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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Kyoto's Only Remaining Aristocratic Home: Reizeike


Already in decline, Japan's aristocracy met its end when American forces formally abolished it following World War II.Reizeike, Kyoto

Prior to that, in the 1860s, the Kyoto aristocracy was badly wounded by the relocation of the Imperial Family from Kyoto to Tokyo.

Without its privileges and perquisites, the remaining and now former aristocratic families struggled to maintain their grand homes in the decades after the War. In many cases, this meant the wrecking ball--selling the land and building smaller homes or apartment blocks on the same lot.

One such home however has avoided that fate and remains in Kyoto.

Reizeikei is located behind walls on the grounds of Doshisha University, just across from the Imperial Palace. It has been designated a Valuable Cultural Asset.

The home is not normally open to the public, but on occasion the family throws open its doors to allow a glimpse at a lifestyle long since gone.

The structure is huge and deep.

Reizeike, KyotoThe front of the house--behind an imposing wooden gate and the wall that separates it from Imadegawa Dori (street)--has three genkan, the porch-like entrance on Japanese homes. The first, at the left, was "for ordinary people," said our guide. Immediately to its right, a larger second entrance was for persons of higher status. Upon entering the house, there was yet another genkan within.

For the Emperor, who would come across the road from his palace, there was a special entrance: a huge gate that led into the garden (pictured at left).

From the genkan, you enter a home of room after room of tatami and screens.

The current structure was built in 1790. A massive fire burned the Imperial Palace and the previous Reizeike family compound to the ground shortly before that.

The land was granted to the family Reizeike family in October 1606, shortly after the beginning of the Edo Period. The family itself--which still exists--predates the first home by hundreds of years.

The house had two kitchens, one where the servants prepared food, and another smaller one in the back of the house (we were not allowed to see this).

There were two inner gardens (one is pictured above) and a larger garden. Depending on how you count--how the rooms are separated--there were some 20 rooms.

In many of them, the fusuma or screens are beautifully painted (below right).

Following a 30-minute tour of the house, the matriarch of the family came out in a kimono and greeted us. We were seated on pillows in a large tatami room and served green tea and Japanese sweets as she explained a bit about the screens in the room and about events commemorating the 1,000th anniversary of The Tale of Genji.

Reizeike, KyotoReizeike
A short walk from Imadegawa Station on the Karasuma Line on the Kyoto subway.

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