Imanishi-ke Jutaku (Imanishi familys House) (今西家住宅)

Imanishi-ke Jutaku is located in Imai-cho, Kashihara City, which has been selected as one of the Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings, in the central part of Nara Prefecture.

It is a castle-like structure built in 1650 being also known as Yatsumune or Yatsumune-zukuri (a complicated roof style with multiple ridges and bargeboards) because of its complex roofing design.

On June 18, 1957, after a machiya (a traditional form of townhouse found mainly in Kyoto) (or shoka, merchants' house) (or shoka (mercantile house)) study conducted by the University of Tokyo, with posting of a munafuda (historical plaque on a building), it was designated as an Important Cultural Property in Japan. It was decided to undertake the fundamental repairs in accordance with the Law of the Protection of Cultural Properties whereby, commissioned by the Imanishi family, Nara Prefectural Board of Education commenced the work in March 1961 which was subsequently completed in October 1962.


It is clear that the Imanishi-ke Jutaku was built in 1650 because of a long and narrow board referred to as munafuda bearing the year when the framework was completed, name of the client and the other people concerned with the construction including the master carpenter written in ink as well as an inscription referred to as onigawara-mei that was carved on the onigawara (Japanese gargoyle roof tile) that are used to decorate the ends of the roof ridges. The roof style of this building is also known as "Yatsumune-zukuri" and several roof ridgelines can be seen on the gables. Looking from the gable side, if there are many roof ridgelines, it is referred to as a building with multiple ridges and overlapping gables. The magnificent exterior with okabe (a style of wall construction) in which posts are hidden under shikkui (white plaster) is a building structure which reminds one of a castle rather than a private residence of ordinary people.


In Imai-cho today, old houses with their external walls being finished in the okabe style similar to that of Imanishi-ke Jutaku remain in existence. Features of the townscape of Imai-cho, which was prosperous from the early Edo period when the construction of the temple town Imai-cho was completed to the mid- and late-Edo period, has been preserved to the present.

There are the ruins of a surrounding moat that still remain in the perimeter of this old townscape. The surrounding moat is approximately 5.45 meters in width and the earth dug up during excavation of that moat was piled up to build dorui (earthen walls) which seemed to have a total of nine gates that serviced the north, south, east and west ends of the town. The background of Imai-cho being a village surrounded by a mot goes back to the days when that town was constructed for self-defense against attack by external forces cracking down on the Ikkoshu faith which the townspeople had embraced since before dawn of medieval times and that legacy with respect to the physical layout of the town remains intact today. Since the honjin (headquarters of army) and family quarter had already existed prior to its construction in 1650, the present-day Imanishi-ke Jutaku was built in the second-phase but it has been told that, situated at the westernmost of the above village, it had a commanding air of a castle tower.

Town building of Imai thus began and has subsequently undergone changes to become Imai-cho as we know it today but as it seems difficult to understand the significance of Imanishi-ke Jutaku in those days unless some facts such as why it was necessary to develop the town in this fashion and the background of Imai-cho are explained, we will discuss these to begin with.

The area known as Kashihara City today has a long and distinguished history, being the birthplace of ancient times from days of the Yamato Sovereignty to Asuka Imperial Court and Imai-cho stretches from east to west to the northwest of that city. In view of the soft earth below ground, it seems that this area used to be a marshland such as mud flat. On the other hand, Yagi-cho located 1.5 kilometers to the northeast of Imai-cho was a traffic hub linking routes to and from Nara, Kyoto, Naniwa, Ise, Yokkaichi, Yoshino, and Kishu whereby it seems that the area around Yagi developed into a merchant town from long ago and became a thriving business center over time. As a result, it seems that business activities of the adjacent Yagi expanded into Imai-cho in the medieval period developing the latter into a town. However, there are no older records on Imai before a document that mentioned a geographical name referred to as Imai in 1386 was found and it seems that this area was an estate of Kofuku-ji Temple in those days.

