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British Embassy Villa Memorial Park

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Retrace the steps of British ambassadors in Japan since the 19th century and enjoy a taste of the UK.

Situated on the shores of Lake Chuzenji in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, this former British ambassadors’ summer house provides insight into a by-gone era where grandeur was the order of the day for diplomats who retreated here from Tokyo’s intense heat.

Rise of the Nikko retreat

The 460 square metre two-storey building was constructed in 1896 as the personal summer house for Sir Ernest Satow, a British diplomat who exerted a significant influence on the Meiji Restoration that led to huge changes in Japan’s political and social structure. He enjoyed being amid the lush, verdant mountains and experiencing the fresh breeze from the lakeside location.

Satow first visited nearby Okunikko, the lesser known part of Nikko, in 1872. He fell in love with the area and, three years later, released a book called Nikko Guide. He began the trend of relocating from Tokyo to Nikko for the summer months, which was continued by a number of British diplomats before the villa was handed over to the city in 2008.

Museum and eatery

Today, the property showcases Satow’s life and Okunikko as well as highlights of British culture from Satow’s time, the Victorian period. The ground floor has two exhibition rooms full of interesting artefacts.

On the upper floor is a small restaurant serving British high tea and light meals. With a spacious veranda stretching the length of the building, it’s a perfect spot to sip a cup of English breakfast tea and enjoy a scone while taking in incredible views of Lake Chuzenji. “As beautiful as a painting,” was how Satow described the scene.

Summer is a great season to visit for respite from the heat of Japan’s towns and cities. But autumn is also recommended as trees in the valley surrounding the lake turn gold, orange and deep red.

Getting there

This hidden treasure is nearly two hours by train north of Tokyo. JR and Tobu lines run from various parts of the capital to Nikko Station. From there, take a Tobu Bus for Chuzenji Onsen where you alight. The Villa Memorial Park is a 30-minute walk from the bus stop.

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