Gi-yofu architecture (imitative Western-style architecture) (擬洋風建築)

"Gi-yofu architecture" is an architectural style that Japanese carpenters created by imitating Western-style architecture. Examples of this style could be found across the country mainly in the early Meiji period (also some buildings built in the Taisho period have elements of this style).

Many of them are designated as Important Cultural Properties or Registered Tangible Cultural Properties in order to provide evidence of Japanese architectural history.

Expatriates from Western countries built many buildings in the style of their home countries in the foreign settlements in Japan after the opening of ports in the Bakumatsu (in the late Edo period). In due course, Japanese master carpenters, inspired by those buildings, began to construct buildings that employed some Western-style designs. Thus Gi-yofu architecture was born, and it was considered a symbol of civilization and enlightenment.

Many of them are private buildings or in local areas. It was in the period that could be called 'the second civilization and enlightenment' when local kenrei (local heads of government that held authorities equivalent to the integrated powers of governors, police, prosecutors, and school superintendents) or rich benefactors ordered or invested in plans to build administrative buildings, school facilities, and hospitals employing many kinds of Western-style designs. Local people were proud of them as they symbolized Japan's modernization. Some of them are preserved or used as folk historical libraries after their original functions ended.

A typical example in the early stage of this style was Tsukiji Hotel (now defunct) built by the second Kisuke SHIMIZU (founder of Shimizu Corporation). Its construction started at the request of the Tokugawa Shogunate for a hotel for foreigners in Tsukiji Settlement, and was completed after the Meiji Restoration.

Kaichi School (in Matsumoto City) is one of the most famous existing examples of Gi-yofu architecture. It has a symmetrical appearance with a tower house at the center, and reliefs of dragons and angels above the front entrance; a peculiar design. Seiju TATEISHI, a local master builder who built this structure, visited Tokyo and Yokohama to learn about Western-style buildings by observing them, and he studied the techniques in his own way to recreate their bold designs.

Gi-yofu architecture outwardly employed Western-style designs but used traditional Japanese techniques in the basic structures such as in roof frameworks. Examples of the outward forms are: weather-boards, window decorations above small windows, towers, and balconies.


So called "Ijinkan" (former residences of early foreign settlers) are different from buildings of Gi-yofu architecture. Buildings designed or built by officially educated architects or engineers, such as the building of Hamaderakoen Station designed by architect Kingo TATSUNO, are also not called Gi-yofu architecture.

Architecture historians began to use the term "Gi-yofu architecture" in the Showa period, but it has been commonly used only recently. Although it was initially considered strange architecture made by carpenters with no knowledge of authentic Western architectural techniques, it has gradually become highly regarded within the re-evaluation of Meiji architecture since the end of the Second World War. Some architecture historians propose to use the term 'Meiji Shoki Yofu Kenchiku' (Western-style architecture in the early Meiji period), saying 'yofu' means 'Western-style' and adding 'gi ' (quasi- or pseudo-) is inappropriate.

Novelist Ogai MORI used 'Magai-seiyo-zukuri' (擬西洋造) (a quasi-Western structure), but his definition of the term was different from that mentioned above.

Examples of Gi-yofu architecture

Old Nakagomi School: 1875: Important Cultural Property: Saku City, Nagano Prefecture
Old Tsugane School: 1875: Tangible Cultural Property designated by Yamanashi Prefecture: Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture
Old Kaichi School: 1876: Important Cultural Property: Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture
Hakuunkan: 1877: Registered Tangible Cultural Property: Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture
Old Kakuchi School: 1878: Nagano Prefectural Treasure: Sakaki-machi, Nagano Prefecture
Saiseikan: 1878: Important Cultural Property: Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture
Kiryu-Meijikan: 1878: Important Cultural Property: Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture
Buildings of Ryukoku University Omiya Campus: 1879: Important Cultural Property: Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto City
Former school building of Mitsukaido Elementary School: 1881: Joso City, Ibaraki Prefecture (it has now been moved to Mito City for preservation)
Kaimei School: 1882: Important Cultural Property: Seiyo City, Ehime Prefecture
Old Date County Hall : 1883: Important Cultural Property: Kori-machi, Fukushima Prefecture
Kanenari Elementary School: 1887: Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture

Note: 'Important Cultural Property' means this item is designated as Important Cultural Property by the nation (Japanese Government) in accordance with the Law for Protection of Cultural Properties.

[Original Japanese]