Commemorating Japan’s Post-war Constitution

Every year between April 29 and May 5 Japan celebrates “Golden Week”, four public holidays over a period of seven days. This year, 2019, thanks to the abdication of Emperor Emeritus Akihito and the ascension to the throne of Emperor Naruhito, the government declared additional holidays, giving people in Japan a 10-day “Platinum Week”: April 27 through May 6. But these events in no way detract from the cultural and social significance of each of the original Golden Week holidays: April 29 (Showa Day), May 3 (Constitutional Memorial Day), May 4 (Greenery Day), and May 5 (Children’s Day).

May 3 became Constitutional Memorial Day in 1948. The date for the holiday was selected based on the fact that Japan’s postwar “Peace Constitution” became effective one year earlier, on May 3, 1947. This constitution replaced the Meiji Constitution that was widely believed to have contributed to Japan’s militaristic actions of the 1930s leading to the Pacific War.  (Technically, the Meiji Constitution was amended to become the new constitution, but let’s not get bogged down.)

Although not without some controversy (particularly relating to its authorship and the renunciation of war), the structure and content of the postwar Constitution have played a significant role in the formation of Japan’s current society and economy. This year, to commemorate Constitutional Memorial Day, I paid a visit to the former residence of Yoshida Shigeru (1878-1967), the man who was Japan’s Prime Minister at the time the Peace Constitution went through Japan’s Diet and was promulgated.

Although it was Yoshida’s connection to the Peace Constitution that drew me to visit his former home in Oiso, about an hour by train from Tokyo, as I learned on my visit, Yoshida was much more to postwar Japan than merely the Prime Minister who oversaw the introduction of the new Constitution. He was also the man who represented Japan when signing The Treaty of San Francisco, Japan’s peace with 49 nations of the world, in September 1951. He guided the nation as it began to rebuild after the devastation of war to take its place among the economic powerhouses of the world. 

Yoshida’s residence in Oiso is a property he inherited from his adopted father, Yoshida Kenzo in 1889. He spent a part of his childhood here, and ultimately also his later years.

In 1947 Yoshida built a new house on the 3+ hectare site, designed by architect Yoshida Isoya, who made modern Japanese houses that were a blend of traditional Japanese design and Art Deco. The entry gate was built in 1954 to commemorate Yoshida’s signing of The San Francisco Treaty.

Later Yoshida had the house expanded to accommodate his prominent political role and increasing need to entertain state visitors. Yoshida hosted various domestic and international luminaries here. Among them, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, and even Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko.  (One of Yoshida’s granddaughters was married to Akihito’s first cousin, Prince Mikasa.)

Sadly, the house burned down in March, 2009.

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Part of the original 1947 house and part of the later addition have since been rebuilt according to the original plans and re-opened to the public in 2017. Apparently its various meeting rooms can even be rented for private meetings and events.

The 1947 part of the house is the first part of the house visitors tour.  The “Maple Room” is a living room overlooking the garden below, with Yoshida memorabilia on the walls.

Above this room is a suite of Japanese style rooms that were Yoshida’s original private retreat.  The wooden bath, shaped like a boat (said to have been made by a local man who was a boat builder), is particularly interesting.  In one corner of the suite is a “hori-kotatsu”, small table with heat and a space underneath for the legs.  Nearby is a bookshelf containing some of Yoshida’s books and his famous black phone–with no dial on its face as it was a direct line to his Kasumigaseki office.

Back downstairs there is a small room with displays on Yoshida’s life and a looping video about the man (alas, only in Japanese).

Next is the “Red Room”, a formal dining room on the lowest level of the later addition to the house.  The original of this room was the venue for a 1979 US-Japan summit attended by President Jimmy Carter. 

The last part of the house open to visitors is the part of the later addition that was Yoshida’s private rooms in his later life:  the Gold Room and the Silver Room.  Built higher up the hill, both rooms have views to Sagami Bay and the Izu Peninsula as well as inland to Mt. Fuji.

The Silver Room, so named for its silver ceiling, was Yoshida’s bedroom.  It is said that on October 20, 1967, he commented on the beautiful view of Mt. Fuji and then slept, passing away peacefully in his sleep.

The Silver Room had another substantial bookcase filled with Yoshida’s books, including a shelf of books in foreign languages, mostly English but some other languages as well.  These books perhaps reflect Yoshida’s pre-war career as a diplomat, during which time he had various international postings.  Yoshida was also briefly imprisoned in early 1945 for his affiliation with Prince Konoe Fumimaro, who was at that time trying to convince the Emperor to bring about an early end to the war. Yoshida only went into politics at the end of 1945 with the formation of the Liberal party.

The house sits on substantial grounds featuring a rose garden, a Japanese-style garden, a bamboo grove, a small shrine and atop a hill overlooking the sea, a standing bronze statue of Yoshida.  Yoshida, a man who lived history, must have been very happy living here.

  • From JR Oiso station, 30 minute walk (straight down Highway 1–the old route of the Tokaido) or take the bus bound for Ninomiya Station or Shonan Oiso Jutaku and get off at Joyama Koen-mae
  • Hours: 9:00-16:30 (Closed on Mondays and the first day of every month)
  • Admission: JPY500 (adults); JPY200 (children)

Across Highway 1 from Yoshida’s former residence is Joyama Park, once the site of a medieval castle.  The Oiso Municipal Museum, nestled in a glen inside the park, has a special exhibit of materials relating to Yoshida through June 23, 2019.

© 2019 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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