Samurai house - A walk around an ancient Kyoto home that is up for sale

By Robin Sakai

For a short period of time in its long history, the city of Kyoto was named Heian-Kyo, meaning the capital of tranquility and peace. The city was laid out in a perfectly aligned grid, crafted to principles of Shijinsō, the Japanese equivalent of Feng Shui and based on the greatest city of ancient Asia, the then-Chinese capital of Chang’An. Lining the streets were samurai mansions and temples that housed medieval Japan’s high society.

Over the next 1,000 years, the city of Kyoto survived wars, political upheaval and modernisation - but through it all, there is an unmistakable thread of Japanese-ness that has remained in place and developed along with the residences. Now, as Japan’s real estate market continues to open up to foreign investors and home movers, some of that unique heritage is available on the market.

Seen here is the Yamashina-ku House, a historical samurai residence that is attached to the famous Zuishin-In Temple in Kyoto, which the occupants of days gone by were honor-bound to defend. A short 5-minute walk away is the World Heritage-designated Daigoji Temple. History abounds elsewhere in the neighborhood as well.

Amid an economic pick-up, Japanese real estate returns are improving with levels of growth not seen for over 20 years. This is attracting new buyers to the country, with the possibility of taking part in a market that has not been interesting since the 1990s. Aside from that, though, the appeal of a place like this lies more in a pure, romantic connection to the feudal past.

This is a quiet, noble house constructed of Japanese wood and made the more beautiful by a Japanese traditional rock garden that moves with the seasons, bringing color and vitality in a controlled and reflective space. The central house itself, hand-crafted of wood, is structured along the lines of ancient Japanese techniques, sliding doors, tatami mats and clean, open spaces abound. Symbology linking the history of the house to that of Japan’s emperors decorate corners and beams, but there has been plenty of modern touch-ups to make it a comfortable, safe and satisfying place to live today. As one example of this, the warehouse building, one of the outhouses that lie on the property’s grounds, has been remodeled as a gallery.

Despite being a city of 1.4 million people and having all of the mod-cons of Japanese urban living, Kyoto remains a place connected to the countryside around it and with a strong sense of community among its residents. Japanese home owners tend to present a simple, clean and beautiful facade to the outside world that respects privacy but people still visit each other, share news and congregate in community centers such as the local temple. Local residents of Kyoto are particularly bound to their hometown and its streets. There is a real village atmosphere in places like this, to streets that have been beholden to the same buildings for over a thousand years and to a people who care deeply about their history and heritage as the center of a great world civilization.

A potential drawback is the need to maintain the house to traditional standards. Materials are, of course, all traditional, so the owner can expect to be maintaining tatami mats, lanterns, wooden furniture and structural foundations as well as keeping the Japanese garden. Fortunately, Kyoto has no shortage of relevant skilled workpeople to oblige.

The expectations of a foreign home owner purchasing a piece of Japanese history may well put plenty off, but there is a precedent, even in the city of Kyoto itself. Traditional Japanese homes have struggled to find a market with middle-to-older aged Japanese home buyers, as many simply refuse to associate with the old buildings that were more common place in their youth. Though younger folks in Japan would be keen to own something like this, precious few of them will have the opportunity. For this reason, foreign home owners can prove to be somewhat of a boon, in that their investment, love and care can help a part of Japan continue safely into the next era.

This has additional relevance when you consider that although the city of Kyoto is home to 17 separate locations that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site, about 20% of Japan’s National Treasures, the city is still dealing from a modernity creep that is epitomised like nowhere else as in the striking Kyoto Station structure. Foreign residents who are sensitive to this, to the past and to the future can often deliver more than some local Japanese buyers.

From the point of view of traditional Japanese “literati,” this is a property that has the perfect balance between city and country, past and present -- the feel of old worn wood that comes from a hundred years of history.

View the property, including a video walk-through, by checking out its listing on

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Wow, a rock garden that 'moves with the seasons' ! That sounds unique--usually the rocks pretty much stay in one place... a lot of Kyoto's traditional machiya are now being preserved and re-purposed--by foreign residents and Japanese alike--but these big, old samurai compounds are in another class; very hard to find buyers with the time and resources to buy and maintain them... I would if I could!

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I hope whoever buys this house will preserve its history to their fullest capability. A piece of history, especially that of the Japanese, should be cherished. A house of a samurai is something I think anyone who loves Japan and its culture would want to have!

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Um… NOT "outhouses"! If you must, it's outbuildings. I'm sure you'll understand why.

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That's beautiful, I'd love to be the gaijin to anally maintain this thing if I had the means. There's a Japanese style house for sale here, near San Francisco, going for $7,000,000. This is the real deal though.

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Of course, since it was built in 1901, it's not technically a "samurai's house"--the samurai were stripped of their status and their swords confiscated in the so-called Meiji Restoration, 20-30 years prior... Still, I looked at the website and it does look very well-maintained. Now to scrounge up $1.5 million or so... :-/

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This buildings especially in Kyoto are very expensive running into the hundreds of millions. Recently, I saw an ad for a former tea house, large buildings but the cost was ¥8 billion, no typo so who's got that kind of cash? They are very expensive to upkeep. Think I would go for a new build, even in traditional style with more Eco features like insulation. Kyoto is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

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Of course, since it was built in 1901, it's not technically a "samurai's house"--the samurai were stripped of their status and their swords confiscated in the so-called Meiji Restoration, 20-30 years prior..

Quite so! The title is to catch your eye, not the details. Those don't matter.

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The house might have been rebuilt in 1901? Maybe another house on the spot before that? Interesting that Kyoto was first built by the Hata Clan who were Koreans.

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The house might have been rebuilt in 1901? Maybe another house on the spot before that?

The link says built not rebuilt, and even if there was one there before hand it still would not or should not be classified as a "samurai" house.

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Balls, I knew I should have marketed my Edwardian house in England as a 'knights residence'. :-/

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It is not easy to live in an old samurai house. Modern cleaning gadgets like vacuum cleaners do not work well on Tatami. No wonder some people are selling. It has antique value, though. You need many hibachis to warm up rooms. Floors are usually high. Old time, ninjas sneaked underneath of rooms to get conversation info. They had two short katanas. Outeriors are made to protect from attacks but beautifully.

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