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A photography blog about Tokyo, run by Australian photographer Rohan Gillett

Tokyo Builder - Josiah Conder

When I think of all my favourite Tokyoites, one of the people very near the top of the list is Josiah Conder (1852 - 1920).  As you have probably guessed by his name, he wasn’t Japanese! He was actually a British architect who was hired by the Meiji government to teach at the Imperial College of Engineering and later became an architect of Japan’s Public Works.  I believe he even started his own practice after 1888. However, it was through his role as a teacher of architecture that he played his biggest role.

At the Imperial College Conder taught both technical subjects and practice like design theory, architectural history (including Oriental), drawing and technical draftsmanship. Some of this students included Sone Tatsuzo, Shimoda Kikutaro, Tatsuno Kingo and Katayama Tōkuma.  These men went on to become very important architects in their own right.

So while Conder might have created some extremely famous buildings in this city such as the mansions at Kyu-Iwasaki and Kyu-Furukawa Gardens; the Holy Resurrection Cathedral, as well as many others, it was tutoring of these men that proved most important.  It was the transference of ideas, that enabled his students to create many modern buildings in Japan and Tokyo. It was they who were ultimately responsible for pushing Tokyo into a new era of construction, design, modernity and new ideas.

After devoting a large part of his life to Japan Conder died in 1920 and was interred in the cemetery at Gokokuji, a temple near Ikebukuro.  The grave, typically Japanese can be found under a shady tree and is quite small. His wife, who died ten days before he passed away, is buried next to him.

After visiting several of the buildings he actually designed in Tokyo, it was actually a great thrill to see his grave for the first time in the summer of 2018.  Ever since I was very young, I’ve been a lover of history and greatly appreciate the chance to see the resting place of any historical person. And I especially appreciate the chance to visit one who has played a great role in the development of my favourite city, Tokyo.