It’s been 3 months since my exploration of an unusual haikyo house ignited a whole heap of discussion. Since then, several major haikyoists have figured out the location and documented the site, and the shrewd people over on 2ch have been slowly picking away at the mystery surrounding the family. But with the the location recently disclosed, I had to make haste to gather the final pieces of the puzzle…
It was just a few days ago. Somebody violated the unwritten haikyo law that one should never post links to maps or give out obvious details about a location. This is especially so for places like the Royal House haikyo, which contains a treasure-trove of old, historical artefacts and personal items left behind. I always knew that it was just a matter of time before somebody leaked the place, but I didn’t expect it to come in such an audacious way… So with time now against me, I decided to visit the house one last time, seek out any remaining evidence and try to solve this mystery once and for all.
Chasing Down the Ghosts of the Past
The first break came through from my pal Jordy over at Meow.fr. He had been busy piecing together his own version of events. With the help of a Japanese friend of his, he figured out the location to the temple where the K family were buried. Not content with just snapping some photos of the family grave, he also talked to the temple priest and got some extremely valuable information about the family that we’d been lacking so far. Not one to be left behind, I wanted to visit the temple myself and talk to the same priest to hear the story, so I shot off to Tokyo almost immediately.
I first visited the family grave where both Sugiko and John are buried in order to pay my respects. It was almost surreal to find it after all the research and exploration. People I never knew personally but now know so much about and their colourful lives. It felt strange, but oddly, the right thing to do. After placing a coin on the stone in front, I went to talk to the priest.
They were very surprised at my visit (almost mistaking me for the same Jordy visiting again!) but I managed to break down their initial barriers and we got to talking. I took a leaf out of Crime Reporter Jake Adelstein‘s book and thanked them for their time with a small gift; building trust and good relationships with people is key to being a good reporter. I only gave them some strawberries I bought locally, but everything went well and it was fantastic to make my first real attempt at journalism.
First I discussed the family with the son of the temple priest. He was initially nervous (and rightly so), but with some small talk and showing my enthusiasm (as well as the book about the Foundation that I had procured), he agreed to help. Afterwards I got to chat with the chief priest himself (住職) who knew the family well. He was able to give me dates for the deaths of a couple of members in the family as well as some invaluable back-story to Hotel Okura, two of the sisters and the old house itself. Together, we developed a hypothesis as to why the countryside retreat may have become abandoned and also a potential explanation about the curious final words made by the original finder of this haikyo – Kaede-san. If you recall, he said he “felt that I’d learned something I’d prefer not to have known.” What could this be..?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here! Let’s start by clearing up some of the doubt and getting a few facts straight.
According to the chief priest, there were 5 children in the K family. The eldest brother Junji, the eldest sister Kiyomi and Sugiko are sure facts. The other two are still a little vague – there is another younger sister, possibly Kiyoko (but I can only guess from a name I found on other postcards in the house) and also a younger son (Masahiro) who died at a very young age. Those following the mystery on 2ch put his age to be 4 years old and there are plaques and other materials that support the idea that the family lost a young son.
Sugiko as we know married John, the millionaire pearl dealer from the U.K who established his own business and huge charitable foundation that still exists today.
(Above: Sugiko’s husband John)
He lived his life with her in Tokyo, in a house very close to the Hotel Okura. They were frequent visitors of the hotel so much so that the hotel staff often asked them for help and advice on how to best treat foreign guests.
(Above: John at his Tokyo abode)
Sugiko herself was a regular patron at the Hotel and spent almost all of her time there in the later years. She was known as Mrs. J (her surname changing after marriage) – something which is documented on a blog written by an ex-member of staff. According to the chief priest, she received monthly payments from John as much as 2,000,000 yen (about 20,000 pounds on the old exchange rate of 1 pound to 200 yen). One blank cheque found in the house from John – although not written to Sugiko – shows just how wealthy he was.
She was well loved by the staff at Hotel Okura and also well cared for by John, who everyone I have spoken to has said was a generous and very kind person.