In the end of medieval times, Imai reached a turning point when Ikkoshu Hongan-ji Temple branched out in this area and, thus, Imai suddenly became conspicuous. It was after a Shinshu sect dojo (place of Buddhist practice or meditation) of Ikkoshu Hongan-ji Temple had been constructed that Imai-go (Imai Village) developed into a city and it seems that the temple village Imai with organized townscape became established. Back then, Imai-go was a village surrounded by a moat and earthen walls for fortification to defend itself against enemies outside as well as to protect autonomy of the village people, and the ruins of that moat still remain in existence around Imai today.

The streets of Imai-cho have remained relatively in good condition today but, instead of running straight across town from one end to the other, they were designed to obstruct views of the town from outside with various features such as sharp turns at the town entrance and T-type intersections near the gate.

For instance, along Honmachi-suji which is the street on the north side of Imanishi-ke Jutaku, thatbuilding juts out into the street on the north with sharp turn to the south at the eastern and western ends of the building, presenting blind corners. These streets are inappropriate for a city with busy vehicular traffic in these days.

In 1574, when Hongan-ji Temple challenged Nobunaga ODA, most of the Imai-go residents were merchants and samurai families as war potential included mainly the family and retainers of the Kawai clan. It seems, however, that the Imai-go residents rose in response to the head temple countermining Nogunaga's army by making the surrounding moat deeper and building the earthen walls over. After fighting back in resistance over a year without much result, however, they were ultimately outmaneuvered by Mitshuhide AKECHI and surrendered, and it seems that while they were disarmed, the town was allowed to remain in existence. It seems that Imai has consequently developed into the largest town in southern Yamato, being the counterpart of Nara in northern Yamato.

Afterwards, in the Edo period, with Japan being a country at peace, townspeople became more powerful developing a high level of autonomy. The Tokugawa shogunate consequently recognized Imai as a township whereby so-kaisho (meeting place of a municipality) as seen in Edo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara was installed and machi-yakunin (municipal officials) such as machi-doshiyori (ward heads) began to manage affairs of the town under supervision of the shogunate.

It seems that the so-doshiyori (officers who worked under the town magistrate) system in Imai-cho started in the Keicho era (1596 - 1615) and the Imanishi family and the Ozaki family were originally appointed to that position but, during the Kanei era (1624 - 1644), the Ueda family was added to make up a group of three so-doshiyori with the Imanishi family being at the head of that group. Under so-doshiyori, there were a total of twenty-six machi-yakunin including eleven machi-doshiyori (two representatives per township for five of the six towns that existed in those days and one representative for the remaining Kita-cho, six cho-dai (one representative per township) and six kimoiri (one representative per township) who had autonomous control over administration of the municipality.

With respect to tasks performed by so-doshiyori in those days, there is a description in ancient documents written by the Imanishi family as follows:
We, so-doshiyori, have long been performing the role of supervisors over the six townships which, in addition to addressing the matters concerning taxes, lawsuits and petitions, includes communicating instructions from the Shogunate to machi-doshiyori.'
With respect to the bottom-to-top communication, there are no restrictions on the subject matter to be brought up and, as to the affairs in relation to taxes, lawsuits and petitions, we have first sufficiently discussed the issue with the party concerned as well as machi-doshiyori but, if no solution was reached, we have then presented the matter to the government officials.'
We have, thus, been diligently serving as so-doshiyori whereby we have been given various privileges such as receiving land from the government and having access to jito (manager and lord of manor) being treated like samurai.'
The role of so-doshiyori was to supervise the affairs of the six townships of Imai playing a role in the overall administration of the towns by the feudal lord or daikan (local governor).
The main duties of so-doshiyori included addressing matters concerning taxes and petitions but, with townspeople being affluent with flourishing business, they were also responsible for 'giving stamp of approval on inscription on contract for sale, purchase or rent of residence and/or land in town.'
In view of the facts that the former jail existed until recently and that ibushi-ro (smoke torture chamber) still exists today on the west side of the Imanishi-ke residence, it seems that so-doshiyori exercised police authority such as holding hold heinous criminals in custody as well. Additionally, the handcuffs used in those days remain in the possession of the Imanishi family today.

