Welcome to Matsukata House, the spiritual and architectural hub of Nishimachi International School.
This structure stands as a brave monument to the past amidst the hustle and bustle of a very modern city. Designed in 1921 by a prolific American architect living in Japan by the name of William Merrel Vories (1880-1964), and built by the Takenaka Komuten construction company, the house remains one of the very few examples of pre-war architecture on the Tokyo skyline today. In an effort to encourage preservation of these lone survivors of its cultural heritage, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has begun bestowing landmark status on buildings of historical import. Matsukata House was so designated in 2000.
Marriage of East and West
The house was commissioned by (Nishimachi founder) Tané Matsukata’s parents, Shokuma and Miyo Matsukata, who envisioned a big, Western-style house on property they owned in “Nishi Machi” (now Moto Azabu) to accommodate their growing family. Mrs. Matsukata was born and raised in the United States and worried her children would not have the broad exposure she had had to the outside world—to other languages and cultures—if they relied exclusively on Japanese schools. She was thinking of educating her children at home and needed space for classrooms.
Her husband agreed: The solution was to do the job themselves. They hired an English governess and an American teacher, and Mrs. Matsukata’s little school began on the third floor of their new home. It flourished. Over the next seventeen years, the private academy—the prototype and inspiration for Nishimachi many years later—grew to include not only the six Matsukata children but also the children of friends who wanted similar opportunities for their children.
During the war years, Mr. and Mrs. Matsukata fled Tokyo for the safety of the mountains and rented part of the Tokyo property to the Swedish government. Upon their return, they discovered all the structures on their land had been razed but one—the family home. In the years following, the house saw a number of reincarnations––as home to the Canadian legation, the Swedish embassy, the Romanian embassy, and, finally, the Venezuelan embassy.
Once Again, a School
It wasn’t until 1965 that the house reverted to the Matsukata family and became an integral part of the school Tané Matsukata formed in its shadow in 1949. The growing school was now able to spread its wings and take off. The family music room became Miss Matsukata’s office; the living and dining rooms, a library; and the old kitchen, a science lab. Students moved upstairs for their classes to the old family bedrooms on the second floor, including the Japanese-style room with tatami mats. As the years passed, a gymnasium complex, elementary building, middle school building, and library/media center rose protectively around the old house.
Restoration and Refurbishment
Over the last fifteen years the house has undergone a meticulous overhaul of various external and internal elements under the guidance of a team of architects and engineers. The major work includes all new stucco external walls, a new roof, restoration of the main entrance and three bedrooms on the second floor, and conversion of the former junior high classrooms to administrative offices. There are new bathrooms, a kitchen, a sprinkler system, PA system, and LAN cable networks.
These measures definitely extended the life and active use of the building, but it turned out more was needed. During the course of a seismic evaluation required preparatory to some interior work, certain fundamental structural flaws were revealed that indicated use of the house may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake. The building was vacated and operations housed there moved elsewhere on campus. Temporary steps were taken to ensure minimal structural integrity and safety.
And then the real work began. Reinforcement of interior walls and floors was the first step. That required the removal of existing interior walls and the addition of steel brackets supplemented by steel corner plates and sheets of structural plywood to the wooden frame as well as floorboard replacement. This was also the perfect time to replace old electric cabling with a racking system or conduits and install an energy-efficient heating/cooling system to replace the old oil furnace.
Our goal was to rescue the Matsukata House from further decline and restore it as the solid, gracious, and functioning structure it once was in keeping with its stature and history. The reinforcement/renovation work was completed in 2009 prolonging the life of Matsukata House for at least another fifty years.