Seifuso Villa

Kichizaemon Tomoito Sumitomo created Seifuso Villa as a residence for Kinmochi Saionji. Find out about the story, which is not widely known, of the brothers’ relationship.

Kinmochi Saionji,
12th and 14th prime minister of Japan
Kichizaemon Tomoito Sumitomo,
15th head of the Sumitomo family

Siblings raised at Seifukan

Seifuso Villa occupies the site where a villa of the Tokudaiji family, a kuge aristocratic family, once stood. The original villa built by Sanekata Tokudaiji in 1832 (3rd year of the Tempo era), called Seifukan, was not in central Kyoto but situated amid fields and bamboo groves. It was here that Sanekata enjoyed making raku ware, a type of pottery primarily for use in the tea ceremony and popular with amateur potters.

After the completion of Seifukan Villa, several sons were born to the Tokudaiji family.
Sanetsune (1840-1919), the eldest son of Kin’ito and a grandson of Sanekata, who became the head of the Tokudaiji family, was a government official in the Imperial Household Ministry after the Meiji Restoration, serving the Meiji Emperor as grand chamberlain.

The second son, called Yoshimaru in infancy, was nine years junior to Sanetsune and adopted at the age of two by the Saionji family, which, along with the Tokudaiji family, was a member of the prestigious seiga group of kuge families. This was Kinmochi Saionji (1849-1940), who later resided at Seifuso Villa and served as the 12th and the 14th prime minister of Japan.

The fourth son, Takamaro, junior to Kinmochi by 16 years, was born at Seifukan Villa and adopted by the Sumitomo family as their heir. This was Kichizaemon Tomoito Sumitomo (1864-1926), the 15th head of the Sumitomo family. He used the name Shunsui for his artistic endeavors.

Both Kinmochi Saionji and Tomoito Sumitomo had fond memories of their childhood at Sefukan Villa as young scions of the Tokutaiji family. Placed in the saddle by his father Kin’ito Tokudaiji, the infant Kinmochi had great fun sitting astride a horse as he was led around the garden at Seifukan Villa.

Kinmochi left the Tokudaiji family before he turned three. As his adoptive father Ukonoe Chujo Morosue Saionji passed away that summer, Kinmochi became the young head of the Saionji family. He was appointed Jugoinoge (Junior Fifth Rank, Lower Grade) at the age of two and chamberlain when he was three. At eight, he experienced the genpuku coming-of-age ceremony, which allowed him access to the imperial court, and was appointed Ukonoe Gon no Shosho.

As the head of the Saionji family, Kinmochi often visited the Tokudaiji family, enjoying the company of his biological siblings. He was tutored in the classics together with his older brother. Despite the 10-year difference in their ages, Kinmochi competed with his brother in interpreting classical texts. Kinmochi was a confident and intelligent youngster.

With heartfelt admiration for his older brother

On the other hand, Tomoito lived primarily at the house of his biological father until he was 20 years old. Following the intellectual tradition of the Tokudaiji family, Tomoito studied the Chinese and Japanese classics and composed waka poetry. Regarding the tea ceremony, his grandfather Sanekata Tokudaiji and his father Kin’ito were disciples of Somi Fukazu, one of the four principal disciples of Gengensai, the 11th head of the Urasenke school. Thus, Tomoito was introduced to the tea ceremony as a child. A man of refined taste, Tomoito is known for his distinguished contributions to Japanese culture. There is no doubt that his tastes were cultivated thanks to the artistic and intellectual traditions that animated the Tokudaiji family.

In view of the 16-year difference in their ages, Kinmochi and Tomoito were not childhood companions. However, the young Tomoito greatly admired his brother Kinmochi. Involved in the Meiji Restoration when he was 18 years old, Kinmochi was appointed governor of Niigata at 19, and at 21 traveled to France in order to study. For young Tomoito living at Seifukan Villa, Kinmochi with his glorious career must have been awe-inspiring.

A place full of childhood memories


Adopted into the Sumitomo family when he was 29 years old, Tomoito acquired Seifukan Villa from the Tokudaiji family in 1907 (40th year of the Meiji era). It was at his brother Tomoito’s suggestion that Kinmochi decided on Seifukan as his residence in Kyoto. As it was so full of childhood memories, Kinmochi may well have been delighted to follow his brother’s advice.

Even after the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo as a consequence of the Meiji Restoration, a residence in Kyoto was a status symbol for business people and politicians. For Kinmochi, who was from a kuge family and leading the government as prime minister in his first administration, it was only natural that he should have a fine residence in Kyoto.

Having discussed the matter, Tomoito and Kinmochi commissioned Jinbee Yagi, Jr. for the buildings and Jihei (Ueji) Ogawa VII for the garden. Kinmochi provided detailed instructions covering such matters as building materials, overall design, and the arrangement of stones in the garden. Kinmochi’s preferences combined with Tomoito’s artistic inclinations are reflected in Seifuso Villa, a dignified and tranquil residence eminently suitable for a statesman who was leading Japan into an extraordinary new era.

Place for contemplative interludes

Kinmochi had four residences during his lifetime: one at Surugadai in Tokyo, Okitsu Zagyo-so Villa and Gotenba Villa in Shizuoka Prefecture, and Seifuso Villa in Kyoto.

