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Residents fight to preserve early 20th century home built by Meiji era Japanese politician

A residence commissioned by Meiji-era politician Yukio Ozaki which was set to be torn down, is shown in this photo taken in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward on June 29, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryotaro Ikawa)
This 1916 file photo shows Yukio Ozaki at age 59. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Local residents and others have been leading a movement to preserve a Western-style house in Tokyo linked to Yukio Ozaki (1858-1954), a prominent Meiji era (1868-1912) politician, after it was announced that the building would be torn down by the end of July.

The residence is in the capital's Setagaya Ward. A group of nearby residents and others intends to mount an online crowdfunding campaign to buy the property, and their endeavor has got the attention of the ward government.

Yukio Ozaki was elected to the House of Representatives 25 consecutive times, and is said to have devoted himself to establishing democracy and constitutional government in Japan. Ozaki originally built the home for his second wife, whose mother was British, in the Azabu district of what is now the capital's Minato Ward in around 1907, when he was mayor of Tokyo. The blue-painted exterior is a standout feature of the wooden two-story structure. A scholar of English literature who was an acquaintance of Ozaki later acquired the house, and it was moved and rebuilt in its current location in 1933.

One of the literary scholar's relatives who had lived in the house passed away about three years ago, according to the preservation group. The building was handed over to a Tokyo-based homebuilder, and the community learned of moves to demolish the house from a notice board erected near the residence on June 20.

There are many fans of the Western-style house, and Kazumi Yamashita, 60, a manga artist who has authored works involving architecture, began an online signature drive on June 24 calling for the house to be preserved. Some 2,800 signatures have been collected in about two weeks, apparently including those of famed architectural figures from across Japan, and people from the United States with ties to Ozaki.

Starting in late June, Tokyo's Setagaya Ward spent about a week inspecting the home, taking photos and creating blueprints. Ward Mayor Nobuto Hosaka has told the Mainichi Shimbun that he intends to consider supporting the preservationists if they manage to buy the property. He added, "We believe that it (the building) has historical value."

The homebuilder had planned to begin demolition on July 3 at the earliest, and finish the work by the end of the month. However, the company suspended the project as the group indicated it would prepare to buy the home. The homebuilder intends to cooperate with the residents' group if the parties can agree on a price.

"I was drawn to its cute and mysterious nature," said Yamashita, who also revealed that the residence was also a source of inspiration for her manga work. "I feel unpleasant about the destruction of this beautiful Western-style house, and wish to protect it."

The cost of preserving the house, including purchasing it, is projected to reach a hundred million to several hundred million yen, and Yamashita and other supporters are set to begin gathering funds through crowdfunding and other means. News on the project's activities will be available at https://m.facebook.com/ozakiyukiohouse/

(Japanese original by Ryotaro Ikawa, Tokyo Bureau)

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