Sumiya was originally an ageya of Shimabara Yukaku (red-light district).
In 1589, Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI started a yukaku, "Yanagimachi," in Yanaginobanba Nijo, and the first Tokuemon launched the Sumiya business. In 1602, Yanagimachi was abruptly forced to move out, so Sumiya had no choice but to move to Rokujo Misuji machi.
Furthermore, in 1641 Yanagimachi was forced to move again, and the second Tokuemon moved Sumiya to Shimabara, where it is currently located. Sumiya still owns its building in Rokujo Misuji machi (Shinmachi Gojo Kudaru).
The business continued until 1872, when it was incorporated into Ochaya. Its "Matsuno-ma" room was used for banquets until 1985.
In 1952, Sumiya's building was designated as a national important cultural property by the government, based on the fact that it was the only surviving ageya structure that was built when Sumiya moved to Shimabara (except for the Matsuno-ma room, which was destroyed by fire at the end of the Taisho period).
It had been open to the public since 1989, receiving up to 30 visitors a day, and in April 1998 it was opened as SUMIYA, a cultural art museum. As of 2007, the fourteenth family head has succeeded to the family name, and he serves as the museum's head curator. Today, only the first floor is open to the general public. An advance reservation is required in order to see the zashiki on the second floor, considering the planned preservation of damaged portions. Its collection includes as many as 11,000 items.
In the mid-Edo period, haikai (seventeen-syllable verse) became popular in Shimabara, and the head of Sumiya (the seventh head, Haimyo Tokuya) invited Buson YOSA as a teacher of haikai. This museum exhibits "Kohaku Bai Zu" (Red and White Plum Blossoms), which was drawn and left here by Buson, as a national important cultural property. The collection also includes decorated fusuma doors drawn by Okyo MARUYAMA and Yutei ISHIDA in the Tnmei period.
In Bakumatsu, Genzui KUSAKA, Takamori SAIGO and other royalist political reformers called "Kino no Shishi" used Sumiya to hold secret meetings or entertain wealthy merchants for the purpose of fundraising.
Shinsengumi members also enjoyed entertainment here. Particularly, Kamo SERIZAWA's involvement in Sumiya was serious, and his violent behavior here at Sumiya in June 1863 resulted in some sword cuts on the furniture, which can still be seen today. SERIZAWA gave a feast here immediately before he was killed.
A famous long pine tree reminiscent of a reclining dragon, called "Gayumatsu," was once in its compound, but it died and was replaced by another pine, which still exists today.