History of Ueno Sakuragi

Originally called Shinobugaoka, throughout the Edo and early Meiji Eras (1603--late1900s), all of Ueno Sakuragi was part of Kaneiji Temple’s sprawling grounds. Built in 1625, Kaneiji Temple acted as a spiritual guardian of the capital, protecting it from dangerous spirits said to come from the northeast. The family temple of the Tokugawa Shoguns, it encompassed all of what is now Ueno Sakuragi and Ueno Park--an area that was as famous for its cherry blossoms then as it is now.

Much of the temple was destroyed in the 1868 Battle of Ueno, a decisive battle that brought about the end of the samurai classes and the beginning of Japan’s modern Meiji Era. By 1874, the central area was turned into Ueno Park, which became a center of art and culture, with a museum, zoo, and the Tokyo School of Fine Arts and Tokyo Music School (now Tokyo University of the Arts). The eastern tip became Ueno Sakuragi, one of modern Tokyo’s first garden-city residential areas, home to merchants and entrepreneurs as well as artists and writers.

In 1923, after the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Tsukakoshi family moved to Ueno Sakuragi, an area left undamaged by the quake. After the family briefly moved to the more central neighborhood of Kojimachi, Yasunari Kawabata, one of Japan’s most famous novelists, lived there from 1931-1934. Finally, in 1938 the Tsukakoshi Company built the three houses that are now Ueno Sakuragi Atari. Founded in 1900 in the Nihonbashi-Hamacho neighborhood, this financing and real estate company still operates in Nihonbashi today.

The three buildings all have Japanese shikkui plaster walls and contain Western and Japanese style rooms and a private garden. The original tiled kitchen was outfitted with natural gas in the 1930s, a modern luxury at the time. Two of the buildings were designed to offer panoramic views of the interior garden. In more recent years, the buildings served as shared lodging for foreign residents.

In line with the Tsukakoshi family’s interest in tea ceremony and antiques, the third building housed an elegant tearoom and fireplace. The Tsukakoshi Company’s previous president lived here until 1968, after which it became the residence of a teacher from the Edo Senke tea cerenomy school. The family were strong supporters of the nearby Yanaka Cemetery, donating 400 cherry trees to the cemetery after a it was damaged by a typhoon in 1964. These seedlings are now fully grown. In the spring they form an elegant canopy of pink cherry blossoms over the main road running through the cemetery.

Restoring Ueno Sakuragi Atari

In 2012 the Tsukakoshi Company briefly considered turning the site into a parking lot. Thanks to preservation nonprofit groups and its use as a location for TV shoots, the buildings were preserved as important examples of pre-war Showa era buildings, a space for the local community to be cared for and passed down to future generations.

Since then, the Taito Cultural and Historical Society NPO and others, in cooperation with the Tsukakoshi family, have started a number of projects utilizing the three houses. These projects have brought together locals and visitors of all ages, highlighting and preserving the local lifestyle and culture of the area. In collaboration with the new residents, shopkeepers, and office members, the Ueno Sakuragi Tsukakoshi Family Houses have been restored and transformed into Ueno Sakuragi Atari: a space to foster and spread the local culture.

Opening in March 2015, Ueno Sakuragi Atari will host a natural-yeast beer hall, bakery, specialty salt and olive oil store and workshop space, modern art office, and architect’s residence. There are also the community spaces used for events focusing on arts, crafts, and culinary culture. These spaces, “Everyone’s Roji” and “Everyone’s Zashiki,” link the three buildings and shops within.

Other groups are invited to suggest ideas and plan events in these spaces as well. Everyone’s Roji is well suited for market events, while Everyone’s Zashiki could be used for yoga or Go (Japanese chess) classes, or a space for children or elderly residents to gather. Ueno Sakuragi Atari is a place for everyone.