(Above: A young Sugiko)
I visited the Hotel Okura myself to ask a few questions. According to staff, it seems that Sugiko spent a lot of her time there, so it is reasonable to assume that she did not travel everywhere with John and perhaps had periods of time alone. But with photos of the numerous parties she attended, I think she probably enjoyed her luxurious life. Temple documents note that Sugiko died 19th November 1997, aged 78 years (born 1919).
I had inklings about Sugiko and John, but knew nothing about other members of the family. It turns out that Junji, the man with the stylish round glasses is not the father of the family – he is the eldest brother. I had completely assumed that he was the dad judging from his older appearance, but both the chief priest’s story and letters sent from Sugiko to Junji’s address at the house bearing the title 兄上様 confirm that he was indeed the older brother.
(Above: Junji wearing his distinctive glasses)
So we know that he lived at the house, but how do we know that Junji is the man with the distinctive glasses? There are at least two clues. In the house, there is a suit hanging up in the back bedroom with the K family surname sewn into the inner pocket. Also, there is a box containing the very glasses that we see him wearing in so many of the photos. It is not hard evidence, but with all the supporting pieces, it seems highly likely. I did not get a date from the chief priest on Junji’s death, but the observant Mr. 252 on 2ch who visited the house claims he found a memorial speech from the funeral dating it to be 1982.
It is unclear what Junji did for work, but a picture including him with a group of men and women wearing business suits and a postcard addressed to him from Hatoyama Ichiro (ex Prime Minister of Japan) suggest he was important. Interestingly, the postcard I found is different to the one Ruins Rider found on his visit.
Next then, Kiyomi. According to the chief priest, Kiyomi lived together with her brother at the house (letters addressed to both siblings can be found inside) and both remained unmarried their entire lives. Kiyomi wore kimonos very often and, as it turns out, she was the older sister of the family. I had originally been thinking that Sugiko was the eldest, but the two dates I acquired from the temple confirm otherwise; Kiyomi passed away on 22nd November 2003, aged 91 years (born 1912 – 7 years before Sugiko). But how to tell her apart in the pictures..? There are a couple of clues I’ve found that suggest she is the elder looking lady whom I originally thought might be the family’s mother.
(Above: Kiyomi, aged 36 years)
How can this be?? Surely the younger looking lady in the dinner party pictures is Kiyomi? It seems not. Flipping the photograph over, we can read this:
The date reads: 13th August 1947 and the age – 36. This exactly matches Kiyomi’s birth date. Furthermore, if we look at pictures from Sugiko and Kiyomi’s last years, we find that the lady in the picture above matches an elderly Kiyomi.
(Above: Sugiko and Kiyomi in their final years at Hotel Okura)
The chief priest tells me that Kiyomi lived at the hotel too, but only in the last years of her life after John had passed away in New York in 1991. (According to the priest’s wife, John died from a heart attack as he was exiting a swimming pool.) It seems to be the case that she was alone after her brother has passed away, and with Sugiko a widow, the two spent their last years together on floor 2 of Hotel Okura. Letters posted to Kiyomi at the Hotel Okura confirm this.
After Kiyomi’s death, her belongings were sent back to the house and remain there, piled up by the front door. Old letters and photos, as well as a rather shocking sight hidden amongst them. I suppose the hotel did have to send *everything* back…
So what then of the two remaining siblings? The younger brother is perhaps the easier of the two to work out. Masahiro died very young (the cause of which I do not yet know). We can find a small plaque in the house bearing his name as well as funeral documents and photos of a baby. In the picture below, Kiyomi is holding the child I believe to be Masahiro. It is the same child whose picture is in the alcove along with other deceased members of the family.
(Above: Kiyomi and Masahiro)
Interestingly, neither Sugiko nor Kiyomi’s pictures are displayed in the alcove although their brother Junji’s picture is. But this makes sense when we think about the order in which they died – Junji passed away first and then Kiyomi went to live with Sugiko at Hotel Okura around the time John passed away. Presumably Kiyomi in her old age was not maintaining the countryside house or the family pictures in the alcove. Remember, too, that the date on a calendar in the house read 1988 – after Junji’s death but before John and Sugiko’s passing. It seems reasonable to assume that Kiyomi was still living in the house after Junji’s death in 1982 but not when Sugiko passed away.
