Mitsubishi Corporation

vol.15 Josiah Conder

Our Roots A history of rising to the challenge
The western-style residence at Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens

vol.15 Josiah Conder

We focus on Josiah Conder, the British architect who became a Mitsubishi advisor and played a central role in the construction of Japan's first modern business district.

Yanosuke Iwasaki, Mitsubishi's second president, passed away at the age of 57 and was laid to rest in the Iwasaki family mausoleum located beside the Seikado Bunko Art Museum in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward. This mausoleum is notable for being designed by Josiah Conder. After graduating from the University of London, Conder worked for the Gothic architect William Burges. Then in 1877, at the age of 24, Conder came to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese government.

While teaching at the Imperial College of Engineering (now part of the University of Tokyo), Conder also designed a number of government-related buildings, including the Rokumeikan and a museum in Ueno affiliated with the Ministry of Works. After going into business for himself, Conder continued to design many prominent buildings, including Nikolai Cathedral, the Yokohama Yamate Church, the guesthouse of the Mitsui family (now the Tsunamachi Mitsui Club), the Tokyo manor of Tadashige Shimazu (now part of Seisen University) and the Furukawa Toranosuke Villa (now Kyu-Furukawa Teien). He also undertook numerous projects for the Iwasaki family and Mitsubishi.

In 1890, Conder became an advisor to Mitsubishi and was asked to oversee the building of a modern business district in a field in the Marunouchi area. A former pupil of Conder's, Tatsuzo Sone, was invited to be the chief engineer. Together, they discussed their vision for the district with Mitsubishi executive Heigoro Shoda. In the end, they decided to build three-story red brick buildings, along a road measuring 20 ken across (approximately 36 meters); the buildings were to have steep, slate roofs, with eaves at a height of 50 shaku (roughly 15 meters). The Mitsubishi Ichigokan or Mitsubishi No. 1 Building was completed in 1894. No. 2 and No. 3 buildings soon followed. The atmosphere created by this cluster of modern buildings earned the area the nickname "a block of London."

Conder made a lasting impact on Japanese architecture, but his greatest contributions may have been as an educator as many of his protégés went on to become eminent architects, including Kingo Tatsuno, who designed the Bank of Japan's Main Building and Tokyo Station; Tokuma Katayama, who designed Akasaka Palace; and Tatsuzo Sone, who designed the Old Keio University Library and Senshokaku (the Nagasaki Shipyard's stately guesthouse).

Great Admirers of Conder's Work

Conder's work for Mitsubishi included many residences for the Iwasaki family, such as the Fukagawa mansion (later destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake), the main residence at Kayacho, and the Takanawa villa. Kayacho was the estate of Hisaya Iwasaki. Hisaya had spent time studying on the east coast of the U.S. and Conder incorporated architectural elements from this region into the residence's design. This estate now belongs to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and is open to the public as Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens. Meanwhile, the Takanawa villa is now known as "Kaitokaku" (the guesthouse of the Mitsubishi group). Unable to wait for the villa to be completed, Yanosuke moved into the estate's Japanese residence, only to succumb to cancer before the building could be completed. Knowing how Yanosuke had looked forward to the villa's completion, Conder devoted great efforts to designing the mausoleum where Yanosuke was laid to rest.