As mentioned earlier, the Imanishi family had worked as so-doshiyori between the early Edo period and the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate but it was after Imanishi-ke Jutaku was first established at the present location in 1650 that they began to perform this role. Imanishi had been living in Imai-cho before arriving at his post at that location and when disarmament was ordered by Nobunaga after the battle of the Ikkoshu sect, it seems that Imanishi made considerable contributions to the community such as helping the Imai-go residents to escape from danger and subsequently negotiating with the enemy side on his own. It seems that the construction of the magnificent building also known as the castle tower of Imai at the present location in recognition of Imanishi's achievements marked the beginning of Imanishi-ke Jutaku.

The general landform of Imai-cho in the early Edo period was by and large a rectangle in shape measuring 610 meters east to west and 310 meters north to south with a grid of straight streets running north-south and east-west. That landform and shape of the streets have generally remained unchanged from the days when the town began to be built.

With the outline being completed as described above, the town was built with blocks divided by streets but, as mentioned earlier, those are not straight streets running across the town from one end to the other but, rather, they were laid out to obstruct views of the town with sharp turns at the town entrance and T-type intersections near the gate.

Additionally, it seems that there were a total of nine gates at the north, south, east, and west ends of the streets and that only four gates were open as required at night to keep strangers from arbitrarily entering the town. When outlanders needed to stay in Imai-cho overnight, they were required to notify machi-doshiyori accordingly each time.

The construction of Imai-cho thus began and the town run by the so-doshiyori system with an established autonomy came into existence. Private residences built between the beginning and the end of Edo period stood side by side and it seems that Imanishi-ke Jutaku, which was located at the present from the start, stood out in the townscape with its stately air.


In terms of the characteristics of this house, there is an existing munafuda identifying the year in which that building was originally built and that it has a structural style which reminds someone of a castle rather than a private house.

The characteristics of the main floor plan are that the floor is divided in half between doma (dirt floor area) and zashiki (Japanese style tatami rooms) by ipponbiki-amado (wooden sliding storm doors mounted on one straight track) and, inside the zashiki area, there are chodaigamae (a built-in ornamental doorway found in the raised area of a formal style reception suite), shikii (threshold) and kamoi (door lintel) of each majikiri (partition) between zashiki are designed to stop the sliding door at the specific point.

It is worthy of attention that there is a zashiki with tokonoma (alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art objects or flowers are displayed) on the second floor.

In those days of class consciousness, it did not seem to be a practice among private citizens to build a zashiki with tokonoma on the second floor of their houses as it could be construed as looking down on the other people.

The ancestor of the Imanishi family, however, was originally of the samurai class in addition to making a major contribution during the incidence of the Ikkoshu sect whereby it has been said that this house was built at the present location in recognition of his achievements.

The present location where this building stands is the westernmost of the former village surrounded by a moat being, in a manner of speaking, the western key strategic point of that village and, hence, it is considered that the house was built in an architectural style which reminds one of a castle intended to intimidate enemies and to defend the community.

It is, therefore, considered that this building was deliberately built to jut out in the street (Honmachi-suji) in the north with renjimado (window with vertical or horizontal wooden laths or bamboo) of nurigome (painting walls, etc. with thick plaster) style being installed on the northern and eastern sides of zashiki on the second floor making it an ideal place to look out for enemies and to watch movements in town.

Additionally, there were rooms on the second floor that existed before the Genroku era proving that this was no ordinary house.

The internal height of the house meets the current interior height requirements and the dimensions of the tatami mats measure, in the former shakkanho system (old Japanese measuring system), 6 shaku 3 sun (190.89 centimeters) long and 3 shaku 1 sun 5 bu (95.445 centimeters) wide being equivalent of that for Kyoma tatami used today.

In terms of the above characteristics, except for the second floor zashiki, the structural style of Imanishi-ke Jutaku has a commonality with that for the other existing old private residences in Imai-cho but only the former has maintained its original shape while the other houses have been altered as needed.

A two story building (betsuma or another building) is attached to the south-east corner of this building which is the south of the butsuma (room for Buddha statue) but it has been found that the two story building was built in the same year as the main building and was not an addition.

As this two story building has been drastically altered, during the investigation for cultural property designation in 1957, the judgment on that building was deferred. As a result of another investigation, the two story building was determined to have been built in the same year when the main building was constructed and was considered for additional designation but due to various factors such as drastic alterations of the interior of the house that had taken place and the wishes of the family head, it was decided that no designation was to be given.

