Nirakuso was the second house of Kozui OTANI, the 22nd chief priest of West Hongan-ji Temple, which he built in Mt. Rokko. It was built in 1909, closed a few years later, and burned down in 1932. It is said that Niraku (two enjoyments) means "Enjoying mountains, enjoying water" and "Enjoying natural landscapes, enjoying education."
The construction of Nirakuso
In 1907, OTANI bought a village-owned mountain commonly called "Mt. Okamoto" in Motoyama Village, Muko County, Hyogo Prefecture (present-day Higashinada Ward, Kobe City) for 150,000 yen (the price at that time). The construction of the main building of Nirakuso began on March 17, 1908 and was completed on September 20 of the following year, one and a half years later. After that, additional buildings were constructed one after another.
The construction of the main building was magnificent and gorgeous; four people - including Kozui, the chief priest, in the central role, Chozaburo UKAI as the supervising construction and design engineer, and others - worked on the design, construction and interior decorations, and spent about 170,000 yen on it. Kozui himself sometimes worked hard as an engineer and a workman. Chuta ITO, a professor at the University of Tokyo who would later design Dendo-in Mission and Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple, gave advice from the beginning of construction. It was described as "a building like no other, unique to this county", and The Osaka Mainichi Daily News at the time headlined it as "Tenno-dai's (heavenly king's hill) spectacular view" in the running story titled "Buddhist Leader Kozui and Nirakuso." Each building of the vast mansion, whose total area was 811,800 sq.m, was constructed on the flat portions of steps excavated from the foot of the mountain. A western-style building for office use and a school building and auxiliary buildings for Muko Middle School (a private school opened in 1911) were built on the step lowest on the foot of the mountain; Nirakuso's main building was built on the middle step, while the highest step, at the mountain's top, held Hakuaden (Ganshui), known as "the white room", a weather station, and Sukakuro, a library and dormitory building. In addition, three cable cars were set up to connect the facilities with each other. It is said that there were cherry trees and cosmos flowers on either side of the cable cars' plank bridges.
The gorgeous design and garden of the main building of Nirakuso
Before Hakuaden was built at the top of the mountain, Kozui conducted most of his activities in the main building. The main building was a two-story wooden house with a basement; it had a dome on the western corner of its red straight roof and it is said that, in appearance, it imitated the architecture of the times of India's Emperor Akbar and the Taj Mahal, which is considered a masterpiece of modern construction. Surprisingly the waste materials of an English trade ship that had sunk off the Kobe coast were used for all of the foundation of the building. This ingenious method of use surprised engineers and reflects Kozui's efforts in design and his intent to cut costs. The internal construction was gorgeous and each room created each country's atmosphere with the architectural style, furniture and fixtures: British room, Chinese room, Arabian room, British large room of the feudal period style, western style bathroom and toilet, and office on the first floor and Indian room, book room with corridor, Egyptian room, western guest room, bed room of the chief priest on the second floor and kitchen and others on the basement.
Also the collections of Otani Expedition were displayed in each country's room of the main building
The Arabian room, which was modeled after the magnificent king's room in Alhambra Palace, was located at the east corner of the main building; the floor had a checkerboard pattern of black and white marble, there was a fountain in the central square pond, and there were pots of begonias and moss varieties. At the next, in the British room there were large beams painted with white clay on the ceiling, strong and simple all British style furniture including tables and chairs and also decorated with horns and skulls of deer and the other animals on the whole wall.
The Indian room coordinated with the appearance of the main building was the room of his wife, Shigeko where was imitated minister's rooms of the times of Emperor Akbar in India and decorated with Indian art, a large elaborate frame of black marble decorated with jewels and a large picture of the Himalayas taken by her. And going through the Egyptian room decorated with Egyptian art and large wall painting s of the Nile and the Pyramids to the south, it was seen the Drosera garden of the south garden from the balcony outside. The drosera garden held flowers cleverly arranged by pattern and color, and the central garden ponds were placed linearly, in traditional Indian style.
The fall of Kozui OTANI and fate of Nirakuso
While there were a lot of problems that the debts of Otani family came into surface because of the large expenses of the temple's projects like the 3rd Otani Expedition and in 1914 Hongan-ji Templea had a corruption scandal suddenly, Nirakuso and Muko Middle School were closed and Kozui OTANI finally resigned as the chief priest of West Hongan-ji Temple and leader of Hongan-ji Temple school in March of the same year
After that, while Kozui OTANI was travelling in China Nirakuso was sold to Fusanosuke KUHARA, a rich man from Osaka living in a luxury house in Sumiyoshi Village (Hyogo Prefecture) whom Kozui had known. It is said that the price was 160,000 yen or 210,000 yen including all the buildings, lands and art objects. Without the owner, Nirakuso went to ruin and the main building got water leakages remarkably and the cable cars was stopped and it was seen landslides everywhere and the rails became very rusty. It was also said that all the decorations of Kozui's study in the Hakuaden was dismantled and it looked very sad.
In 1918, a concrete plan to establish Konan Gakuen Middle School on the land of Tarouemon MASUDA (the Head of Motoyama Village) at the foot of the mountain of Nirakuso was formed. The school took the permission from Fusanosuke KUHARA to reuse the materials of the building belonging to Muko Middle School for a part of the temporary school building and to relocate it. Also the school got the auditorium of Muko Middle School from KUHARA and it was reused as the principal's room, office, and meeting room after repaired temporally. In April 1919the first entrance ceremony of the school was held in the auditorium of Muko Middle School. Fusanosuke KUHARA subsequently became a charter member and joined the school's board of directors of the school; he expressed his intent to offer Nirakuso to the school, but in the end, it didn't happen.
Around 3:30 in October 1932, Nirakuso was burned down by suspicious file where Kozui Otani put their full energy and the temple was led to modernization through the implementation of special education, architecture, horticulture and research and studies like western area expedition. It has been only 25 years since the construction. The heyday was probably too short to be known and most people don't know about the existence of Nikakuso at the present day.