Photo/IllutrationThe Yutaian tea hut in Kyoto’s Kamigyo Ward in a photo believed to have been taken in the early part of the Showa Era (1926-1989) (Provided by Toshihiro Okubo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--A modest tea hut that served as a secret meeting place for major players in the founding of modern Japan has been rediscovered decades after its whereabouts became unknown, according to the city government.

The one-story Yutaian tea room, measuring 4.86 square meters, formerly belonged to Toshimichi Okubo (1830-1878), a samurai from the Satsuma domain (the present-day Kagoshima Prefecture) and a leading architect of the Meiji Restoration.

Kyoto-based historian Ryoko Harada made the discovery while visiting the demolition site of Okubo's former residence in Kamigyo Ward in early May.

After confirming the hut's existence, the city announced the discovery on May 30.

In the closing days of the Tokugawa Period, anti-Tokugawa elements gathered in Kyoto, where the imperial family resided for generations, and engaged in a political tug of war.

The tea hut became a secret meeting spot where they plotted to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867).

As the current owner of the property has donated the hut and its materials to the city, the Kyoto government plans to preserve and utilize the historic structure after relocating it to a new site.

"It was a pleasant surprise to learn about the whereabouts of the tea hut all of a sudden," said Toshihiro Okubo, 84, a great-grandson of Okubo, who lives in Tokyo. "Around 1959, right before the house was relinquished, I visited and stayed there several days and entered the hut. I appreciate the discovery."

Records of a lecture given in 1942 by Toshitake Okubo, one of Okubo's sons, showed that his father built the residence in 1866.

The Yutaian was moved to Okubo’s house at that time from a residence of Tatewaki Komatsu, a chief retainer of the Satsuma domain, according to the record.

Komatsu’s residence, which was in the same ward as Okubo’s house, was where the Satsuma-Choshu (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) political and military alliance was formed in 1866. The alliance served as a driving force in toppling the Tokugawa Shogunate.

After the alliance was formed, Yutaian became a place where leaders of the two domains and like-minded figures from elsewhere met in secret to discuss how to steer the nation. Tomomi Iwakura (1825-1883), a nobleman from Kyoto, who played a prominent role in the Meiji Restoration, is said to have had clandestine talks with Okubo there.

However, historians had yet to confirm the existence of the tea room until the recent discovery.

The tea hut includes such materials as an alcove post made of Japanese red pine, according to the Kyoto city government’s section in charge of the protection of cultural property.

Municipal authorities will ask the owner of the house to suspend demolition work so they can dismantle the tea room for reconstruction.

The city will look for a site to host the tea hut and solicit donations from the public to finance preservation and upkeep costs for the structure.