Although the structural style of betsuma is much the same as that of omoya (main building), because kiwari (a system for measuring out the wooden component to be used in architecture or statuary) which is in a direct proportional relationship with the size of each component is small, and because there are the shoin-like (reception room) marks in hashirama (bay, space or distance between two pillars) at the south end of the main floor, it is considered that the eight-tatami room in the south side of the betsuma was probably built in the shoin style.

The south side of the butsuma where oshiire (closet) is located now was originally a long four-tatami room stretching from east to west which seems to have been used as an access way to upstairs. On the second floor, there are a hatch and closet above the four-tatami room mentioned earlier and on there is an eight-tatami room the south side but it is speculated the upstairs was originally a tsushiarea (storage).

There was a three story kura (storehouse) facing the betsuma on the west side but it seems to have been destroyed by an earthquake in 1926.


It is possible to describe the history of this building from kawara-mei (inscriptions on tile) or the other inscriptions found when this building which were discovered when it was dismantled and repaired. Some of hiragawara (broad, concave tiles) used for this building have the inscription indicating the year 1656 which was 7 years after its construction. If the roof had been put on around that time, quite a few tiles that are the same type as those with inscriptions had to be found but, in view of their absence, it is considered that some of the tiles may have been added to address an emergency situation due to some disaster or another.

Next off, with respect to the kawara-mei of the year 1693 which was 43 years after the initial construction in 1650, it has been found that a fair number of hiragarawa were added that year and nearly half of all tiles are the same type as those with the kawara-mei of the year 1825 indicating that the building was reroofed in those years.

During the renovations in 1693 and 1825, it seems that fairly extensive repairs were performed including repainting of exterior walls as well as soffits and modifications of interior partitions in addition to reroofing.

No records were found as to the subsequent repairs until 1926 but, considering that the interior walls have been repainted approximately three times; it seems that additional repairs have been performed to address damages as required since 1825.

During the Northern Tango Earthquake in 1927, the jailhouse connected to the west side of the main building and the three story storehouse located on the south side of that building were destroyed.

By this time, it seems that this building had fallen into disrepair to the considerable degree and that, specifically, due to land subsidence occurred at the southwest corner of the premise, the building was visibly tilting westward.

In the Edo period, the repair of this magnitude could have been paid for at the public expense but, with abolition of clans and establishment of prefectures coming to effect after the Meiji Restoration, the family no longer had a post of so-doshiyori which they had long served and it seems that, being just ordinary townspeople, they were in desperate straits whereby finding it difficult to afford to keep up with simple repairs.

According to the head of the family, although he was nominated for a barony by the government after the Meiji Restoration, the family was so destitute that they could not afford the processing fee for the peerage and he also mentioned that he was proud of ancestors for not having been arrogant about their power.

As a result, no restoration work was performed on the jail or three story storehouse but the roof over the area where the jail and main building joined was repaired and, to stop its further tilting westward, the main building was reinforced by installing braces on a slant from the west side of doma. Because the betsuma was also tilting in parallel with the main building, crossbeams and joists connecting the two buildings were severed to correct tilting of the betsuma by itself.

During this restoration, it seems that the second floor was modernized by various improvements including; a new bearing wall running in an east-west direction at the center of the former four-tatami room on the south side of the butsuma, a closet in the butsuma on the north side of that wall, a hatch for going up and down between the main floor and upstairs installed on the west side of the room on the south side and another closet in zashiki in the betsuma on the east side.

The construction year of the betsuma thus became known and, in 1926, the building was straightened and re-nailed. The frame, however, had become severely loosened and the condition of okabe on the east side was particularly was noticeable being in a desperate need for repairs in concurrence with the main building but, due to the budget constraint, only the walls were repaired as a temporary measure.

The present residential site of the Imanishi-ke Jutaku faces streets on the north and east sides as it originally did and stretches to a prefectural highway to the south but it seems that the area around the grounds of Kasuga-jinja Shrine to the south of the Children's Park used to be a part of that property as well.

Additionally, the prefectural road (Midosuji) running in an east-west direction to the south of this building was donated to the prefecture by the Imanishi family which was inaugurated to mark the occasion of the royal visit by Emperor Meiji.

