The Mohri Residence and Garden

In the middle of Yamaguchi’s southern coastline lies Hofu. The city is one of the prefecture’s most populous and was once home to the lords of the Choshu Domain―the Mohri clan. The powerful family built their principal residence here in 1916, which still remains today. The house is considered one of the best examples of modern Japanese architecture. 

The Mohri residence is open to the public and includes a small museum, which periodically displays the family’s many treasures. The surrounding garden is another popular attraction, especially in the autumn when it bursts into color. So, when my colleague invited me to go check it out one weekend in November, my answer was a resounding yes.

The Mohri clan ruled all of modern-day Yamaguchi up until the late nineteenth century from their castle in Hagi. During the Meiji Restoration of 1868, however, the castle was torn down. The family was then made to surrender their domains to the emperor and live in Tokyo to weaken their power. When stability returned to the country in the 1880s, the family was still without a home in their ancestral lands. That’s when lord Mohri Motonori decided to build himself a new estate in Yamaguchi. 

He chose a piece of land at the bottom of Mt. Tatara with a view of the Seto Inland Sea. Construction began in 1892, but was delayed by the First Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars. It was eventually completed in 1916, but by that time, Mohri Motonori had passed. Mohri Motoakira became the first family member to live in the house. It includes a total of 60 rooms and was inhabited for 50 years, until 1966.

The grand residence was designed by architect Hara Takesaburo, who combined traditional materials with modern conveniences to reflect the wealth and status of the Mohri clan. The house is full of precious woods, for example, like Taiwanese zelkova, hinoki cypress, and yakusugi cedar from Yakushima. It was also the first in the region to have a telephone. It included an American-made generator to provide electricity and a boiler for hot water. 

The main gate to the property was built on a foundation made of cement, which was still a novelty in Japan at the time. The same was true for plate glass, so having a lot of glass windows was another way to project wealth and status. Throughout the house, you can spot the two crests of the Mohri clan. These are featured on everything from door handles to lighting fixtures, the latter of which were custom made in Germany.

As one of Japan’s most important families, the Mohri clan accumulated many treasures during their rule. The full collection comprises over 20,000 items, which are displayed to the public in a series of rotating exhibitions. On display at the time of our visit was a famous work by the celebrated monk and painter, Sesshu. His masterpiece, Landscape of the Four Seasons, or Shikisansuizu, depicts the changing landscape in ink on a giant handscroll. It measures 16 m (52 ft) wide and is designated a National Treasure. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed.

The second floor of the Mohri residence offers a wonderful view of the surrounding garden, which is designated a place of scenic beauty in Japan. It includes a natural forest, stone bridge, and large pond. The grounds also boast 160 cherry trees including nioizakura, a rare fragrant variety. This makes the garden a popular viewing spot for cherry blossoms in spring. 

Visit the Mohri Residence and Garden

The Mohri Residence and Garden is easily accessible by car. You can also reach it via bus from JR Hofu Station. From the north exit of the station, take the Bochu Bus (防長バス)  bound for Amidaji Temple (阿弥陀寺) and get off at Mori Hontei Iriguchi (毛利本邸入口バス停). The Mohri Residence and Garden is just a 6-minute walk from there. Be sure to add “Hofu” to your search when using a navigation app as there is also a Mohri Residence and Garden in Tokyo. 

Hours: 9:00~17:00

Admission: 400円 for Garden; 700円 for Museum; 1,000円 for Special Exhibition


1 Comment

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February 7, 2024 at 11:38 PM

Beautiful gardens, it must be a sight to see when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

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