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Historical-Virtual Reconstruction of the Historic Garden
of the Italian Embassy in Tokyo


The research project on the historical garden of the Italian Embassy of Tokyo was born in the context of the long history of cooperation between Italy and Japan, strongly supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is conceived as a scientific collaboration between Italian and Japanese institutions such as IRIAE International Institute for Archeology and Ethnology, University of Naples Federico II, Research Center EToS (Edo-Tokyo studies) of the Hosei University of Tokyo. 

The aim of the project is to reconstruct the history of the residence, the transformations of the garden and the structures erected and altered over time by the different owners.


History of the garden

The Italian Embassy of Tokyo is located about 4 km south of the Imperial Palace. The complex has belonged to the Italian government since 1929 and includes the historical garden, whose first setting dates back to the early Edo period, and the official residence, which was built after World War II. The project of the Ambassador residence was sketched by the architects Masachika Murata e Pierfrancesco Borghese in 1959 and approved in 1963. The works began in 1964 and were completed in April 1965. 

In the Edo Period the garden was part of the private residence of Matsudaira Oki no Kami of the Iyo Matsuyama Clan, and is said to have been the site of the seppuku (ritual suicide) of ten Akō samurai. 

The first layout of the garden designed with a pond and the hill is quite unaltered. 

After the Edo Period the residence became part of the possessions of the Meiji government and in the 1878 was bought by Matsukata Masayoshi and became again a private residence. 

Matsukata was twice Prime Minister of Japan and owned the residence for fifty years using the garden for private and official events. Due to some of these events the layout of the garden was altered.

In 1887, a Japanese-style house “Keirokaku” and a waterfall ”Miyuki no Taki" were newly built for the Emperor's visit. In 1906, a Western-style house designed by Josiah Conder was completed, in 1910 Mr. and Mrs. Matsukata celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

While the garden was not severely damaged during the war, the Western-style building was destroyed and the new residence was constructed in 1965.

There are only a few examples of gardens that were once scattered around Edo Castle and its surroundings and have been passed down to the present day along with the architecture. While there have been some achievements in publicizing the historical value of the gardens as well as preservation and restoration, they do not encompass the multifaceted elements of the architecture and city that accepted the gardens; establishment, and there have been few comprehensive research results integrating architecture and urban engineering. Furthermore, the embassies studied in this project have limited access to the outside world, and the results of their surveys and research has been limited to publications for a small, internal circle.


After the construction of the new residence the garden while preserving the original appearance, was altered: 

  • All the buildings that characterized the residence of Matsukata Masayoshi are now completely disappeared 

  • level of water in the pond is changed as result of the modification of the ancient drain system 

  • the vegetation is altered as result of the arbitrary planting of new species imported from everywhere

  • the western boundary of the garden was moved back because the parcel was given in concession to the contractors which constructed the new residence


Research team

To do that, we’ve built a multidisciplinary team of architects, engineers, archeologists, computational and graphic designers. 

  • Experts of history in Japanese architecture from Hosei University are analyzing the landscape architecture and building history of the residence and garden. 

  • Archaeologists from IRIAE are studying the evidence of disappeared structures of which only few traces are preserved in place.

  •  Botanists from Tokyo University of Agriculture are studying the species of plants from an historical perspective. 

  • Computational and graphic designers, supported by the other researchers, are graphically reconstructing the features of the complex throughout the history and will project the musealization of the complex.


Data collecting
Archive research 

Identification and collecting of  existing research and historical documents in Japan and abroad. Because it is critical to collect historical documents not only in Japan but also in Italy.

The first topic is collecting as many archive documentation:

  • historical maps

  • literary sources 

    • Bibliographical references

    • Meji Emperor records

    • Letters and archive documents


  • graphic sources 

    • Paintings 

    • Drawings

    • Architectural project drafts 

    • Photos


Topographic surveys 

A topographic survey will be made using a 3d laser scan in order to  locate all surface features of a property, and depicts all natural features and elevations. In essence it is a 3-dimensional map of a 3-dimensional property showing all natural and man-made features and improvements. Specifically, it shows their location, size, height and any changes in elevation.

The general survey will be made by EToS has a team of experts in architecture, urban engineering, and landscape architecture who specialize in Edo Tokyo, and it has accumulated a large amount of research results since its inception in 2017 (for more information, please visit Archeological surface surveys and excavation  

The archeological field work will be structured in 3 phases.

The first consists in  a series of surface surveys to identify the visible remains of structures or the emergence of artifacts. The activity is suitable  to determine the areas of future stratigraphic excavation.

The second work phase is focused on the structures identified and consist in the removal of vegetation and topsoil  in order to expose all the elements and layers where it is possible to identify even negative traces of wooden structures as post holes.  This activity is suitable to make a detailed survey of the archeological  evidence and elaborate the first planimetry of the state of the places.

