The elegant Teien Museum standing amid spacious green lawns in Minato-ku was once the home of Japanese royalty. Prince Yasuhiko Asaka and his wife, Princess Nobuko, became enamored with Art Deco during a stay in France in the 1920s and decided to construct their home in this style upon their return to Japan. Completed in 1933, the house was one of the earliest and most impressive examples of Art Deco architecture in Japan, and since 1983 it has been open to the public.
Captivated by Art Deco
Art Deco emerged in France around the beginning of World War I and was entering its heyday in the 1920s, when Prince Asaka happened to be studying there. The style combines visual arts, design and architecture, and influenced everything from fashion and jewelry, to furniture and cars. When Prince Asaka was injured in an automobile accident in 1923, his wife left Japan to be with him during his recovery period. The couple was still in France during the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, held in Paris in 1925. Impressed and inspired by what they had seen, they set about bringing the best of Art Deco design to Tokyo and combining it with traditional high-quality Japanese craftsmanship.
The Princess, in particular, had a flair for design and paid meticulous attention to the construction of their home. French artist and designer Henri Rapin was commissioned to create the interior of seven of the rooms in the residence.
One unique adornment designed by Rapin is a fountain known as the “Perfume Tower” because it emitted scent along with the flowing water. Standing in the Anteroom, the fountain has an upper lighted section in which perfume was placed. Other eminent designers of the day contributed to the interior, including glass designer Rene Lalique, who created the magnificent glass-relief doors in the Front Entrance Hall.
A mix of West and East
While the downstairs rooms, used for welcoming and entertaining, reflect the best of French Art Deco design of the day, the mood shifts as you take the stairs to the second floor, which was the family’s private space. Here the style is one of Japanese Art Deco, and the architects were mostly from the Imperial Household Ministry’s Construction Bureau.
The current special exhibition at the museum, Exotic x Modern: French Art Deco and inspiration from afar, showcases the influence of other cultures on the style. During the 1920 and 1930s, the rich, famous and adventurous were visiting other continents and opening Europe’s eyes to various cultures and countries.