Skyscrapers and retro architecture, verdant parks and hard concrete. The new and the nostalgic coexist in Tokyo, the capital city of Japan. Hidden in Daito City, a special ward of Tokyo, is “toco.,” a guest house rebuilt from a 100-year-old traditional Japanese house. The guest house retains the traditional look and feel of a Japanese home and it is such a popular lodging choice among both domestic and international travelers that reservations often can’t be made. Find out the thoughts that went into the creation of “toco” and the secret to its popularity here.
”Toco” – A Guest House with Frequent Repeaters
Moody entrance with stone step
The capital city of Japan, Tokyo: tall buildings lined up everywhere and neon lights shining brightly in the night. In contrast to this image, the guest house, toco, retains a century-old traditional form. It is situated in a favorable location just a three-minute walk away from Iriya Station in Daito Ward. Many tourists from overseas and other guests are welcomed here every day.
A 100-year-old traditional house reborn as a guesthouse
Toco was created nine years ago in 2010. Carpenters, volunteers, and staff from the management company, “Backpackers' Japan,” worked together to repair and renovate the old house while still keeping the tasteful, traditional appearance.
Frosted glass windows reminiscent of the original house
The main feature of Toco is the lovely old-fashioned house itself, and its Japanese garden.
The plastered wall that everyone 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 guesthouse provides a healing atmosphere to guests viewing the garden from the engawa, a low porch.
A rainbow staircase leads to the bar where guests and staff hang out
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 guesthouse right behind it. The building of the bar was renovated with the traditional house and was reborn into its current form. The simple white walls and wooden accents exterior help it blend with the surrounding houses.
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 endeared to the staff and the guests as well.
At night when alcohol is served at the bar, it becomes a place where not only the staff and guests can gather but also people from the neighborhood can have a good time. Other than the charming traditional appearance, the lively bar area is another plus of staying at Toco.
Toco is a Fine Example of the Refinement of a Traditional Japanese House
A century-old house remodeled
Seeing the old house for the first time
Mr. Fujishiro of Backpackers’ Japan told us the story of finding a suitable property, and then reforming it into the guesthouse.
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 site for our CEO,” Mr. Fujishiro tells us. The house survived the bombing of Tokyo during WW2 and all the earthquakes through the decades. Before Backpacker’s Japan turned it into a guesthouse, 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 all 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 guesthouse and the building and garden remain nearly unchanged. At night, the bar fills up with people of different ages and countries of origin that enjoy drinks and having conversations. 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 guesthouse in the back
For example, the bar wall. When looking closely, straw or maybe 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 or company staff as they did their best to keep the charm of the old house while breathing new life into it. Guesthouse Toco was thus born from the ideas of the renovators.
Enjoy the traditional architecture of guesthouse 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 guest rooms with dormitory spaces. On the other side of the Japanese-style room “Ao” is the engawa porch from which the garden can be viewed. The engawa stretches along to the kitchen and sink spaces. There are no doors between the entrance, engawa, kitchen, and sink, creating an open and relaxed space. The wind circulates well and the whole house is filled with fresh and peaceful air.
View of the garden and engawa
A small garden decoration from before the renovation
The glass of the sliding doors that separate the engawa from the garden is warped, showing its age. The glass parts that had been broken in bad weather were replaced with new glass, but its history can still be felt when the view of the garden randomly warps.
Richly colored wood boards and paneling
Toco is also meticulous in its maintenance of the old house. The floors are polished with water that was used to wash rice. This is a traditional method of maintaining lumber. The fat in the rice bran gives the wood a shiny polish. It 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 a symbol 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.
Experience a Welcoming from a Hundred Years Ago
Experience a charming, traditional Japanese house, enjoy drinks with the friendly staff at the bar, and relax in this place where there are no boundaries between different generations, nationalities, ages, or genders. Come to Toco when you want to get away from the neon lights and skyscrapers and relish the respite from sightseeing. It will welcome you with the same form it has had for 100 years.