Almost a decade after Charles M. Dyce characterized the compradoric style of Chinese open ports, a Japanese art critic coined the term that came to define Japan’s first wave of mixed architecture. Kuroda Tomonobu (黒田朋信) sought to describe the aesthetics of modern Japan, and in doing so, designated the old Ministry of Home Affairs building in Tokyo (built 1874) an example of imitation Western architecture, or giyōfū architecture.1 Giyōfū architecture and its derivatives were generally quite different in appearance from China’s Western imitations, yet their origins are not dissimilar from each other. Just as compradoric buildings were a result of cultural pluralism in Shanghai, so giyōfū architecture was born out of the melting-pot that was nineteenth century Yokohama.
As the port city boomed, giyōfū architecture flourished within Japan, spreading to places like Tokyo, Sapporo, and Nagasaki. Local craftsmen worked with Westerners to blend Japanese timber construction methods and Western architectural forms.2 Japanese carpenters began using columns in balconies and wooden shutters on neoclassical windows instead of shoji sliding screens. Decorative patterns from the West in the form of Victorian bargeboard and lambrequin woodwork became increasingly common, traceable as far back as the 1880s.3 Yet, in many cases, an “oriental” flavor bled from the seams of giyōfū buildings.
Like the compradoric buildings of Shanghai, giyōfū buildings were not pure representations of European buildings, nor were they homogenous. Some derivatives and variations were faced with stone or incorporated brick, but most were typically wooden buildings whose exterior was finished with Japanese clapboard siding, or plaster, that either purposely or coincidentally mimicked the timber Victorian architecture of the West.4 In fact, at the style’s peak in the late 1870s, Japanese architectural features in giyōfū structures were sometimes deliberately expressed as part of the essence of the building (see the Kaichi School below). In no way was this more evident than in their roofs.5 Indeed, it is precisely the roof that arguably so separates giyōfū architecture from other Western imitations around the globe. If open verandas on Chinese-made brick frames are signifiers of Shanghainese compradoric architecture, then Japanese roofs on Western-faced Japanese timber frames became signifiers of giyōfū architecture. The clearest evidence for this is in the karahafu and mukuri roofs sometimes attached to these Western-influenced structures. However, even in examples where the roof forms follow Western construction methods (ex: truss systems), their roof ridges and joints were sometimes still constructed according to Japanese methods using Japanese materials. The eaves, too, were sometimes expressed in Japanese form according to more traditional woodworking methods, adding to a building’s “oriental” aesthetic.
The giyōfū style gradually began fading out at the end of the nineteenth century as Japanese builders began using Western construction techniques. The lines between what, in retrospect, constituted a giyōfū building (imitation Western building, 擬洋風建築) and a wayo-secchu building (Western-Japanese hybrid, 和洋折衷) became increasingly blurry around this time — the terms sometimes even used interchangeably. The formal education of Japanese architects by Western personalities not only led to Western architecture attaining normalization in Japan, but Japanese architects were becoming better at Western design itself. And while disproportionate designs made by Japanese builders seeking to imitate Western buildings became less common, the normalization and acceptance of giyōfū and giyōfū-like structures allowed them to spread to Japanese settlements abroad. To be sure, when Japanese settlers arrived in Joseon, they brought their giyōfū architecture with them.
In early 1876, there was little but a string of chogajip villages around the harbor that would eventually become the thriving port city of Busan. Armed with guns and legalese, the Japanese naval convoy responsible for opening Joseon to Japan would have had a picturesque rural scene before them as they rounded the southeastern tip of Korea in January of that year. After the treaty was signed, the resulting Japanese settlement was placed directly on the coastline, miles south of the Joseon fortress-town of Dongnae. Japan’s vernacular clapboard architecture then spread across the gridded concession, and it was here around 1879 that the first known giyōfū building may have been constructed in Korea.6 At the base of Yongdusan overlooking the harbor, the Japanese Administration Office was very different from anything that had ever been built near the Dongnae region and clearly followed giyōfū examples like the remaining row and dock buildings at Nagasaki.7 By the time the Japanese concession expanded northerly to the coast in July 1880, the settlement’s architecture was already mirroring that of newly urbanizing Japan.8 To be sure, Fusan [Busan] was a Japanese town set apart from the Joseon political center of Dongnae, materially and aesthetically distinct from Korean communities. Commercial reports indicate that by 1883, substantial amounts of glass were imported to Fusan, along with shoji (Japanese doors) and thousands of pieces of foreign furniture.9 With the materials for giyōfū architecture available, such buildings moderately spread throughout Korea’s open ports within the span of a decade, allowing for construction materials brought in by immigrants to gradually penetrate and disrupt an otherwise traditionally Joseon landscape.
