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Higurashi Villa Memorial Museum

A Meiji-period villa housing a museum documenting Sumitomo’s efforts to combat pollution.

Higurashi Villa Memorial Museum

Higurashi Villa Memorial Museum is a Western-style house on a hill in Niihama known as Mt. Hoshigoe. The former Higurashi Villa, which was originally located on Shisaka Island in the Seto Inland Sea, was relocated to Mt. Hoshigoe, where there was a mineral processing plant on the Shikoku side with a distant view of Shisaka Island.

Style

The Higurashi Villa, designed by Noguchi Magoichi, a leading architect of the Meiji era, is considered a representative example of Meiji architecture. Noguchi designed it shortly after returning from studying in England, where he was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement that flourished there at the end of the 19th century associated with William Morris. The stylish pattern reminiscent of the cross section of a fruit carved on the main pillar of the stairs reflects this influence. However, the use of cedar bark on some of the walls is a distinctly Japanese touch. The house has Western-style features that were rare at the time, including tall sash windows, casement windows, fireplaces and chimneys, and atriums. The foundations use bricks made of slag from the smelter.

On the first floor is an entrance hall, reception room, dining room, solarium, office, and toilet. On the second floor are exhibitions on Sumitomo’s history and philosophy, the history of overcoming smoke pollution, and the history of copper refining and memories of Shisaka island.

History

The Sumitomo Sōbiraki Smelter started operations in 1888 on the Niihama coast, but sulphur dioxide in smoke from the smelter caused rice growing in the fertile plains of Niihama to wilt. In the face of protests from farmers, the Sumitomo family moved its copper smelting base to Shisaka Island and started full-scale operations in 1905. However, the winds over the island only spread the smoke further, causing more diffuse but just as serious damage. The following year, in 1906, Sumitomo Tomoito, the 15th owner of the Sumitomo business, built a Western-style villa, designed by Noguchi Magoichi, in a high place overlooking the smelter on Shisaka Island as a manifestation of his determination to overcome the problem of smoke pollution. The Shisakajima Smelter was designed by Shiono Monnosuke. In developing his ideas for the smelter, he would sit all day until sundown at a site overlooking where it would be built. People called this place “higurashi”, meaning ”nightfall”, and later, this is where Higurashi Villa was constructed. A tall chimney was built in 1924, but ultimately the solution was to extract the sulphur from the smoke, using it to make acid. The smoke pollution was finally resolved in 1939.

The Besshi Copper Mine closed in 1973, and Shisaka Island also shifted to businesses, becoming uninhabited in 1977. After that, the island was home only to Sumitomo manufacturing facilities, and Higurashi Villa could only be seen from afar. In the more than 110 years that passed since the villa was built, it suffered noticeable deterioration, so the Sumitomo Group decided to relocate the building to Mt. Hoshigoe, which was chosen to mimic the high location on the island.

From 2016, it took two and half years to move the villa to its current location. The Japanese-style extension added in 1937 was not relocated. Ninety-five percent of the original material was used, with each part including the floorboards being restored to exactly the same position. It was opened to the public in 2018 as the Higurashi Villa Memorial Museum.

Viewing platform

Located at the highest point on the hills about 150 m from the villa is a viewing platform. A circle of slag bricks with a diameter of 9.7 m indicates the size at the bottom of the 64 m tall chimney completed in 1924 Shisaka Island as one of the measures to prevent smoke damage. To the north you can see Niihama and Shisaka Island, and to the south, the Akaishi Mountains, where the Besshi Copper Mine was located.

Information

Name in Japanese: 日暮別邸記念館

Pronunciation: higurashi bettei kinenkan

Address: 1-11 Ojicho, Niihama, Ehime 792-0008

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