Before the prefectural highway was constructed, the south-side rental houses stood north and south at the east end of that road and it seems that this area was originally the site of buildings owned by the Imanishi family. It is also said that there was the former jinya (regional government office) of Nobunaga ODA at this site before the World War II which has subsequently been removed out of concern for fire danger.

It is considered that there was a chashitsu (tea-ceremony house) of the Imanishi family in the present Children's Park on the west side which was donated to the city.

History of the Imanishi Family

The history of the Imanishi family began when Jiro Dayu Tomasa TOCHI, born the second son of the lord of Tochi-jo Castle Minbu Dayu Totake, became the adoptive son of his father-in-law Dayu Masayuki HIGUCHI who was a shashi (chief Shinto priesthood) of Hirose-taisha Shrine whereby Jiro Dayu Tomasa became the owner of a territory over 8,000 koku where he built Kawai-jo Castle and began to refer himself as Minbu Shoyu Nakahara Tomasa KAWAI.

In 1566, following Tokatsu TOCHI who was aggrieved by the oppressive Junkei TSUTSUI and went into exile in Imai, Sukeemonnojo Masaharu KAWAI, the fourth head of the family who was an Imanishi clansman and his retainers moved to that location.

During the time of the fifth head of the family Nagazaemon Masafuyu KAWAI, counting on the Tochi clan and Kawai clan, Shinzaemon Ujikane KAWASE moved to Imai-go where Kawase was subsequently made a disciple of the school of Ishiyama Hongan-ji Kennyo Shonin Kosa. Kawase assumed the Buddhist name of Nyudo Hyobubo KAWASE and built a new dojo of which he was appointed jushoku (the resident priest) in Imai-go.

Banding together with the Ikkoshu sect in the fight against the then powerful Nobunaga ODA, Imai-go was turned into a fortress whereby a moat as well as earthen walls were built around the town and, to guard the westernmost of that town, a castle-like structure (the present Imanishi-ke Jutaku site) equipped with various appropriate features such as turret was constructed.

In 1574, the people of Imai-go rose against Nobunaga with vassals of the Tochi clan and the Kawai clan playing a key role, but, in the winter of 1575, they made peace with Nobunaga.

The condition of disarmament was that they should become the same as so-called natives (which means to abandon arms).

The town subsequently flourished as a municipal borough being referred to as the inland Imai as opposed to Sakai along the sea.

According to the head of the family, although he was nominated for a barony by the government after the Meiji Restoration, the family were so destitute that they could not afford the processing fee for the peerage and he also mentioned that he was proud of his ancestors for not having been arrogant about their power.

It was around 1600 when the so-doshiyori system was implemented in Imai-cho with Nagazaemon Masafuyu KAWAI (later assumed the new family name of Imanishi), Nyudo Hyobubo KAWASE (later assumed the new family name of Imai) and Genbei OZAKI initially being appointed as so-doshiyori and Chuemon UEDA subsequently joined this team at a later date.

In late June or July 1621 during the time of the fifth family head Nagazaemon Masafuyu, in recognition of his achievement in Osaka Natsu no Jin (Summer Siege of Osaka), Masafuyu was given recommendation by the lord of Koriyama-jo Castle Shimousanokami Tadaaki MATSUDAIRA (a grandson of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA) to assume the new surname of Imanishi deriving from his house being located at the west (nishi in Japanese) entrance of the town of Imai and, in addition, received a gift of naginata (Japanese halberd) made by the grand master swordsmith Kunitoshi on that occasion.

On the front wall on the second floor, jomon (family crest) of the Kawai clan, consisting of three vertical lines to assimilate the Chinese character delineating river (kawa in Japanese) in the igetawaku (similar to the Oxford frame) and hatajirushi (war banners used on the medieval Japanese battlefield) of the family composed of three vertically stacked diamonds are painted in black on the right and left hand sides, respectively.

Based on the inscription on munafuda-mei (Important Cultural Property) which reads "Framework was completed on April 23, 1650," it is understood that the building was erected in 1650.

It is the oldest private residence in Imai-cho and kado-zashiki (corner room) connected to the south corner of the main building as well as the rooms on the second floor were also constructed during the same period as that building.

9-25, 3 chome, Imai-cho, Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture

[Original Japanese]