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IT’S SORT OF Meiji-Mura with the vast Pacific in between. Readers may recall Meiji-Mura (“Meiji Village”), consisting of more than 60 Japanese buildings from the Meiji Era (1868–1912) relocated to form an outdoor museum near Nagoya.
Imagine moving an even older family residence from Marugame, Japan, 118 miles east of Hiroshima, to The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, 12 miles northeast of Los Angeles, a move of some 6000 miles.
The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid was reviewed earlier here at SimanaitisSays. This time around, Jonathan Carey describes “How Do You Move a 320-Year-Old House Across the Ocean?” in Atlas Obscura, May 23, 2019. Here are tidbits on this architectural feat.
The Yokoi Family Residence. The Yokoi family comes from a long line of shōyas, local administrators charged with documenting lives in their communities. Jonathan Carey writes, “Family records relating to the home indicate that it was built by a seventh-generation head of the Yokoi family, who died at the site in 1713. The structure has remained in this one family’s possession ever since.”
The Huntington Library. Some 6000 miles from the village of Marugame, Japan, and two centuries after this Yokoi residence was built, in 1919 Henry and Arabella Huntington transformed their private estate into an institution for “the advancement of learning, the arts and sciences, and to promote the public welfare.”
Today, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a non-profit institution serving scholars and the general public.
A Huntington Donation. In 2016, Yohko and Akira Yokoi donated the historic family residence to the Huntington. “As a first step,” Carey writes, “the institution enlisted the aid of architectural firms in both Japan and the United States to assess whether the house was in any shape to leave Marugame.”
There were also myriad bureaucratic details involving prefectural and national Japanese officials as well as those familiar with California and U.S. building codes. Carey says, “This entire process took two continuous years of negotiating and study.”
Deconstructing a Shōya’s Residence. The building is largely of wood, and every beam, post, and panel had to be documented, labeled, and disassembled. The assortment is now in a workshop in Matsuyama, on Japan’s Shikoku Island.
Robert Hori is the Gardens Cultural Curator and Program Director at the Huntington. He notes that pieces are undergoing a process “very similar to how a classic painting would be cleaned and treated.… You want a patina of age.” The restoration work in Japan is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.
Dual Reconstructions. To ensure proper fitting, the house will be rebuilt in Japan prior to its Huntington relocation. Then it will be disassembled again, packed, and shipped by boat to California.
Carey notes, “The Huntington will also receive the home’s kura, its storehouse for the village’s rice and grain. The original garden surrounding the residence will be reproduced at the Huntington, and a replica of the original gatehouse, no longer extant, will be constructed as well.
The Huntington plans to open the Yokoi residence to the public in the fall of 2020 or early 2021. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019