A Brief History of the Tōkyō Masonic Property

Floren L. Quick, PGM Japan

The property where once stood the old Tōkyō Masonic building, and where now stands the complex consisting of a New Tōkyō Masonic Center and Mori Masonic Buildings 38 and 39, has a background so distinctive as to be of interest to all visitors.

The land was once owned by the Hisamatsu family of the Hisamatsu Daimyō, or feudal lord, of Shikoku. This historic family had a mansion as well as a spacious garden lying on the property inasmuch as it was required that they maintain a home in the capital city of Edo, as Tōkyō was then called. Successive Hisamatsu lords made it a custom to alternately reside one year in Edo and one in Shikoku.

In 1928, title to the Hisamatsu estate was handed over to the Tōkyō Suikōsha (Officers Club) of the Japanese Imperial Navy, previously located in the Tsukiji area of downtown Tōkyō. The club moved into the Hisamatsu Mansion and in 1935 built what was in those days an elegant ferro-concrete, 3-story, Western-style building as an annex to the older mansion. This came to be known as the Suikōsha. A Shintō shine was then erected, and carefully located in the corner, so as to preserve the beautiful Japanese garden. In the annex building, one room was especially decorated to receive guests of the Imperial family.

The Suikōsha was used frequently by Admirals Nomura and Commander (later to become JADSF General) Genda, and by other high ranking officers of the Japanese Imperial Navy. Young officers celebrated weddings at the Shintō Shrine in the garden. At the rear of the garden, Sumo wrestling matches were held, and, from time to time, attended by the Emperor of Japan.

It is rumored that, in 1941, the decision to attack Pearl Harbor was reached in the second floor conference room. In World War II, the remains of the highly revered Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Naval Squadrons, Isoroku Yamamoto, laid in state at the Suikōsha, and his funeral procession was started from this building.


Rear view of Tōkyō Masonic Center

Having survived the great Tōkyō air raids, albeit smoke stained, the Suikōsha was used after the war as living quarters for officer personnel of the Occupation Forces until, in 1950, the "Sales Commission for Properties of Dissolved Organizations" of the Japanese Government announced that the Suikōsha property, including 103,972 square feet of land (2.23 acres) and 30,085 square feet of building space, was for sale at a price exceeding two hundred thousand dollars. Soon, negotiations for purchase were begun by the Tōkyō Masonic Lodge, which received subsequent assistance from the Tōkyō Scottish Rite Bodies. Their efforts were to be supported by the issuance of bonds as well as by bank loans, all of which enabled the purchase of the Suikōsha, which was to become the Tōkyō Masonic Building.

The second floor was used for Masonic purposes, including facilities needed by the Grand Lodge of Japan, five Craft Lodges, the Scottish and York Rites, and the Eastern Star, DeMolay, Rainbow and Shrine Club. The remainder of the building housed approximately 50 rent-paying tenants, including the American Chamber of Commerce, the Australian Embassy Annex, a medical clinic, and several private individuals and commercial firms.

To satisfy legal requirements of registration, a corporate body was later formed for charitable purposes and then registered with the Japanese Government under the name of the Tōkyō Masonic Association (Zaidan Hōjin). The new association was governed by a Board of Trustees for which Tōkyō Masonic Lodge and the Tōkyō Scottish Rite Bodies each designated three members. A subordinate corporate body, the Masonic Building Operating Company, Ltd. was also formed to assume the commercial management of the building and land. The By-Laws of the Tōkyō Masonic Association set forth its objectives:

To promote, encourage and practice the true teachings of charity and benevolence; to assist the feeble, to guide the blind, to raise the downtrodden, to shelter the orphan, to support the government, to respect the principles and revere the ordinances of religion; to inculcate morality, to protect chastity and promote learning; to love mankind; and to revere the Supreme Being.

With only property taxes and conventional operating expenses to be paid, and a reduced tax status on earned income, it was possible to embark on extensive charitable projects, such as the donation of an iron lung to the Tōkyō National Hospital, assistance to flood victims, provision of a stipend of one million yen monthly to selected charities, establishment of a ward at St Luke's Hospital for the treatment of crippled children and loans to Masonic Lodges for the construction of temple facilities. A restaurant was operated, and, in 1951, a swimming pool was built for the use of Masons and their families and guests.


Aerial view of Tōkyō Masonic Center

By 1960, it had become apparent that the building, not having been constructed for Masonic purposes, left much to be desired to meet the requirement in form, design and construction of a real Fraternal Center. For a time in 1966, however, the attention of the Board of Trustees was distracted by a court action resulting from a claim laid by some of the property's pre-war tenants to the ownership of the land and building. The outcome of this action was decided when the Tōkyō District Court upheld the Property rights of the Tōkyō Masonic Association.

As the years passed, the age and condition of the building would not allow its rental levels to follow the inflationary spiral of property taxes, wages of employees and other costs. By 1974, property taxes had increased to 20 million yen per year, and were paid only by using monies formerly devoted to charity. The restaurant was closed and the large swimming pool rented out to minimize Association expenses.

To counteract this unfavorable financial situation, the Board of Trustees, after exploring avenues to develop the property to assure that it would pay its way, issued invitations for bid on a plan that provided for a developer to construct a large new office building and provide facilities for Masonic endeavors, without cost to the Association, and ensure income for charitable purposes.

In 1976, a proposal was accepted from a reputable developer. It required purchase of additional land for a rear access to the site but provided a twelve-story building for commercial purposes, at a cost of approximately 10 billion yen (about US$45.5 million). The contract was signed in September 1979, specifying the construction of a commercial annex building in addition to the main structure, as well as a separate facility for Masonic purposes.

After a multitude of details were arranged, the Masonic Bodies moved into a temporary location. The old building was demolished, but not before several items of historical and sentimental value were preserved for the new building, and the thick teakwood handrails of the stairway leading to the second floor had been made into gavels. The Ground Breaking Ceremony was held in December 1980, the Ceremony of Cornerstone-Laying was conducted by the Grand Lodge of Japan in April 1981, and the move to the new Masonic Center was accomplished during September 1981, leaving about six weeks to prepare for this long-awaited Dedication.

Source: Dedication Ceremony Brochure