Sumiya was a typical traditional restaurant Ageya of Shimabara, the former entertainment district of the
Sumiya was a place for well-heeled to come to be entertained. It was an elegant restaurant and pleasure house where banquets and dinner parties were held accompanied by the entertainment of geisha and taiyu (the top level of courtesans), who performed tea ceremonies, sang and danced. There were both ageya and geisha-dwellings Okiya in Shimabara. The geisha and taiyu lived in the Okiya, meaning "storehouse," and were summoned to the ageya, houses of assignation to perform at banquets and dinner parties.
The Cultural and Historical Significance
But to label the Sumiya to a "brothel" is to limit its significance and function. Most of the entertainment was of a very different sort and the women who performed here were not to be bought. Sumiya figures prominently in several phases of Edo Period artistic and political history. During the middle of the Edo Period, this building served as a meeting place and cultural salon where elite and powerful men gathered. great artists, writers and politicians of the day met. It was for example the meeting place of Shimabara Haidan, a well-known haiku group. Many poems were created about Shimabara, and in rememberance of the most famous there are 7 memorial stones scattered about the neighbourhood. It was also a showcase for some of the most talented artists and artisans of the era.
Amazingly, the same Nakagawa family has owned and managed Sumiya for 13 generations, since 1641. In 1787 Sumiya was expanded to about its present scale.
Sumiya is the finest extant example of Edo Period (l603-1868) Ageya architecture: plain on the exterior but sumptuous within; elegant and spacious like palaces of the samurai, but refined and casual like tea rooms. It combines the taste and craftsmanship of the sukiya-tsukuri (Sukiya style) with the elegance of Shoin-tsukuri (Shoin style).The rooms contain artwork by famous artists of the time Maruyama Okyo and Yosa Buson.
From the street, one can see the outside of three rooms on the upper floor, the Ogi no Ma, Suiren no Ma, and Donsu no Ma. It is a two story building roofed with tile, copper plates and shingles. It has three main parts:
- The lattice work exterior and entry way
- The huge, open kitchen
- The interior rooms
The interiors of Sumiya surprise us with their freshness and originality. After passing through the front gate of Sumiya, you first enter a pleasant & large courtyard. Going through a small area where there are storage lockers, you come into the original kitchen and food and drinks preparation area. It is very spacious and has five “stoves” for cooking. Above, slats in the ceiling were used to ventilate the smoke that floated up from the fires. In the foreground, a large tatami area remains. Further in are the rooms for customers. In the rear of the Sumiya there is a gracious garden. Behind it are two teahouses, one with a copper roof, the other thatched. The house contains the characteristics of a traditional house as well as the characteristics of
Sumiya is a precious heritage, retaining the essence of Japanese culture, lightness and the darkness and the decorativeness of