In those days, genro statemen and business people often used their residence in Kyoto for political purposes. In contrast, Kinmochi viewed Seifuso Villa as a place for contemplative interludes.

Even after he ceased to be prime minister, Kinmochi retained a powerful influence in the political sphere as a genro with considerable influence in the selection and nomination of prime ministers. He spent most of his time at Okitsu Zagyo-so Villa in Shizuoka Prefecture, enjoying the mild climate while overseeing Japanese politics. Whenever a matter of urgency arose, he would head for Tokyo to offer his advice to the Showa Emperor and others. Since up-and-coming politicians would often call on Kinmochi at Okitsu to seek his counsel, he had few opportunities to relax.

Kinmochi’s periods of residence in Kyoto were largely confined to spring and autumn, the best seasons in that city. While residing at Seifuso Villa, he rarely entertained politicians. Rather he enjoyed conversing with Konan Naito, an eminent scholar of the history of Japan and East Asia at Kyoto Imperial University, which is located adjacent to Seifuso Villa, and Issotei Nishikawa, the head of the Kyofuryu school of ikebana. This episode indicates Kinmochi’s predilection for intellectual and artistic culture.

Kinmochi passed away in November 1940 (15th year of the Showa era) at the age of 90. Following his death, Seifuso Villa, one of the finest examples of modern Japanese architecture, was unoccupied for a while. In 1944 (19th year of the Showa era) the Sumitomo family donated Seifuso Villa to Kyoto Imperial University, an institution with which Kinmochi had enjoyed a close relationship.

Editors of the articles on Seifuso Villa

Hiromasa Amasaki
Hiromasa Amasaki
Professor of Kyoto University of Art and Design. Doctor of Agriculture (Kyoto University). Honorary Director of the Research Center for Japanese Garden Art and Historical Heritage. Born in 1946. Graduated from the Faculty of Agriculture, Kyoto University, in 1968. Having engaged in landscape gardening, he started pursuing the academic study of gardens. Served as President of Kyoto College of Art and Vice President of Kyoto University of Art and Design. Engaged in preservation and restoration of gardens of cultural properties throughout Japan and also active as a garden architect. Received an award from the Japanese Institute of Landscape Architecture in 1992 and Kyoto Prefecture Cultural Contribution Award in 2007. His numerous publications include “Jihei Ogawa VII” (Minerva Shobo), “Ueji’s Garden—The World of Jihei Ogawa” (Tankosha Publishing), and “Mountain Dwellings in the City: Collection of Gardens by Hiromasa Amasaki” (Tankosha Publishing).
Zentaro Yagasaki
Zentaro Yagasaki
Associate professor of Kyoto Institute of Technology. Born in 1958. Graduated from the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Design and Architecture, Kyoto Institute of Technology, in 1983. Completed the Master’s Program in Design and Architecture, Kyoto Institute of Technology, in 1985. Specialist in the history of Japanese architecture and an expert on the historical development of sukiya-zukuri and the lineages of sukiya-zukuri carpenters and garden designers. Engaged in many projects for restoration of historical buildings. His numerous publications include “Tea Ceremony Study: Volume 6 Teahouses and Gardens” (co-author, Tankosha Publishing), “History of Architecture with Illustrations” (co-author/co-editor, Gakugei Shuppansha), “Records of the Tea Ceremony” (co-author/co-editor, Shibunkaku), and “Garyusanso: Fine Sukiya” (editor, Ozu City, Ehime Prefecture).
Yasuo Takahashi
Yasuo Takahashi
Professor of Hanazono University. Professor emeritus of Kyoto University. Born in 1946. Graduated from the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering, Kyoto University, in 1969. Completed the Master’s Program (Architecture and Architectural Engineering) at the Graduate School of Engineering, Kyoto University, in 1971. After serving as Professor of the Faculty of Engineering, Kyoto University, and Professor of the Graduate School of Engineering, Kyoto University, became Professor of the Faculty of Letters, Hanazono University, in 2010. Architectural historian specializing in the urban and architectural history of Japan. Received an award from the Architectural Institute of Japan in 1994 and an award from the Society of Architectural Historians of Japan in 2002. His numerous publications include “Kyomachiya; History of 1,000 years—The Prototype of Residences in the Ancient Capital” (Gakugei Shuppansha) and “History of Environmental Culture in Rakuchu and Rakugai in Feudal Japan” (Heibonsha).
Teruaki Sueoka
Teruaki Sueoka
Deputy Director of Sumitomo Historical Archives. Born in 1955 in Nagasaki Prefecture. Graduated from the Department of History, Faculty of Letters, Kokugakuin University, in 1978. Joined the predecessor of Sumitomo Historical Archives in 1978, became a Chief Researcher, and then Deputy Director. Since 1997, concurrently serving as Honorary President and Special Advisor of Hirose Memorial Museum in Niihama City. He has commented extensively on the historical significance of the former Hirose Residence, Sumitomo Kakkien, and the industrial heritage of the Besshi Copper Mines in reports on cultural assets. He is an expert on the history of Sumitomo. His numerous publications include “History of Sumitomo” (co-author, Shibunkaku), “History of Sumitomo Besshi Mine” (co-author, Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd.), and “The Environment and Development in the Early Modern Period” (co-editor, Shibunkaku).

(Affiliations and titles of the persons mentioned in the article are as of the time of publication.)