Skyscrapers and retro architecture, verdant parks and hard concrete... the new and the nostalgic coexist in Tokyo, Japan's capital. Hidden in Tokyo's Taito Ward is “toco.,” a guest house rebuilt from a 100-year-old traditional Japanese house. The guest house is a window into the look and feel of a Traditional Japanese home, and is a popular lodging choice, often booked-out completely by both domestic and international travelers. This article is a deep-dive into the thoughts behind toco.'s creation, and the secrets to its popularity.
”Toco” – A Guest House with Frequent Repeaters
Moody entrance with stone step
Tokyo, Japan's capital, is a city of blinding neons and towering concrete buildings. In contrast to this image, the guest house toco. retains its traditional look from 100-years ago. It is situated in a favorable location just a three-minute walk away from Iriya Station in Taito Ward. Toco. accommodates a large number of travelers, with an especially large portion of overseas travelers.
A 100-year-old traditional house reborn as a guest house
Toco was created in 2010, 9 years before the writing of this article. Carpenters, volunteers, and staff from the management company, “Backpackers' Japan,” worked together to repair and renovate the old house, while still keeping its traditional appearance.
The frosted glass windows remain since the house's original construction
The main attraction of Toco is the lovely old-fashioned house itself, and its Japanese garden.
The plastered wall that many community members came together to renovate, gently reflects the sunlight pouring in through the glass sliding door. During the day, light from the garden side shines brightly on the deep amber flooring. The gently lit guest house provides a healing atmosphere for travelers, as they view the Japanese garden from the porch.
A rainbow-colored staircase leads to the bar; a place of gathering for guests and staff
The bar exterior gives no hint of the traditional Japanese house behind it
A small, lone bar stands in this populated residential area. This bar is the entrance to the guest house right behind it. The building of the bar was renovated along with the traditional house, and was reborn into its current form. The unassuming exterior white walls blends into the neighborhood around it, and accentuates the presence of the wooden doorframe.
Rainbow staircase in the bar
Step through the door and the rainbow staircase leading to the second floor immediately becomes visible. Painting the staircase was an idea of one of the carpenters that renovated the house. The rainbow staircase is now a beloved part of the establishment both to the staff and the guests.
At night, when alcohol is served at the bar, it becomes a place where not only the staff and guests, but also people from the neighborhood can gather to enjoy their company. Toco. has many repeat guests; alongside the traditional look and relaxing atmosphere of the guest house, the great encounters they found at this bar must be among their reasons for returning.
Toco. shows the refined beauty of traditional Japanese housing
A century-old house remodeled
Seeing the old house for the first time
Mr. Fujishiro of Backpackers’ Japan told us the story of finding and renovating a suitable property for this guest house.
The company began looking for property in the Ueno area in hopes to open a guest house. “An acquaintance introduced this property to us, and it was love at first sight for our CEO,” Mr. Fujishiro tells us. The house survived the bombing of Tokyo during World War II, and all the earthquakes through the decades. Before Backpacker’s Japan turned it into a guest house, the house had been used as a meeting place by the company that previously owned it.
Keeping the traditional Japanese house alive through the ages
The concept of the company is “to overcome any and all boundaries to create a place where people can gather.” It offers lodgings where people of all nationalities, genders, and ages can stay. Toco is one those places. Time flows gently at the guest house, with the building and garden nearly unchanged. At night, the bar fills up with all kinds of people, bringing their varied ages and cultures to the table for a time of conversation and drinks. The remodeling of the bar and house were done thoughtfully to make it a place of the utmost comfort.
View of the bar with the guest house in the back
One example of this thoughtfulness is the wall of the bar. When looking closely, something resembling straw and wood shavings can be seen mixed in with the paint. One of the carpenters had the idea to mix in a part of the old tatami flooring during the renovation.
Mixing in the old tatami gives the wall more warmth
No designers were involved in the interior design of the remodeled bar and house. All of the ideas came from the carpenters and company staff, as they strived to maintain the charming antiquity of the old house, while breathing a new life into it. Guest house toco. is a culmination of loving on-site ideas of the renovators.
Enjoy the traditional architecture of guest house toco.
There are two dorms, each holding up to eight guests
The house is over 100 years old and was built with traditional construction methods.
The entrance of arranged stones leads to the dormitory-style guest rooms. On the other side of the Japanese-style room is the porch from which the garden can be viewed. The porch stretches along to the kitchen and sink spaces. There are no doors between the entrance, porch, kitchen, and sink, creating an open and relaxed space. The wind circulates well, filling the house with fresh air and a peaceful breeze.
View of the garden and porch
A small garden decoration from before the renovation
The glass of the sliding doors that separate the porch from the garden is warped, showing its age. The parts of the glass that had been damaged by the seasons were replaced, but much of it was unchanged. The way the uneven glass occasionally warps the guest's view of the garden, is an unexpected sign of the building's history.
Richly colored wood boards and paneling
Toco is also meticulous in how it maintains the old house. The floors are polished with water that was used to wash rice; this is a traditional method of maintaining lumber that has existed since old times. The fat in the rice bran gives the wood a shiny polish, and this works wonderfully with the solid, natural wood used in toco. The deep, glossy amber of the floors is maintained with daily care.
Be sure to relax in front of the garden if you ever visit toco. Like the house, the garden has also remained mostly unchanged through the decades. Pruning and maintenance is kept to the bare minimum necessary to preserve the tasteful garden.
Beyond the fujizuka is the Onoterusaki Shrine
There was a fujizuka (a mound of stones piled to resemble Mt. Fuji) left in the garden. Fujizuka are symbols of mountain worship and when Mt. Fuji’s climbing season begins, they can be climbed to offer prayers. The elegance of the Japanese garden can be felt in the beauty of the moss growing on the stones, and the changing colors of the flowers and trees in each season.
Guest House toco: revitalizing traditional Japanese hospitality from 100 years ago
Experience a charming, traditional Japanese house, enjoy drinks with the friendly staff at the bar, and relax in this place where boundaries between different generations, nationalities, ages, and genders are broken. Come to toco for a break away from Tokyo's neon lights and skyscrapers, where you can relish the respite from sightseeing. The guest house will welcome you with its unchanging hospitality of 100 years.