Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Suggested Itinerary #2

Continuing this short series where I’m putting together themed itineraries through Japan that engage with some aspect of Meiji industrial revolution architecture, I bring you Itinerary #2: Romantic Western Architecture. During the Meiji period, many corporations and government agencies imported Western Architecture for either practical reasons (building efficient factories) or more propagandistic ones (designing structures that would appeal to Western businesspeople and show Japan to be a modern, Westernized nation state). Oftentimes, the reasoning was some combination of these two. However these buildings were received at their time of construction, today they have taken on a distinctly “romantic” connotation in the Japanese imaginary. Romanticizing that which is “other” is not a new concept—Westerners tend to bring this same conceptual/emotive approach to historic Japanese gardens, for instance. What was fascinating, from the perspective of a scholar from the United States, was watching this trope be flipped around, and familiar forms of Western styling becoming exotic and exciting. I frequently witnessed couples enjoying Western architecture while out on a date, or even newly married couples taking photos in front of historic Western-style buildings. One of the seemingly most romantic and also photogenic types of Western architecture I encountered was the red brick warehouse, excellent examples of which can be seen in Hakodate and Yokohama, among many other early port cities. Something about weathered red brick perhaps appeals to the Japanese aesthetic notion of wabi sabi. The frequency with which I encountered this phenomenon spurred me to compile this itinerary that includes some of the best examples I saw of “romantic” Western architecture.

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