Photo/IllutrationTokyo Little House staff members sit at the front of the hotel in the Akasaka district of the capital’s Minato Ward. From left, Ai Fukazawa, Kohei Fukazawa, Sam Holden and Kimiko Sugiura (Yuichiro Oka)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A two-story traditional wooden house in the heart of Tokyo's swank Akasaka district is an incongruous sight that marks it as belonging to an earlier age.

It seems so out of place in the context of the modern high-rise neon lit surroundings, and yet this example of early Showa Era (1926-1989) architecture speaks of lost tradition.

These days, the structure called Tokyo Little House bustles with foreign tourists on a daily basis.

Kohei Fukazawa decided to renovate the dwelling and turn it into a boarding house to honor the memory of his late grandparents who cherished living there.

The structure houses a cafe on the first floor and has just enough room on the second floor for a single group of guests.

Fukazawa, 40, opened Tokyo Little House in February last year after he and his wife, Kimiko Sugiura, 45, renovated it.

The house was built by Fukazawa’s grandparents on a plot of land measuring about 10 “tsubo,” or 33 square meters, in 1948.

In those days, makeshift homes still existed in the district that would evolve into one of Tokyo's poshest downtown neighborhoods after high economic growth took off in Japan in the 1950s.

Luxury cars were a staple of the area, along with soaring high-rises, boutiques, trendy restaurants and costly entertainment.

A developer offered Fukazawa's grandmother several hundred million yen for the plot during the asset-inflated economy of the 1980s and early 1990s, but she turned it down, saying the land was too important for her to sell.

After his grandparents died, Fukazawa or his relatives lived in the house. That was when he came up with plans to turn it into a hotel and cafe so visitors can reflect on the history of the district.

“It's unusual to come across an out-of-place building still standing right in the middle of a big city like this," he said. "It makes it more interesting if you can come inside and experience it, don’t you think?”

His sister Ai, 38, who serves customers at the cafe, added: “It makes me happy if visitors sipping their coffee imagine what the area was like when the house was built."

The second floor, accessible only by steep stairs, had two six tatami mat rooms.

Fukazawa had the wall removed to merge the two rooms into a single guest room and added a bed, sofa, shower and Western-style toilet.

However, he decided to leave the thick beams, earthen walls and tatami-floored living room intact, along with household keepsakes.

Traces of graffiti on the support pillars are very much in tradition with the Showa Era.

At night, the district's blaze of neon can be seen up close when the wood-framed glass windows are opened.

Sugiura and Sam Holden, 29, another staff member from the United States, took six months to renovate the house with the help of a carpenter. Holden, who studied urban redevelopment at the University of Tokyo’s graduate school, was invited by Fukazawa to join the project.

He decided to take up the offer because it offered a rare opportunity to re-utilize an old private house in a prime location in the city center.

Although no meals are served at Tokyo Little House, it has been booked on an almost daily basis since it opened. All the guests were visitors from overseas.

That is partly because reservations are accepted through a booking website primarily used by inbound tourists.

“I think that the bustle of a nightlife district, which Japanese tourists might want to shun, could be interesting (for non-Japanese) wanting to experience Tokyo,” Fukazawa said.

Shelves and walls in the cafe on the first floor are jammed with photographs and books about Tokyo immediately after World War II.

Fukazawa said some foreign visitors are surprised to learn how much of the capital was reduced to rubble by the U.S. air raids, saying that they thought things like that only occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Among large cities around the world, Tokyo is rare because so many people lost their lives in war, earthquakes and other disasters,” Fukazawa said. “I hope visitors feel the history.”

The Great Tokyo Air Raid staged by U.S. Air Force bombers on March 10, 1945, killed an estimated 100,000 Tokyoites, while about 105,000 residents perished in the Great Kanto Earthquake that hit the capital on Sept. 1, 1923.

For detailed information about Tokyo Little House, visit (http://littlehouse.tokyo/en/index.html).