TOKYO >> For eight years, the official residence of the most powerful person in Japan has stood vacant.
Three months after his appointment, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has not yet moved into his new home, located next to the Prime Minister’s Office building.
Instead, he makes a three-minute commute from his unit in the Diet members’ residential building, where he has lived for many years.
There are stories that ghosts haunt the residence, which was the site of an attempted military coup in 1932, followed by a deadly shooting in 1936.
Though many government officials have recommended Suga move into the home for security and crisis response, he has shown no intention to do so.
When asked right after becoming prime minister whether he would move into his official home, Suga avoided the issue.
“Regardless of whether I live in the official residence, I will work to ensure there are no oversights in the government’s crisis management,” he replied.
The official residence is a four-story, 75,350-square-foot concrete building where prime ministers live free of charge. In addition to its function as a home, the building also includes an office and a hall for guests, which can be used for hosting official dinners when other world leaders visit Japan.
Since his inauguration in September, Suga had his first phone conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping from the official residence.
Though it remains largely unoccupied, about $1.5 million is appropriated annually for its operation and maintenance.
The residence, built in 1929, once served as the Prime Minister’s Office building. It was repurposed to replace an older residence that had suffered decay.
After extensive renovations, the new official residence opened its doors in April 2005.
When it opened as the Prime Minister’s Office, it was the first central government building reconstructed after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.
On the roof, sculptures of four attentive owls keep watch over the four directions.
In Roman mythology, the owl is a symbol of wisdom and is regarded a divine messenger of the goddess Minerva. And because owls are nocturnal, the building’s owls are meant to keep vigil throughout the night.
During its time as the Prime Minister’s Office, the building accommodated a total of 42 prime ministers over 73 years, from Giichi Tanaka to Junichiro Koizumi.
The building was a venue for historic moments. In 1971, it was the site of a signing ceremony that returned Okinawa Prefecture to Japan. In 1978, a ceremony for the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China was held inside its walls.
But the building was not immune to tragedy.
In 1932, then-Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was shot to death in an attempted military coup known as the May 15 Incident. Just four years later, Prime Minister Keisuke Okada’s brother-in-law was shot to death in what is now called the February 26 Incident.
Because of such events, rumors persist of ghosts haunting the official residence.
So far, seven prime ministers have lived in the building, but no one has lived there since Yoshihiko Noda stepped down in 2012.