Designed by the prominent firm of Delano and Aldrich, the residence with its tea house and subsidiary buildings sits among landscaped gardens and complements the scale and dignity of its Massachusetts Avenue neighbors.
The embassy is an early example of a building designed especially to meet the needs of an embassy. During the Second World War, the building was taken into the custody of the U.S. Government, and there was no Japanese ambassador to the United States until 1952. The firm of Delano and Aldrich was a popular firm in the early decades of the 20th century and designed such well-known buildings as the Colony and Knickerbocker Clubs in New York City, the School of Music at Smith College, and the 1934 Post Office Building in Washington.
Although emissaries of the Japanese government had been received since 1860, the Japanese legation was not raised to an embassy until 1906 at the suggestion of Theodore Roosevelt. The new residence, completed in 1932, marked a decade of unrest in Japanese-U.S. relations that began when Japan took over Manchuria in October of 1931 and ended in the severance of relations when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. The Ambassador and other Japanese diplomats were sent to internment at Hot Springs, Virginia, and Washington did not have another Ambassador from Japan until 1952.
In 1960 the centennial of relations between the two countries was celebrated, and a teahouse, "Ippakutei," was constructed in commemoration of this event. "Ippakutei" is the name of a combination of characters whose primary meaning "virtue" complements its alternate meaning "one hundredth anniversary." The tea house, designed . by architectural scholar Nahiko Emori, was prebuilt in Japan, dismantled, shipped to the U.S., and reconstructed on its present site on Embassy grounds. The occasion commemorated was the formal opening of U.S.-Japanese relations in May 1860, when Japan's first legation arrived in Washington to exchange ratification of a Treaty of Amity and Commerce.
Built 1931 (Delano & Aldrich, architects)
DC listing November 8, 1964
National Register listing February 20, 1973