Photo/IllutrationA notable feature of Myonichikan is the large windows facing the courtyard. Visitors can enjoy coffee and sweets in this lounge hall. (Photo by Lisa Vogt)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Myonichikan, the House of Tomorrow, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his assistant, Arata Endo. At one time, it almost became a House of Yesterday like FLW’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

Tearing down old structures and replacing them with tall, modern buildings that make better use of every centimeter of precious land makes economic sense, yet something priceless and irreplaceable disappears, that--what to call it--life, is forever gone.

FLW’s architecture, with its simple, flat horizontal lines devoid of pretentiousness and ornate glamour, makes people who spend time in and around it feel a closeness or oneness with the building and its surroundings. Using lots of wood and some local stone, along with “borrowed scenery” (shakkei), his warm and organic buildings harmonize with nature.

How did a small school with only 26 students in the suburbs of Tokyo enlist such a famous architect? Its founders, Motoko and Yoshikazu Hani, were introduced to FLW who was in Tokyo to work on the Imperial Hotel and, well, they just asked him!

I am in awe of people who think “why not?” and approach luminaries with requests like that. Such is the power of audacity!

Motoko was one of the first female journalists in Japan, and she spoke passionately about her desire to create a girls-only school that taught Emersonian self-reliance and egalitarianism, and FLW said, “OK.”

The school, which originated in 1921, grew and moved to Higashi-Kurume in western Tokyo in 1934. Today the original building, Myonichikan, is used by alumni for meetings and is open to the public.

To the relief of preservationists around the world who tasted bitter defeat when the Imperial Hotel was scrapped, Myonichikan escaped the wrecking ball by becoming in 1997 an important cultural property, a recognition from the government that virtually guarantees that the property will be protected.

A short stroll from Ikebukuro Station, visitors can wander the grounds at leisure and experience a peaceful couple of hours. Looking up, you’ll marvel at the original glowing pendant lighting in the dining room that creates a charming ambience. There is a mini gallery where you can learn all about the school, and you can enjoy a delicious drink-and-sweets set while sitting on iconic red and green FLW chairs in the sunlight-filled main hall.

When an old building is used and not just on display like in a museum, it is "ikiteiru"--you can feel life. Many such buildings will communicate with you if you open your heart and ears. Myonichikan is one such building.

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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Xxxx. X issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s In and Around Tokyo," which depicts the capital and its surroundings through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.