The final child is still somewhat of a mystery to me. I have no solid names, but Kiyoko seems to be a possibility. There were postcards in the house addressed to her living in Tokyo.
The chief priest did give me some very interesting information about her however. It seems that she married and changed her name to match her husband’s – the N family. It is possible that she may still be living, considering that she was the youngest sister, but neither I nor the temple have any dates to hand. Because she married into another family, her records are no longer with the K family temple. The chief priest also tells me that no-one from the K family has visited the temple for years, which leads me to think that there are no relatives living with the K family name.
One picture did catch my attention though. The people on 2ch again surprised me with a fantastic observation – a woman at one of Hotel Okura’s parties is wearing a wedding ring! It is probably not Kiyomi because the chief priest told me that she never married (although we cannot rule out his being mistaken), so might it perhaps be the missing sister Kiyoko? And is that her husband standing behind her..?
(Above-right: Possibly Kiyoko and her husband..?)
The chief priest offered to try and dig out her phone number for me, but they were pressed for time and I wasn’t sure she would appreciate people asking questions. She would certainly have known about the house her siblings lived in and must have her reasons for not visiting or maintaining it. Apparently at one point somebody tried to sell the countryside house, but for various reasons unknown, it did not go well. Mrs. N is certainly a potential route for inquiry though…
By answering some questions, we open the door to many more. Although we have figured out most of the main details regarding the children, their parents – and especially the father figure – remain elusive. That isn’t to say that there are no leads however, but they are still hazy. Let’s take a look.
Upon asking the chief priest about the K family parents, he regrettably told me that he knows very little about them. However, another name found in the house – Kuwa – is interesting. The postcards bearing her name are much older.
(Above: Kuwa, the mother of the family)
I couldn’t make much sense of it while in the house, but once again Mr. 252 from 2ch came through with gold:
252 ：以下、VIPにかわりましてパー速民がお送りします [sage]：2011/01/29(土) 21:29:51.00 ID:CiegDfmx0
まず、肖像画のお婆さんの名前はひらがなで「く○」さんです。蚕のエサと同じ読みです。昭和４０年に亡くなっています。同年１１月６日に７７日忌が淳○さ ん喪主で行われました。これは弔辞が残っていたのでそれで確認しました。あの肖像画は日付（細かいところはよく読めないが昭和４０年？）から言って亡く なったころに描かれたものと言えそうです。同サイズの複製画もありましたので親族に配ったのかもしれません。ちなみに親族関係は淳○さんの母です。また、 ママさんとＳ子さんの葉書にあった呼び名、それはこのお婆さん、即ち「く○」さんです。
To summarise, Kuwa died in 1965 (we can tell this from a message of condolence found in the house). Junji held the ceremony in the same year on 6th November for Kuwa, his mother. It is the same woman who is in the painting, likely created during the last years of her life.
There were actually two paintings in the house – perhaps the other was to be sent to relatives. I also found a postcard in the house written by Sugiko in 1960 reading ‘Mother’. Combined with other pictures of the old lady around the countryside retreat, it seems that she may have lived in the house with her children at some point.
Currently, there isn’t much more information than that. Hopefully we’ll see additions in the future.
The father, now this is a real mystery. Especially so when I found this shocking photograph hidden away in a box:
Here we see the family: Sugiko on the right, Junji behind her, Kiyomi on the left with a mystery man behind. Kuwa is sitting next to the figure who is missing from the photo and two mystery children are in front. There were a couple of other pictures with a person cut out as well. I can only assume from the position in the picture that it is the father. Or could it be John..? What happened that caused someone to butcher these photos? And who cut the person out? Kiyomi or Junji? Perhaps even Kuwa when she lived in the house..?