The last phase is the stratigraphical  excavation that will be carried out in the most interesting point and will be finalized to collect data on the history of the garden.

3D scanning and photogrammetry of archeological evidence 

3D scanning is the process of capturing a real-world object or environment to collect data on its shape and appearance (e.g. color). It converts physical objects into digital models, collecting its state of the art. 

Photogrammetry is the process for gathering measurements and data of a real-world object or environment through the use of photographs.

The collected data in its first phase is represented by a “point cloud”. A point cloud is a discrete set of data points in space, which can also contain other values (e.g. color, normals).

The point cloud can be used to obtain a “3D mesh”, a collection of vertices, edges, and faces that describe a 3D object continuously.

An iPad Pro 12,9” 4th generation equipped with a LiDAR sensor is used with the software SiteScape to collect the point clouds of most of the archeological evidence found on site.

Reflex cameras are used to capture photographs of the objects of interest by different viewpoints and angles to complement the LiDAR data when necessary.

Botanic analysis

. Tokyo University of Agriculture, on the other hand, has a wealth of experience in surveying gardens and has conducted surveys and research on cultural heritage gardens in Japan, producing numerous results, particularly in conservation and restoration. Basing of autoptic analysis the botanist will identify the species of plants  in order to recognize and virtually restore the original vegetation of the garden.

Analysis of the water system

Study and analysis of the pond water supply and drain  that support rainwater harvesting, as well as research and design of water environment systems. 

Measurement of the site rainwater infiltration capacity, clarification of the rainwater system, and spring water exploration. Identification of issues with the garden's current maintenance, such as seawall erosion caused by ambiguity in the pond's water level setting and the possibility that the rainwater system is not functioning properly.

In addition to the surveying and group results, which were the project's original main goals, the following additional items requiring investigation were clarified: the waterfall portion of the pond was likely fed by the Tamagawa Josui Water Supply, eaves round tiles were discovered that were likely used in Edo period architecture, and the unique ecosystem that remains in and around the pond was clarified.

Data elaboration and interpretation 


All the material collected, in particular the archive sources and the archeological evidence, give only a partial sight of the history of the complex and in general and individually are incomplete and  not reliable enough. Only by combining data collected by the different work teams is it possible to clarify the history and features of the garden and its monuments.

Collecting the data acquired by the work teams we will elaborate a multilayer information system, where all the aspects of the research will be merged. The main phases of this process, in no particular order,  will be:


  • Elaboration of an historical planimetry of the garden that has to contain all the information acquired on field, represented by a CAD drawing;

  • Elaboration of parametric 3D models using Rhinoceros 3D and its plugin Grasshopper, allowing to make instant changes and adjustments to the model, trying to achieve a model as similar, reliable and comparable to the collected reference data as possible;

  • Virtual reconstruction of all the historical structures in the garden and their location changes over time;

  • Understanding and virtual reproduction of the technology and construction features of the structures in the garden;

  • Validation of the produced drawings and the 3D models through a comparison between them and the collected materials;

  • Study and analysis of the archaeological finds collected during the excavations in order to date back the structure and reconstruct the history of the site;

  • Development of an information system capable of containing all of the mentioned elaborations and allowing an easy and streamlined exhibition of the produced material either for research purposes or open musealization to the public.


Publication and dissemination

The final goal of the project is the dissemination of the scientific contents creating a virtual visit of the historical garden based on the alternance of real places and virtual information accessible through different devices. The findings of each team's research will be shared in this second phase, and future developments will be discussed. Several online workshops will be held before and after the symposium to gather a wide range of knowledge. Finally, an international public symposium will be held in Tokyo, to present results and gather diverse perspectives.

In the perspective of musealization, we’ll provide the visit path of a very innovative approach to the historical monument which is, normally, limited by a linear path. Thanks to our approach, based on the hypertextual logic typical of the web user, the visit to the garden will be dynamic.

As in the internet web the hypertext allows extensive cross-referencing between related sections of text and associated graphic material, the complex of the Italian Embassy includes a series of sites (artifacts and monuments) visible or disappeared. 

Activating internal and external links from the objects that surround the visitors, they will be able to access related contents and to deepen any different aspects of the visit (architecture, botanic, archaeology, geology, hydraulics, urban history, local history) and to have sights of the garden through different epochs thanks to virtual reconstructions of missing monuments and altered landscape (augmented reality).

Equipping the garden with different hardware (QR code, sensors etc.), it will be transformed in a walkable website and the visit path will be converted in a hyper-path, in which the visitors will be completely free from any restriction, being able to customize their visit on the base of their needs and their interests.  

Scientific Director: Dr. Ivan Varriale

Collaborations: CMMKM

Partners: Hosei University, Hosei University Research Center for Edo-Tokyo Studies (EToS)

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