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Historical Biographies
Name:Josiah Conder (1852-1920) 
Added to JGarden11/11/2001 
Last Updated12/31/2002 
DescriptionOf the many Western architects invited to Japan during the Meiji period, Josiah Conder had perhaps the greatest impact. A graduate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, where he was a pupil of William Burges. Conder was awarded the institute's prestigious Soane Prize in 1876 in recognition of his talent and potential.

The 25-year old English architect, Josiah Conder, arrived in Japan in 1877 (Meiji 10), responding to an invitation from the Japanese government to take a teaching position at the 'Technical College'. He served concurrently as professor of architecture at the Imperial College of Engineering, and as consultant to the Building and Repair Division of the Ministry of Public Works. This was a time period in which experts were being brought to Japan from all over the world to train the young people of Japan and thereby accelerate the process of industrialization. Conder was to stay in Japan for the rest of his life, training many of the individuals who would become the leaders of modern Japanese architecture. While teaching, he practiced architecture and became deeply involved in the study of Japanese culture, in particular painting, gardens and ikebana.

While his accomplishments as a painter are no longer remembered, he advanced to the level where he was allowed take on his sensei, Kawanabe Gyosai's (1831-89) pseudonym, Gyoei and received prizes in art competition.

Between 1878 and 1907, Conder designed over 50 major Western-style buildings in Tokyo. These included the Tokyo Imperial Museum in Ueno (1881), the largest brick building in Japan of its day, the Kaitakushi Bussan Urisabakijo (1881), a marketplace for selling produce from Hokkaido.

RokumeikanConder is perhaps best known in Japan for his design of the 'Rokumeikan' (lit. 'Deer Cry Pavilion'), completed in 1883 after a 3 year construction process. The building was very important in the development of a Japanese architectural tradition that combined elements of both the native culture and Western ideas. The building also represents the culmination of the early Meiji government's aspirations to be considered as one among equals with the Western powers. With increasing numbers of foreign dignitaries visiting Japan in the late 1800s, the Meiji government needed to provide adequate accommodation for them. Initially it had mainly used the Enryokan (also known as the Hamago). The Rokumeikan replaced them and became extremely important as a symbol of Japan's modernization process.

Conder built in a variety of styles, ranging from Gothic to Renaissance to Tudor to Moorish, contributing to the progressive, eclectic appearance of Meiji period architecture while suggesting he was struggling to find a suitable idiom for Japan. For example, the Tokyo Imperial Museum showed Islamic Indian influence, the Kaitakushi building Victorian Gothic tendencies, and the Rokumeikan English Renaissance tastes.

The Meiji administration, however, was seeking a more mainstream European style and Conder's approach proved a little too wide-ranging, and he left his position with the government after a few years, although he continued to serve as an advisor. He went into private practice in 1888 with commissions that included the first Mitsubishi building in the redbrick Marunouchi district of Tokyo (1894), the residence in Yushima for Hisaya Iwasaki (1896) and the Mitsui Club in Mita, used by the Mitsui family for entertaining (1913). Like the long lines of Japanese architects before him and Frank Lloyd Wright later, he paid full attention to interiors as well as exteriors. Despite their stylistic eclecticism, his buildings coordinated the inside and outside in a masterful way and resulted in a distinctive touch. His extent buildings include the Nicolai Cathedral (1891) and Iwasaki Yanosuke House (1908 

©1996-2002, Robert Cheetham; ©2022 Japanese Garden Research Network, Inc.
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