Information on the father is extremely limited, so I must continue with mere guesswork, but a couple of pictures struck me. Below the family seem to be enjoying themselves on the beach.
Another very old picture shows what looks to be the same man on a horse:
My research has led me to believe that the father’s name is Masaki and that he was involved in the cinema world. There were many postcards in the house addressed to this man and a business card below. He was the proprietor of a cinema in Tokyo and involved in many other activities. Whether or not the man above is Masaki or even the father of the family is unknown, but it’s my best guess so far, assuming the other information about the 5 children and lack of marriages is correct.
There are a few more interesting photos that I cannot place, but that may be of use to other people trying to piece things together. I’ve included them for reference.
The mysterious picture shows four gentlemen, one of which is a member of the K family, aged 26. Is it Junji perhaps..?
Another item found amongst the photos. Perhaps a friend of the family? He looks an awful lot like Junji though, but the name is different…
There’s also this picture, which may show Torinosuke, a possible son of the family sitting with Junji. Or perhaps he is Junji’s son? I can only go by the information the temple gave me, which was that Junji never married and there were 5 children in the family. Perhaps Junji had a son outside of marriage? Perhaps the chief priest’s information is wrong? I have no idea.
(Above: Junji and possibly Torinosuke?)
That about sums up the information I’ve been able to gather about the family John married into. There are still gaping holes and plenty of unconfirmed things, but the story now feels a lot fuller than it did a few short weeks ago. But still, what happened at the end..?
Browsing through my photos and reading the latest ideas on 2ch, I came across something rather striking. In a large majority of the photos, a particular couple always appear together. The pictures range from funeral photos to parties and both the man and woman can be found in separate pictures. I wonder, could this be the missing daughter (Kiyoko, perhaps?) who married into the N family? (Click on the image to see it full size).
But wait, there’s more! I also found 2 references of the N family name that the chief priest had told me! Both are in funeral pictures, including one picture in the collection above which has a couple who look very similar to the other pictures. Perhaps this is the N family? The N family name plaque is also very close to the altar – the same proximity as John’s who we know married a daughter of the K family. If we follow that logic, the N family plaque must be important and close to the altar for similar reasons.
The large version of the funeral photograph (Junji’s funeral, perhaps?)
Above is Kuwa’s funeral. We can clearly see the start of the N family name on a plaque (I have removed one of the characters). The second character is the same as the first in the K family name.
Another photograph of the same man visiting the family grave.
The shot above shows the couple on their wedding day – a photograph from Hotel Okura.
Finally, a business card bearing Torinosuke’s name. Interestingly, the second character is different from the K family name, although it has the same reading! If this were a letter, I would assume it had been mis-written. But this is a business card – surely there would not be a mistake..? Also, the first character of the first name is slightly different to what I have seen on other sites. Perhaps this is a different person altogether..? It seems to close to be coincidence though. So what does this mean? Is Torinosuke not a family of the K family after all? Or did the K family name change at some point?
So why did the house become abandoned and end up as it has? Nothing is perfectly clear, but my theory is this: Sugiko received monthly payments from John who in turn, shared the money with her family. As far as I have learnt, Kiyomi did not work and with her brother having passed away in 1982, she would have had to finance her house somehow. I think that money from Sugiko was, at least in part, used for this. After John died, Sugiko likely still received payments as his wife. Kiyomi moved to Hotel Okura in her old age and also to keep her sister company, but after Sugiko passed away in 1997, Kiyomi was left without a source of income, and could not easily finance the countryside house nor afford to stay in luxury at Hotel Okura. She was forced to go and live in an old-person’s home during her last years.
This – and the death of the younger brother – seems to me to be the tragedy in the K family life; a sudden fall from luxury due to the death of their benefactor and kind in-law, John. This is of course my own hypothesis and not a fact, but with the story told to me by the chief priest and the note in the book I acquired stating that “John, during his life, had provided that all his resources should – at his death – pass to the Foundation, and Mr. G found himself charged with the business of seeing this carried out” (p32), it seems likely that the money supporting the remaining members of the K family may have dried up. With no K family relatives and no income to support the luxury they once knew, the countryside house fell into ruin.