As such, what began as a localized fusion of Japanese and Western material culture in Yokohama had developed into an architectural influence that affected Japanese design to the point of institutionalization abroad. Whenever a Korean port was opened to foreign trade, giyōfū architecture followed in the form of institutional buildings. At Wonsan, another Japanese consular building of the giyōfū type went up in October 1881.10 In Chemulpo, Western-influenced buildings like the Japanese consulate, built October 1883, and the customs office, built around 1886-1887, may have been constructed according to Japanese carpentry and building methods.11 The first British consular facility at Chemulpo, a timber structure, may have also been a giyōfū building.12 The port at Mokpo similarly had a couple of pseudo-Western buildings.
Giyōfū-derived and Western-influenced buildings constructed by Japanese builders in Korea appear to have directly followed trends in Japan with little to no delay. That is to say, they were temporally and stylistically contemporaneous with their architectural siblings in Japan. The “traditional” Japanese exterior features that defined certain giyōfū examples in Japan, like the Kaichi School, were few and far between in Korea as these features were already becoming less common on giyōfū structures within Japan. Karahafu roofs on Western-style structures were relatively rare on the peninsula. Instead, such buildings became more like the Western-influenced buildings of 1880s Nagasaki and Sapporo. These were simpler, perhaps even purposely so, than the giyōfū buildings in Japan that had Japanese features like karahafu roofs. To be clear, there is evidence suggesting that some of the earliest builders of Western imitations in Hokkaido were opting out of the elaborate neoclassical ornamentation originally drawn into their buildings plans.13 The essence of some of the completed structures at Sapporo Agricultural College were then remarkably similar to those later found in Korea. And while a direct connection has not been found, it can be said, for the sake of comparison, that this same kind of simplification by Japanese settlers and builders appears to have occurred in Korea. The similarities between such buildings in Korea and Japan suggest many examples probably had their roots in the giyōfū style of architecture.
Around this time, metal roofs began to appear in some buildings, but Japanese roof tiles were by far the most common roofing material available, almost always found on giyōfū buildings. In the same way that the Chinese community was largely responsible for the spread of brick in 19th century Korea, it was the Japanese who introduced their vernacular roof pan tiles to the peninsula.14 These tiles can be said to have been a typical feature of giyōfū buildings (and of course vernacular Japanese housing), arriving in Korea in a few varieties that are perhaps best understood through the illustrated work of American academic Edward Sylvester Morse, who depicted and described such Japanese architectural materials in his 1886 monograph, Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings.
One variety shown in this book is an older type of tile very similar to, if not the same as, the Korean giwa — dubbed hongawara transliterated from Japanese. More common in early modern Korea were three kinds of edogawara, named so after being observed by Morse in Edo (Tokyo). These kinds of Japanese pan tile are now referred to as sangawara.15 Of the sangawara depicted by Morse in his book, one kind had a decorative turned down edge, a second used an unornamented edge, while a third was very plain with no edge at all.16
Furthermore, as French Second Empire and German neo-Renaissance design entered into the Japanese architectural sphere, roof cresting came to crown the better class of Western imitations in Korea by the 1890s. Wrought iron and sangawara roofing materials became increasingly common as immigrant communities and construction demands grew. As such, Japanese pan tiles and wrought iron cresting became integral parts of Korea’s early modern story, signifiers suggestive of Japanese workmanship and architectural influence, informing observers of who the builders might have been.
By the early 1900s, Western-style commercial display windows that had only recently begun trending in Japan had penetrated Korea’s urban centers — specifically the Japanese settlements. Local Japanese shopkeepers in Korea were probably influenced by what noteworthy stores like the Mitsukoshi-Gofukuten were doing. The Mitsukoshi-Gofukuten, a kimono shop and the precursor to the Mitsukoshi department store, was originally in an older, more-Japanese style building that, after a renovation in 1900, made use of large show windows typical of Western commercial businesses.17 It was such features that arrived in Korea by way of the Japanese architectural world and the cultural trends of the time.
