My heart shines, a pure expanse of light; And no doubt the moon will think the light its own.

(Yasunari Kawabata)

Japan has always been a nest of mystery to many travelers, constantly engrossed in a lifestyle of computer-age technology flashing under the shadow of ancient traditions. In Tokyo, this contrast between the old and the new is ever so omnipresent as the metropolis rapidly builds itself toward the summit of ultramodernization. Yet, behind the digital transformation, temples, shrines, and traditional gardens remain unsullied.

Tokyo is proud of its many delicately preserved historical buildings and residences. One of them is Kudan House perched on the hills of Kudanshita in Chiyoda ward. The neighborhood is surrounded by 1869 Yasukuni Shrine, 1964 Nihon Budokan, 1969 The National Museum of Modern Art, TTokyo, and Kitanomaru Park, as well as the exquisite 1919 Chidorigafuchi moat, renowned for its breathtaking riverside cherry blossoms. These landmarks attest to the topography of culture, art, and the abundance of nature.

Kudan House was built in 1927 as the heritage home of the Yamaguchi family, owners of farmlands in Niigata Prefecture, and the Yamaguchi Shoten and Seishisha companies, which invested in oil, goods transportation, railroads, finance, and electricity from the Meiji era. The fifth generation, Mankichi Yamaguchi, envisioned a sturdy reinforced concrete construction that could withstand the adverse effects of earthquakes and other natural disasters. With the collaboration of architects Tachu Naito, Shichiro Kigo, and Kenji Imai, a beautiful Spanish-style building on an 800-square-meter lot was erected, reminiscent of Art Deco and European features. Yamaguchi was also noted for his impeccable taste in aesthetics, and this is evident in the furniture, decoration of details, and artistic forms of windows, balustrades, and staircase rails.

Today, the house functions as a private membership club that launches periodical art events. From February 22 to March 3 this year, the exhibition “The beautiful, the ambiguous, and itself" was held, followed by “Art Kudan” Art Fair from March 9 to 11. Both programs were organized by Curation⇄Fair, an art event that encompasses curated art shows of paintings, sculptures, objet d’art, video installations, and other media by selected artists and the sale of such art pieces, including antiquities and contemporary art.

The exhibition title was taken from Japanese legendary novelist Yasunari Kawabata and his lecture in 1968, “Japan, the Beautiful, and Myself.” The similar phrase, “Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself” was uttered by Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe in his lecture, which was highly acclaimed for his message on humanity and the healing power of art. The words, hence, have reflected the fabric of the Japanese spirit for the nourishment of art and culture. The showcase at Kudan House hoped to revive the parallel philosophy of enhancing a continuous dialogue between the past and present states of Japanese aesthetics.

Entering the villa, one clearly identifies the Mediterranean elements of the exterior—rich, cream-colored stucco walls, Spanish roof tiles—and patterned tiled and wood marquetry flooring in the interior. The entrance hall is flanked by arched doorways and antique wooden furniture and lights. Here, 19th- and 20th-century Japanese Western-style painter Morikazu Kumagaya’s Nude (1955) painting in modern outlines was displayed.

The low ceiling of the first floor deviates from the rather closed feeling of the striking curved staircase in elegant marble and iron-grilled Art Deco-inspired rails, leading to the upper floors.

Opposite the staircase hall is the Classical Room, often used by the Yamaguchi family for entertaining guests. The garden view seeps through the room, which is decorated with period furniture, a fireplace, and wood marquetry floors. A calligraphy scroll by Kawabata depicting four characters was displayed, together with an antique jar from the Joseon Yi Dynasty, 18th century, and a Shigaraki vessel from the Muromachi period, 15th century.

A long corridor indoor terrace reveals more arched windows and doorways, capturing the picturesque outdoor garden and patio. Several artworks were on show—an iron, glass, and copper wire objet fog and mountain 2021-3 (2021) by Noe Aoki; a terracotta object First Brick (2022) by Iranian artist Shahpour Pouyan; a simple glass of water glass (2018) by Nobuaki Onishi; a ceramic glaze rock Turning Over (2021) by Keiji Ito; and a Fender Slant Cabinet I by multimedia artist Kaz Oshiro.

There is also a library corner that revealed an interesting bronze sculpture, Cobra Goodnight (2015), by Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti. Next to the library is the banquet hall, which is adequately used for meetings and consists of another gorgeous fireplace. Two erotic paintings from the Jōkyō era of the 17th century by Edo period artist Moroshige Furuyama hung on the wall.

The second floor is comprised of two lounge rooms with classical seating areas, encircled by a balcony terrace. The greenery outside is perfectly reflected in the rooms. A blue ash and black glazed stoneware art piece, Darkness and Starlight (2022), by ceramic artist Machiko Ogawa was displayed among other artworks. The highlight of this floor is the huge Japanese Room in tatami mats, evoking both Japanese traditional and European elements. It is used for both meetings and tea ceremonies.

The hall on the third floor is stylized in modern features. It was previously used as a dance hall that uses a movable partition to accommodate large groups. On display were a few photographs, such as Men and Trees series (2018) by Rika Noguchi and a lightjet print work 073536 (2012) by Yosuke Takeda.

The basement floor is designed with charming arches in the center foyer. Natural light filtering through the windows adds interesting shadows to the artworks scattered around. About thirty pieces in wood with idiomatic messages and two large paintings in powerful blue and red belonged to Satoshi Hashimoto. Also in a secluded room was a still life painting outside glass & inside glass (1956) by Yasuo Kazuki. There was also a room with a large antique coal boiler, echoing remnants of past decades.

Outside the entrance was a detached structure that was set up with screen panels in moving kaleidoscope colors and forms, DPSY21 by graphic artist Kazuhiro Aihara.

Wandering around the house truly transports one between layers of time. Kudan House continues to sustain the legacy of its vital cultural heritage for future generations. In May 2018, it was registered as a Tangible Cultural Property.