The sprawling government residence of Indian Ambassador to Japan, situated in Tokyo, has a historical background which very few people are aware of.
Its history goes back to 1927 when it was constructed to provide residence for Morioka Nanbu (Nambu) Clan (Nanbu-Ke). The clan is a Japanese Samurai kin group.
This was a distinguished family with a lineage stretching back to some 800 years to Mitsuyuki Nanbu.It was built during the time of the 43rd head, Toshiatsu Nambu. He traveled extensively in Europe, studying architectural designs and purchasing building materials for this home. Its exterior gives a distinctly European character. The four fireplaces in the home, unusual for early 20th century Japan and extensive wooden paneling are other distinctive feature.
Toshiaki Nambu, was the Chief Abbot of the Yasukuni Jinja shrine in Tokyo. He was born and grew up here.
At the time of its original completion, the garden contained a number of features designed to invoke memories of Morioka. With the passage of time it was altered keeping in view the present need and also to compensate for its Taisho era (early 20th century) wooden-frame construction inside the residence.
After the Second World War, this historic building passed into the ownership of the Government of India (GoI) on Jan 23, 1953 and has since been the residence of Indian Ambassadors.
In late 2006, the GoI embarked on the Tokyo Construction Project to renovate the residence besides redevelopment of some other Indian government owned properties in Tokyo.
Renewal of this aristocratic mansion has been a challenging responsibility for all concerned, the focus being to retain the historical characteristics of the building while providing the required level of modern functionality and representational convenience.
Structurally, the extensive renovation works have included seismic reinforcement, thermal insulation work and the thorough up-gradation of electro-mechanical equipments and fittings.
Incumbent Ambassador to Japan, Ms. Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa told this writer that since the initiation of the final design process in the late 2006, the then Ambassador Hemant Krishan Singh and his wife Mrs. Mrinalini Singh guided the project team of Hiroshi Miyazakai, Chief Architect of Plants Asso.Inc. for its structural up-gradation and the meticulous refurbishment of the interiors.
Well maintained and green residence having a personal touch of Ms. Wadhwa, when one enters its gate the small stretch leading to the main residence gives the impression of driving uphill. At the back of the residence a beautiful garden welcomes you with a water body having Golden Fishes on the left. The flow of water in an artificial small pond provides musical impact to ears in the serene atmosphere.
The garden has been completely re-laid to ensure a harmonious blend of traditional Japanese and modern elements in the Zen garden, water body, Gazebo and Wisteria garden. Four ancient columns of the Nambu family tea house remain in the west of the garden.
The magnificently restored original floors and wooden paneling of the main salons inside the residence are testament to Japanese craftsmanship, both past and present.
The Cinnamomum Japonicum tree in the garden to the east of the building has seen many springs and appears in records of the time.
During that time stalls used to be erected beneath the tree during garden parties thrown by the Nanbu family. It is said that large trees of this variety are rare in central Tokyo.
The restored small shrine in the south-eastern section of the garden called 'Sakurayama Jinja' has been named after the shrine in Morioka dedicated to the commemoration of family ancestors.
Its entrance has two stone crafted Shishi Lions, also called the Lions of Buddha, at both the sides of the shrine.
According to a plaque depicting the history of the shrine, many Shinto shrines have pairs of the Koma-inu, which despite the "inu" (dog) in their name look much like Chinese Shishi Lions. Koma-inu is also known as guardians against evil.
In each pairing, one Lion's mouth is sculpted in an open manner and the other's jaws are closed.The 'A' that appears to be spoken from one Shishi's mouth, and the "UM" voiced through the other's tightly closed mouth, are believed to represent the ancient Indian belief that the universe begin with the first sound and will conclude with the other.
In Hinduism, this is written fully as "A-U-M", with the three letters representing many different metaphysical concepts.
One is the triple powers of earth, space and heaven. Another is the trinity of Hindu gods Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the Protector) and Shina (the Destroyer). "Aum" is the holy state of being and destruction all at once."Aum" was adopted as a mantra by Buddhists as the "jewel in the lotus" (Aum mani padme hum..).
The residence gives a clear picture about strong ties between both the Nations since ages. As a result of which both are striving to address multiple challenges in the Indian-Pacific Oceans region and to ensure peace and security.
By: Lakshmi and Rajesh Bali-AIR Correspondents from Hyderabad and Jalandhar