Japanese Heritage Shōya House
Gatehouse and Courtyard
The compound has been reconstructed on a 2-acre site, which includes a newly constructed gatehouse and courtyard based on the original structures. Visitors can walk through a portion of the house and see how inhabitants lived their daily lives within the thoughtfully designed and meticulously crafted 320-year-old structure.
Two Dedicated Entryways
The house has two main entryways: The formal entrance on the left was originally for samurai and government officials, and the doorway on the right, which Huntington visitors will use, was for daily use by farmers and craftspeople.
Craftsmanship and Functionality
Sliding doors can divide the space into small rooms or be opened to create one large room. Evidence of fine craftsmanship abounds throughout the house: Tatami mats cover the floors; decorative plates hide joinery; and ornate ranmas, or panels made of carved wood, are positioned to allow for ventilation in the home.
The room where special guests were once received, at the front west side of the residence, looks onto a formal garden containing carefully shaped pines and camellias, as well as cycads, a plant that was considered a symbol of luxury in 18th-century Japan.
Connecting with Nature
Explore the grounds to view a small garden with a pond, an irrigation canal, various agricultural plots, and other landscape elements that closely resemble the compound’s original setting. The rocks in the garden came directly from the original property and were placed in the exact same spots in relation to the house and a koi pond.
Outside of the house, visitors can peek into what was once the pit lavatory; a water drainage canal nearby shows how water runs from a reserve to the crops, which include rice, buckwheat, and sesame.
Explore the Compound
The house was at the center of village life during the Edo period (1603–1867). Local farmers went there to pay taxes, attend festivals and religious ceremonies, and more. Today, the house is again surrounded by agricultural fields and a garden, reminding us of the importance of living sustainably with nature.
These are the key features of the grounds, starting from the house moving outward.
The design carved into the roof tile above the entrance is filled with symbolic meaning. It is the crest of the Yokoi family, who lived in this house for generations. As shōya (heads of the village), the family held a higher status than other farmers. They could carry swords and use a family name and crest when many could not.
The Yokoi family traces its roots to Yokoi Motomasa (d. 1585), who fought under warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (d. 1598) to unify Japan. The Toyotomi forces were defeated in 1600, but the Yokoi family were made shōya because of their education and family history.
Healthy soil is essential for plant growth. Japanese farmers developed several methods to transform sandy or marshy landscapes into fertile fields.
- Composting: Microorganisms and other creatures break down food and plant scraps, releasing nutrients back into the soil.
- Cover Crops: Some crops are planted but not harvested. They cover the ground, preventing erosion and water loss and enriching the soil.
- Crop Rotation: After each harvest, a different crop is planted in the same field. This helps reduce pests and allows the soil to rest, preventing nutrient loss.
The shōya (head of the village) ran all aspects of local government from this house. Officials used the main path for formal visits. Farmers, merchants, and craftspeople followed the side path to the entrance we use today. People from all social classes crossed paths at the Shōya House.
Everyone played a specific role in Japan’s hierarchical society during the Edo period (1603–1867).
- Samurai: Warriors and bureaucrats.
- Shōya: Farmers who oversaw tax collecting, census taking, and other aspects of village administration. They ranked lower than samurai, but they often grew wealthier because they could own land when samurai could not.
- Farmers: Produced raw materials.
- Craftspeople: Transformed raw materials into goods.
- Merchants: Distributed goods.
Solid walls surrounded the Shōya House. Most local residents lived outside the gate, but they passed through it for community gatherings or for business dealings with the shōya (head of the village). The gatekeeper lived in one of the rooms built into the structure. Servants and horses occupied the other spaces.
Built for Defense
The wooden gates were locked at night for privacy and could shield residents if the village came under attack. Other design features protected the earthen walls of the gatehouse itself from wind, water, and fire.
- Layers of mud and plaster were applied over a wooden framework.
- Clay roof tiles kept out rain and burning embers.
- Smooth-planed wood repelled water.
- Plastered joints shielded against rain and fire.
Rain and melting snow from Japan’s mountains provided water for fields and homes. Farmers developed systems for keeping water clean and repurposed food scraps to eliminate waste.
Japanese farmers composted human waste and used it as fertilizer. It provided some of the nutrients plants needed to grow, as well as beneficial microorganisms.
- Ponds on high ground collected water.
- Fish in the ponds ate table scraps.
- Waste from the fish drained into rice paddies, providing plants with nutrients.
- Rice paddies filtered the wastewater like a natural wetland.
- Clean water flowed downstream to be used by other people.
Everything in nature is connected— including humans. Farmers in preindustrial Japan developed practices that improved productivity and soil quality, while lowering their impact on the environment. Some of their methods are helping to maintain the fields around the Shōya House today.
Rice was once at the center of Japan’s economy. The head of the village collected a portion of each farmer’s rice harvest to pay government taxes.
The Huntington Digital Guide
You'll have access to:
- Tips for planning your visit, wayfinding information, maps, and Huntington history.
- Current exhibition highlights and special features.
- Self-guided tours, including Huntington Highlights, Behind the Scenes, American Art, Garden Sculpture, Chinese Garden, and Japanese Heritage Shoya House.
LA Residents Yohko and Akira Yokoi Donate Ancestral Home
Moving a 320-year-old, 3,000-square-foot house some 6,000 miles is no small feat, but Yohko and Akira Yokoi entrusted the massive undertaking to The Huntington. Through the couple’s donation of their ancestral home, generations of visitors will have insights into Japanese culture and history, as well as traditional architectural, agricultural, and sustainability practices.