Just a short walk from the bustling Azabu/Roppongi area there exists several pre-war apartments. Warou Flat is a small group of western-style rental apartments built between 1930 ~ 1937. There were originally five buildings, but two were destroyed in WWII. The buildings have been carefully maintained over the last 77 years and have so far managed to escape redevelopment.
Landowner and agricultural science scholar Bunzaburo Uedo was inspired by the Spanish Colonial architecture he saw when visiting the west coast of the US in the 1920s and, along with the help of local carpenters, built five blocks of flats in a similar style.
The apartments were offered fully-furnished and were extremely modern for their time with tiled bathrooms and gas piping to the living, kitchen and bathroom. They ranged from studios to 2-bedroom apartments with servant rooms. Buildings 1 and 2 had boiler rooms in the basements to provide steam heating to the rooms above.
‘Spain-mura’ or Spanish Village, as it was known in the past, was once very popular with entertainers and Ginza hostesses as it was only a 15 minute taxi ride from the Ginza area.
Nowadays the tenants are mostly working singles or couples. There is a vegetarian cafe in Building 4, but the rest of the apartments are private residences.
The buildings are currently owned by separate owners. J Network are responsible for managing Buildings 1 and 2, while Building 4 has its own rental site (http://www.warouflat.com/) – it is also ladies-only building.
The charming apartments offer a calm and nostalgic atmosphere that is entirely different to the frantic pace of the surrounding area. A few minutes walk and you are in Roppongi’s seedy bar district or Azabu Juban’s restaurant street.
Living in Warou Flat is not too different to any other normal apartment. The rooms are fitted with full bathrooms, kitchens and air conditioning. The main difference is that the buildings are wood-framed and the wood sash windows offer less insulation than modern buildings. Nevertheless, tenants appreciate the original features and are prepared to tolerate the cold in winter for the sake of preserving the original character of the buildings.
Studio apartments ranging from 25 ~ 55 sqm (270 ~ 590 sqft) sometimes appear on the market for rent between 130,000 ~ 165,000 Yen per month.
Pre-war rental apartments in Tokyo are now exceedingly rare. Buildings that miraculously survived wartime bombing are not as impervious to urban development. In 2013, the Uenoshita Apartments (c1929) were demolished to make way for a new building. There are also plans to demolish the Shokin Apaato (c1931) (map) near Shintomicho Station in Chuo-ku.
3-3-25 Azabudai, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Suumo Journal, April 12, 2014.
Jinnai, H. (1995) Tokyo: A Spatial Anthropology.
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