When Japanese officialdom began to formally wrest administrative control from the Korean government (c1905-1907), large public buildings under the Japanese-controlled government were increasingly constructed according to actual Western construction methods, virtually neoclassical inside and out. Better versions used brick and stone, while others were timber structures whose carpentry mimicked the quoins, pediments, and other features typical of neoclassical stonework. Such buildings, again, followed trends in Japan.18 Smaller public buildings in Korea built under the influence of the Japanese architectural sphere began trending towards ambiguous Victorian styles, many of which were externally finished in a kind of pseudo-German gingerbread manner that might have originally arrived in Japan as the result of American influence.19
The shift towards true Western construction methods can be most directly traced to the formation of the architectural and construction department of the Ministry of Finance (Takjibu) on September 24, 1906, its staff “being composed of several Japanese engineers and architects.”20 Most of the central Korean government buildings designed around 1906-1910 were, more or less, Western in form and construction. Structures like the brick and stone Korean Government Hospital (Daehan Hospital) were reportedly being held as models of what government architecture should strive to look like in Korea, yet many of the most important administrative buildings from the period were being planned as wooden affairs.21 This includes the buildings designed for the Ministry of the Interior (Naebu), the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce, and Trade (Nonggongsangbu), the State Council (Uijeongbu, also sometimes called the Cabinet), the Pyongyang Financial Supervision Bureau, and the aforementioned architecture and construction department of the Ministry of Finance (Takjibu). The first Government-General building may have been built like these as well, their timber construction appearing not unlike structures in Japan (ex: Hirosaki Branch of the 59th Bank, built 1904).
Such buildings were very Western in style, mostly exhibiting a combination of neoclassical, Victorian, and French Second Empire or German Neorenaissance characteristics. However, remaining blueprints show that despite their Western exteriors, some other government buildings were still being designed according to non-Western construction methods. This was mostly made manifest in the government buildings of smaller cities and in the lesser auxiliary buildings near main government offices. Specifically, the Japanese wagoya frame — typical of vernacular Japanese architecture and not dissimilar from the Korean hanok frame — was continually used in some institutional structures.
While Japanese architectural features, such as karahafu roofs, on Western-style structures quickly disappeared from Japanese institutional and government design in the nineteenth century, ideas from giyōfū’s heyday appear to have briefly snuck into the Ministry of Finance’s architectural office in Korea. The central belvedere that helped define the earliest giyōfū examples back in Japan, like the Kaichi School and Tokyo Naval Department, was then also drawn into the building plans for the Ministry of the Interior (Naebu) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce, and Trade (Nonggongsangbu). This tower design was actually used in the government’s Industrial Institute building (Gongeobjeonseubso Bongwan) in Seoul and can still be seen there today — the only building of its kind left in Korea.
Giyōfū-derived architecture in Korea was losing steam by the end of the 1900s, its influence decreasing after the peninsula had officially become a colony of Japan. Though it has all but disappeared from Korea today, the characteristics, materials, and features used in giyōfū architecture may have lived on. The decorative carpentry found in some examples may have informed later buildings like the Victorian-cum-Bavarian Yongsan Station, for example. Roof cresting found in other examples was used in everything from small businesses to Korean palaces. Even vernacular Japanese pan tiles may have proliferated because they had already become normalized and accepted on numerous Western-form structures, continually used after liberation from Japan. As such, the most unremarkable effects of settlerism then become significant, these seemingly inconsequential architectural characteristics informing us as to why early modern Korea looked the way that it did.
Footnotes & Citations
1 As is sometimes the case in naming architectural styles, the term for giyōfū architecture did not come about until half a century after its heyday. Kuroda Tomonobu (黒田朋信) used the term “giyōfū” in his 1915 in his book Tōkyō hyaku kenchiku (東京百建築).
2 Other Japanese builders, like Tateishi Kiyoshige (立石清重) who designed the Kaichi School, were copying from the Western imitations in places like Yokohama.
3 Buildings constructed in the 1880s as part of Sapporo Agricultural College in Hokkaido act as some of the earliest evidence for Victorian-influenced gingerbread-style woodwork. Takeshi Koshino and Yukihiro Kado, “Early Western Style Architecture and its Diffusion in Hokkaido,” Bulletin of the Faculty of Engineering, No. 145 (Hokkaido University, 1988), 128.
4 It should be noted that giyōfū buildings also had touches of Chinese and ambiguously “Asian” architectural characteristics in some cases, a result of trade with open ports in China.