As far as I can tell, there are no blood connections to royalty. Why then, have the title ‘Royal House’? I suspect this was conjured up by the first explorers who visited and found the picture of Emperor Hiohito’s family and other artefacts. The pictures of Queen Elizabeth are also very unusual, as are the postcards from ex-Prime Minister Hatoyama Ichiro. There can be no mistaking that this family was very well off and John was undoubtedly a huge part of that, but even without blood ties to royalty, I feel the nature of this family and the lifestyle they lived certainly merits an aristocratic, if not royal image.
(Above: A lone pearl found in the house. It appears to have been broken off another piece of jewellery.)
Respecting the Past
When I first visited this house, I treated it much the same as any other haikyo. It was an abandoned building hidden in a mountain forest that happened to be so well concealed that it was virtually untouched. When I arrived at the house recently for my third and final time, I found it in a far worse state than before. My fears had been proved correct and the recent exposure of the location has directly led to the state of disarray the rooms were now in. I’ve said many times when writing about haikyo that I do not give out locations for this very reason. Japan is a relatively tame country for Urban Exploration in that explorers generally respect locations and the items inside far more than I’ve seen in most U.K ruins. It is much safer to visit them and people are friendly. But even here, it seems some people do not respect the property.
Photos were strewn all over the floor of the back room, bags emptied out and draws left hanging wide open. The black box containing scrolls and other items were left in a mess by the side of it, as if somebody had left in the middle of looking through the old materials. We couldn’t believe it. It hardly takes a lot of time to put the photos back and keep the place as it was found. Fortunately, the main room and photos were still intact and no damage has been done. After we’d finished looking through the last of the documents, we tidied the rooms up and put things back to how we first found them. I doubt it will last long, but I couldn’t stand seeing the place in such a state.
Some of you have also questioned me in the comments about the issues involved in exploring such a building. I have the utmost respect for the family and their past. This haikyo has taken me by surprise in its unusual nature, the links to royalty and deep family history. It took a hold of me, even pushing me to order books from the U.K and visit the temple where the family was buried in order to learn more about their history.
Is this an invasion of personal privacy? Doesn’t the house still have an owner who would be angry? Arguably this could be true. I cannot be completely sure that all remaining relatives have passed away, but to the best of my knowledge they have. There are also ethical issues about posting information about people who are deceased. Should I also not report the location to a local historical society? After understanding more about the family, I am not sure that is the right thing to do, or that it would help in any way. As well-off as this family was, they don’t appear to have any blood ties to royalty or a place in a museum. Nor can I be sure that is what they would have wanted any more than I can be sure of this post. But I feel I should do something… Perhaps it is a discussion that should be had on 2ch and other messageboards..?
I am not a relative or even a person of worthy standing to be documenting their life, but merely a curious explorer who has become entwined in this family tale. I of course have feelings of guilt and frequently face the moral dilemmas involved with such a hobby, but I bear them in the knowledge that I do not harbour any malicious intent. I am careful in what I choose to expose and react to the situation as best I can. Although this hardly absolves me of my responsibility, perhaps it can go some way to explaining my desire to write and research about this small portion of history.
When I step back and think about the whole experience, I feel I perhaps may have done a little bit of good in talking about the family. The K family existed. John had a life in Tokyo with wonderful people that was never even expressed in the official book about him. The family had numerous business connections abroad, including trading pearls with India. Junji loved cats and honoured their passing with a place on the Buddhist altar.
These people mattered and deserve to be remembered. If I have contributed to that even in just a small way, I will feel happy.
I will continue to update this article with information and facts as they become available and also welcome your honest comments below. It’s been quite a ride but in some ways considerably more satisfying than a simple haikyo exploration. I’d like to thank all the other bloggers who have contributed to the research so far and to the team on 2ch, whose analytical skills never cease to amaze me. I hope the K family and their relatives are resting in peace. Thank you for reading.