves show Wright's playful spirit.

The decorative copper panels, which are based on the motif of plant leaves, symbolize Wright's architectural philosophy of taking nature as the norm. In order to create not only the shape but also the natural green color of the copper, he went to the effort of creating a rusting effect called "verdigris" on the copper. You can see them in the reception room and throughout the museum.


The display shelf is functional with removable shelves and height changeable.

Ooya stone decorations and decorative copper plates are also effective in small spaces.

Even the display shelves are playful.



What are the 120 small windows for?

Another thing of interest are the small windows with doors that line the ceiling area. 

The YODOKO Guest House has no ceiling lighting, and in order to let in natural light, 120 small windows have been placed throughout the building. Geometric patterned stone ornaments are also attached to the outside of the small windows, creating a unique atmosphere.

In fact, these small windows were originally only screens with ventilation holes for lighting. On rainy season and typhoon days, rain began to blow in and cause leaks even when the small window doors were closed, so the small windows are now fitted with glass, giving priority to rain prevention rather than ventilation. As expected, Wright did not anticipate the amount of rainfall in Japan.


The reception room alone has a row of 36 small windows. The large, fitted windows offer a picturesque view of the Rokko landscape in each of the four seasons.



Japanese-style room furnishings that fit in with light architecture

As one ascends to the third floor, a long corridor stretches straight ahead, and sunlight pours in through the large windows decorated with leaf-patterned copper plates. The three tatami-matted Japanese-style rooms parallel to the corridor were not part of Wright's original design, but were created at the client's insistence. Decorative copper plate ranma add a natural flavor to the Japanese-style rooms.


Light like sunlight filtering through the trees shines into the corridor from the large windows decorated with decorative copper plates (photo courtesy of Yodogawa Steel Works)

The Japanese-style room created at the request of the Yamamura family blends in with the Wright architecture (photo courtesy of Yodogawa Steel Works).

Decorative copper plate window in Japanese-style room (Yodogawa Steel Works)

The space is located on the third floor. There is space for flowers everywhere, and seasonal flowers greet visitors!


Moving further back from the Japanese-style room is the family's private space, which includes the couple's bedroom, a tatami-floored ladies' room next to it, and the children's room. The washroom and bathroom are also a must-see. The house was an all-electric house, which was unusual at that time, so all hot water was supplied by a hot-water supply system. They had a direct contract with a private railway company along the line to bring in electricity.


Private space from the geometric shaped ceiling in the 3rd floor hallway to the back.

The room that used to be the couple's bedroom exhibits a desk and chair that were restored to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the building's completion.

You can actually sit on them, so be sure to experience them for yourself



In the ladies' room, the walls have a greenish tint, giving the room a luxurious feel like a polychrome wall.

The room is set on a higher level so that when you sit on the tatami mats, you can see your husband in the bedroom.



The washroom on the third floor has a pair of hot and cold water faucets and a stylish glass rod for drainage.


Tiled bathroom. The corner tiles are R-shaped so that they don't hurt when they hit the floor.


The room that used to be the children's bedroom has been converted into a goods corner and an airing room showing information about the museum.

At the goods corner, items such as postcards, books, and key chains are available for purchase.

Among the most popular items are tote bags (from 900 yen).




Beautiful dining room with square-weight ceiling

The family dining room is located on the top four floors. The design is symmetrical with the fireplace at the center, but the ceiling is raised in the shape of a square weight, and together with the geometric mahogany decorations, it creates a solemn atmosphere like that of a church. The small triangular window near the ceiling is also a heartbreaking Wright-like effect. Some people are so impressed that they lie on their backs on the floor to admire the view. In the kitchen next door, expensive European and American-made electrical appliances were installed.


The dining room is designed in strict symmetry around the fireplace.

Behind the right door is the kitchen.


Decorative ceiling in the shape of a square weight creates a solemn atmosphere.

Impressive small triangular window in the ceiling

An all-electric kitchen. Once lined with expensive electrical appliances.

When you step out onto the balcony from the south side of the dining room, you can see the city of Ashiya spread out below you, and if the weather is fine, you can see the Kii Peninsula across Osaka Bay. The building was used as a villa of the Yamamura family from Taisho to the beginning of the Showa period, when Ashiya City was still called Seidou-mura. Imagine what the scenery was like back then.