5 Note that in identifying giyōfū architecture, the underlying construction of the frame of a giyōfū building is a better indicator as it shows whether or not it used Japanese or Western methods. However, since the guts of a building cannot always be seen, examining the roof is sometimes an adequate way of determining what the underlying structure may look like.
6 Cho Hong-Seok and Kim Chung-Dong, “A Study on the Formation of the ‘Jeokbyeokdol (Red brick)’ in Modern Korea,” Journal of Architectural Institute of Korea, Vol.19 No.9 (December 2010), 105.
7 This building became the Japanese consulate in the following year, 1880. Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 5. The Japanese Residents’ Office and Police Station were built next to this building later, sometime before 1904, both also seemingly giyōfū-derived buildings. These two buildings are visible in both photographs depicting the administration office. There are a number of row and dock buildings at Nagasaki that are very similar to the Japanese Administration Office at Fusan, including the old Mitsubishi dock house.
8 Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 5.
9 Commercial Reports Received at the Foreign Office from Her Majesty’s Consul-General in Corea: 1884 (London: Harrison and Sons, 1884), 16.
10 Unfortunately, I can’t provide evidence for this. I had an image from c1900 showing the Japanese consular office at Wonsan with a karahafu or mukuri roof on its entrance, but I’ve since misplaced it. If I come across it in the future, I’ll update this essay with the image.
11 The date of construction for the Chemulpo customs house is based on the personal research of Jihoon Suk. The construction date of the Japanese consulate at Chemulpo can be found in Horace Newton Allen’s A Chronological Index.
12 The first British consulate building in Chemulpo was reportedly imported from Nagasaki on September 20, 1884. No visual evidence of this building has been found, but it may have been giyōfū-derived. It seems unlikely that a common vernacular Japanese structure would be dismantled in Nagasaki and reassembled in Chemulpo when a new one could be built in Korea. Horace Newton Allen, A Chronological Index (Seoul: Methodist Publishing House, 1901), 15.
13 Takeshi Koshino and Yukihiro Kado, “Early Western Style Architecture and its Diffusion in Hokkaido,” Bulletin of the Faculty of Engineering, No. 145 (Hokkaido University, 1988), 128.
14 To be clear, there is no evidence to indicate that anything other than thatched, wood shingled, or giwa roofs were present in pre-1876 Korea. It is unclear when wooden shingled roofs began to appear, but they have been found in rural areas and in northern Korea. These shingles were rough-hewn timber, often with the tree bark intact, taking on a raw and rustic appearance. In town, there were also wooden roof extensions added to the eaves of giwa buildings in the past, which continued to find use in the early modern period after Korea’s opening to trade. There is no known evidence indicating that pan tiles like those in Japan were present in Korea until after 1876.
15 Adriana Piccinini Higashino, Roof Typology and Composition in Traditional Japanese Architecture, page 7. Originally published by the Architectural Institute of Japan in the following form: Adriana Piccinini, “Typology and Composition in the Modern Japanese Residence “Kokian”: Roof Typology and Composition in Traditional Japanese Architecture,” Journal of Architecture and Planning, Vol. 68 No. 568 (Architectural Institute of Japan, 2003).
16 Over time, sangawara evolved and its varieties continued to find use after the Korean War. Photographs suggest that it may have even been more common than the traditional Korean giwa by that time.
17 Eiichi Tosaki, “Prelude to the Birth of Wayo-Secchu (Japanese Hybrid Style) in Japanese Early Modern Architecture,” Fabrications, Vol. 13, No. 2 (May 2004), 11.
18 The aforementioned Mitsukoshi store, built 1908 in Japan, was also one of these kinds of wooden neoclassical structures.
19 Takeshi Koshino and Yukihiro Kado, “Early Western Style Architecture and its Diffusion in Hokkaido,” Bulletin of the Faculty of Engineering, No. 145 (Hokkaido University, 1988), 128.
20 Angus Hamilton, Major Herbert H. Austin, and Viscount Masatake Terauchi, Korea: Its History, Its People, and Its Commerce (Boston: J. B. Millet Company, 1910), 278.
21 Angus Hamilton, Major Herbert H. Austin, and Viscount Masatake Terauchi, Korea: Its History, Its People, and Its Commerce (Boston: J. B. Millet Company, 1910), 278.
*Seong Seokgi, “The former Gunsan Branch of the Japanese Eighteenth Bank,” The Encyclopedia of Gunsan (2014).
The header image depicts the Busan branch of the Resident-General office and surrounding government buildings. Source: International Research Center for Japanese Studies.
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