I went on a quest last week for the only surviving private home designed by a prolific Meiji Era architect named Kingo Tatsuno (辰野金吾). Built in 1912 for Kenjiro Matsumoto, an industrialist and founder of a private training school for engineers called Meiji Vocational School (today's Kyûshû Institute of Technology), the house is currently used by the West Japan Industrial Club (西日本工業倶楽部).
Originally from Karatsu in Saga Prefecture, Kingo Tatsuno studied at the Imperial College of Engineering, becoming one of the first to graduate in 1879 under British architect Josiah Conder. After graduating, Tatsuno went to England where he studied at London University and worked in the office of the Gothic Revivalist William Burges in 1881-2. Before returning to Japan he traveled throughout France and Italy for a year, during which time he was influenced by the Queen Anne style. Upon his return to Japan, Tatsuno taught at the University of Tokyo, and in 1903, started his own architectural firm.
In 1886, Tatsuno was one of the founders of the forerunner of the Architectural Institute of Japan, which was then called "The Building Institute" and based upon the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Kingo Tatsuno's close ties with Shibusawa Eiichi, a Japanese industrialist widely considered the "father of Japanese capitalism", brought him the commission to design the Bank of Japan, which was completed in 1896.
Tatsuno had a strong influence over Japanese colonial architecture - particularly in Manchukuo, where his association with Okada Engineering, the Association of Japanese Architects (日本建築学界), and the new Journal of Manchurian Architecture (満州建築雑誌), helped insure that an architectural style popularized by Tatsuno and called the Tatsuno style (辰野式) became the standard throughout the Japanese colony.
Other buildings of note, include the Bankers' Association Assembly Rooms, Sakamoto-cho, Tôkyô (1885), Shibusawa Mansion, Kabutocho, Tôkyô (1888), College of Engineering, Tôkyô Imperial University, Hongo (1888), the National Sumô Arena, Kuramae, Tôkyô (1909), the original school building of Kyûshû Institute of Technology (1909), Manseibashi Station (1912), and Tōkyō Station (1914).
My first introduction to Kingo Tatsuno's architecture was the former branch office of Japan Mutual Life Insurance Company (日本生命保険相互会社) located in Tenjin, Fukuoka City. Learning that the architect of this beautiful brick building (known as the Fukuoka City Akarenga Cultural Center today) had also designed Tôkyô Station, I became eager to know more about the man and his work.
One thing that I find absolutely flabbergasting is how few Japanese know of Kingo Tatsuno today. While your average America might not be able to name a particular work of Frank Lloyd Wright, I think he would be able to say he'd heard of the architect. Not so with poor Tatsuno. His iconic works remain, but his name does not.
Next month, I will travel to the hometown of the architect where a bank he designed still stands.