Balcony overlooking the city of Ashiya (photo courtesy of Yodogawa Steel Works)

The fourth floor as seen from the balcony. One of the features of Wright's architecture is the cantilever (cantilevered beam) with the eaves jutting outward, which Wright's student MINAMI Makoto called a "summer hat".


Ooya stone decoration on exterior walls



New remains also discovered in 2023.

YODOKO Guest House has undergone three major conservation and repair works in order to maintain the building. 

Among the most significant was the damage caused by the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which took three years to repair cracks and damaged Ooya stones throughout the building. Part of the building has been preserved as a relic of the earthquake.

In 2023, excavations were conducted on the east side of the main building, and the remains of a former greenhouse, a pond, and an Ooya stone-lined corridor were newly discovered. The YODOKO Guest House is increasingly attracting attention as a valuable piece of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture.




In spring, an exhibition of Japanese Hina dolls related to the Yamamura family is held.

YODOKO Guest House has received dolls from the Yamamura family dating back to the Meiji period, and has held an exhibition of them every spring since 1992. The Japanese Hina dolls were commissioned by Mr. YAMAMURA Tazaemon to the long-established "Maruhei Oki Doll Store" in Kyoto to celebrate the birth of his first daughter in 1900, and it took two years to complete the work. The doll's plump and graceful face and the embroidered cherry blossom pattern on her outfit are eye-catching. In addition to the luxurious tiered dolls, the bride dolls with their wedding accessories and the hanami ningyo (flower-viewing dolls) depicting a hanami banquet are also worth seeing.

The exhibition will be held until April 7, 2024. Reservations are required during the Hina Doll Exhibition, so please check the official website.


The graceful-looking male and female dolls were made by the best head masters of the day.

They were made using the best techniques and materials of the time.



The Hanami Ningyo (flower-viewing doll) represents the banquet of Hanami with 17 dolls, cherry blossoms, pine trees, and other ornamental objects.

The detailed expressions of hairstyles and costumes are astonishing





Enjoy the charm of Wright's architecture, which blends with nature, in every season.

In the fall, the museum extends its opening hours from the usual 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. "Nighttime Tours" are offered on limited days.

"After dark, visitors to the YODOKO Guest House can experience firsthand the light architecture that is in harmony with nature. Indirect lighting casts shadows on the geometric carvings on the Oya stone, creating a unique atmosphere," said IWAI Tadayuki, Director of the YODOKO Guest House. Surrounded by the natural beauty of Rokko, the building looks completely different from season to season, so we hope visitors will come again and again.

YODOKO Guest House is a rare place where visitors can actually enter a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and experience Wright's philosophy. Why not take the time to experience the architectural space that blends with the natural beauty of Rokko?




Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan

Frank Lloyd Wright was a master of modern architecture born in 20th century America.

Wright was a proponent of "organic architecture," and many of his masterpieces, particularly his residential works, are well known. Wright was also known as an avid collector of Japanese ukiyo-e paintings, and is said to have been influenced by traditional Japanese architecture when he visited the Japanese Pavilion "Phoenix Hall" at the 1893 world's Expo in Chicago. He came to Japan during the Taisho period (1912-1926) to build the former Imperial Hotel, and designed 12 buildings in Japan, including residences, six of which were constructed, but only the YODOKO Guest House and the Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan (Hall for Tomorrow) remain in their original state.

Address

3-10 Yamate-cho, Ashiya-shi, Hyogo

Tel

0797-38-1720

Access from the nearest station

10-minute walk north from Ashiyagawa Station on the Hankyu Kobe Main Line

Opening hours

10:00 - 16:00 (admission until 15:30)

Open

Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays *Please check the museum's opening calendar as it may be different during events.

Admission

 General: Adults: 500 (400) yen, Elementary, Junior high, and High school students: 200 (100) yen, Free for preschool children *Group fee for 30 or more people is shown in parentheses ( ).

: Adults: 400 yen, Elementary/Junior high/High school students: 100 yen.

Facilities

 Free parking available (up to 7 passenger cars and 2 medium-sized buses can be parked)

Official Website


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