While walking through the back streets of Hongo today on my way from the store to Tokyo University, I stumbled across an enormous, old, fantastic wooden building that was clearly abandoned.
Back at home, I looked it up on the net and found that this was the Hongōkan, a 200 square-meter building that was constructed in 1905 and that served for many years as a favorite private housing facility for students, including once serving as a housing facility for an early incarnation of Ochanomizu Women’s University. It has a long and rich history and is one of the very few such huge, student living facilities left. During its heyday, it was popular for its enormous baths, excellent food (especially pork cutlets), and the large number of maids there. The size was so big that it rivaled the biggest hotels in this neighborhood of Tokyo. Among the famous novelists that stayed there were the novelist Hayashi Fumiko and Shimada Seijirō. It is also said that Kobayashi Takiji and Itō Sachio spent time there as well.
It was suffered damage twice, in the Great Earthquake of 1923 and in the bombing raids of 1945, but miraculous, it still stands today, although empty and without locks to prevent intruders. According to the Wikipedia article about it, there were plans in 2007 to tear it down and rebuild it, but I hope they do not. There is something grand about this enormous, lovely, although decayed wooden relic from the past, standing in a city full of boring, concrete buildings.
An Asahi Shinbun article from 2007 mentioned that there is a chance the building might be named as an Important Cultural Property by the national government. Just recently, a Tokyo architectural group advocated to the government for the buildings’ importance. According to another webpage, there was a court case in 2009 over the building. It was determined that the residents had until August 2010 to leave, so who knows what will happen?