A 320-Year-Old Japanese Home Makes Its Debut In California

A 320-year-old piece of Japanese history, which once accommodated up to four generations, now resides in Huntington, California.

A charming piece of Japanese history has found its way to the Huntington—a 320-year-old rural house, once the cherished residence of a single Japanese family for over three centuries. 

Following a five-year restoration and an extensive journey across the ocean, the Japanese Heritage Shōya House made its grand entrance into the public eye on October 21.

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Strolling along the enchanting pathways of the Japanese garden and into the Shōya House, one couldn’t help but feel transported to a countryside far removed from the bustling urban landscape of Los Angeles.

The house originally hails from Marugame, a coastal city in the southwest of Japan. It is blessed with a climate quite akin to Southern California (and yes, the namesake of the famous noodle chain). 

It was thoughtfully designed to serve as both a living space and a workplace for shōya, who played a vital role as liaisons between the government and the local farming community.

Explore the grounds to view a small garden with a pond and other landscape elements that closely resemble the compound's original setting. The rocks in the garden came directly from the original property and were placed in the exact same spots in relation to the house and a koi pond.
Japanese Heritage Shōya House/Photo via The Huntington’s official website

Ancient Dwelling

Spanning 3,000 square feet, this house stood out for its vastness in comparison to the typical Edo period homes. Which is usually measured a mere 400 square feet. 

This ample space allowed the shōya to collect taxes, store rice harvests, and host dignitaries. It also doubled as a cozy family dwelling, accommodating up to four generations under one roof.

The present owners, Yohko and Akira Yokoi, residents of Los Angeles, generously offered their ancestral home to the museum in 2016. 

This marked the beginning of a meticulous process that involved dismantling the house in Japan in 2018 and shipping it to the United States. 

A year later, they completed the arduous task of reconstruction at the Huntington, and they soon followed it with work on the surrounding garden.

This Japanese house was built around 1700, this 3,000-square-foot residence served as the center of village life in Marugame, Japan.
Japanese Heritage Shōya House/Photo via The Huntington’s official website

Rich History

The Shōya House’s original construction followed traditional Japanese techniques and measurements.

However, for the reconstruction to comply with American building codes, it required the use of American-made nails. 

Karen R. Lawrence, the museum’s president, described the original hilltop structure as providing “a glimpse into rural Japanese life some 300 years ago.” 

The Japenese house has two main entryways: The formal entrance on the left was originally for samurai and government officials, and the doorway on the right, which Huntington visitors will use, was for daily use by farmers and craftspeople.
Japanese Heritage Shōya House/Photo via The Huntington’s official website

The Shōya House, however, offers a different level of authenticity, it retains some changes made by its ancestral owners post-1700. 

This includes the addition of a brick cooking stove in the early 20th century and the replacement of the original wood and paper screens with glass-shutter shoji. 

Signs of age and repairs on wooden beams provide glimpses into the house’s rich history.

The Huntington has made its own contemporary additions, including a gatehouse inspired by the original property’s walls. 

Ongoing Project

Although the Shōya House has now opened its doors to the public, the $10.2 million privately funded project remains incomplete.

Over the next year and a half, the Huntington will furnish the house to create period-specific rooms. 

During this time, the museum also plans to determine how to allow small groups of visitors access to the areas of the house with tatami flooring.

In terms of historical significance, the Shōya House is now arguably the oldest building in Southern California, if we allow some leeway for its non-local origins. 

Gatehouse and Courtyard. The compound has been reconstructed on a 2-acre site, which includes a newly constructed gatehouse and courtyard based on the original structures. Visitors can walk through a portion of the house and see how inhabitants lived their daily lives within the thoughtfully designed and meticulously crafted 320-year-old structure.
Japanese Heritage Shōya House/Photo via The Huntington’s official website

Constructed in 1818, the Ávila Adobe on Olvera Street is the oldest residence in Los Angeles.

Mission San Juan Capistrano dates back to 1782, making it the oldest surviving building in the state. In contrast, the Shōya House predates them all by nearly a century.

To explore the Japanese Heritage Shōya House, you can simply pay regular museum admission fees, ranging from $25 to $29. 

The Huntington is open every day except for Tuesdays, but the Shōya House welcomes visitors from noon to 4pm. Don’t miss this chance to step into a piece of living history.

Banner photo via The Huntington’s official website.

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