Huntington_Japanese_Heritage_Shoya_House

photo by: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Preservation Magazine, Winter 2024

On the Move: How an International Team Moved a Historic Japanese House to the United States

When Robert Hori saw the 320-year-old Yokoi family residence in Marugame, Japan, in 2016, he knew it was something special. The family, now based in the United States, had offered to donate the house to The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, where Hori is the gardens cultural curator and program director. “It was a lexicon of different Japanese building styles and techniques, and it was [originally] surrounded by agricultural fields,” Hori recalls. “So it had all the things we wanted to tell—about building, about sustainability, about landscape architecture. And particularly [about] looking to the past to create a better future.”

But before Hori and his colleagues could begin to interpret the house for its eventual 2023 unveiling at The Huntington in San Marino, California, they had to get it to the U.S. safely. Japanese architect Yoshiaki Nakamura gathered a group of experienced craftspeople in 2018 to disassemble the 3,000-square-foot structure, which served as a shōya house for nine generations. (In feudal Japan, the shōya was the leader of a village.) After carefully taking the building apart, team members cleaned and numbered each piece. They reassembled the pieces in a warehouse in Japan, making repairs to the wood as they went.

Huntington_Japanese_Heritage_Shoya_House_Int_2

photo by: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Shoji sliding panels open into the residential garden at the Japanese Heritage Shōya House.

The Japanese experts collaborated with their American counterparts to figure out the adjustments that would need to be made for U.S. building codes. Then they disassembled the house once more for its journey by boat to California. “It was like a giant model airplane,” Hori says.

By the fall of 2023, the shōya house—including its two traditional gardens—was rebuilt at The Huntington. The grand opening of the $10.2 million project took place in October. Two small agricultural fields, also part of the shōya property, are currently under construction.

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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