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May 1892 - The Phoenix Pavilion prefabrication begins in Fukagawa, Tokyo

Post By: Robert Karr Jr
Dec 29, 2013

On May 17, 1892, it was widely reported in Japan that the prefabrication of the Ho-o-den (Phoenix Pavilion) had begun by the Japan Construction Company in Fukagawa, a “low city” district of Tokyo located on the eastern side of the Sumida River at the mouth of Tokyo Bay.

Fukagawa, which means “deep river,” was reclaimed from the sea beginning in the 1600’s, shortly after the establishment of Edo (now Tokyo).  Born from water, Fukagawa was comprised of an extensive canals system lined with wharves and white plastered warehouses from which merchants supplied the region with its oil, rice, beans, sake and salt.  Most famous was the area of Fukagawa known as Kiba, "Place of Wood," which milled the sweet scented timber from the mountains into lumber for the Phoenix Pavilion.

The Japan Construction Company (Nippon Doboku Kaisha) was established in 1887 as the first incorporated construction in Japan. As a government sponsored company, it quickly developed a monopoly on government contracts and thrived for several years until bidding became open to public participation.
In November 1892, while the Phoenix Pavilion was in transit from Tokyo to Chicago, the Japan Construction Company was dissolved and converted to the private ownership of Okura Kihachiro (1837-1928), and renamed Okura Construction Group (Okura Doboku Gumi) – which later became Taisei Construction Company, one of Japan’s most successful construction companies.   This series of events makes the Phoenix Pavilion both the last building of Japan’s first modern construction company, and the first building of Taisei Construction.

It is interesting to note from photos taken during the construction of the Phoenix Pavilion on the Wooded Island in Jackson Park in late 1892 and early 1893 that all of the Japanese workers wore winter coats with “Japan Construction Company” written in large stylized Japanese characters.  It is also interesting to note that from 1916 to 1923, Taisei Construction (then Okura Construction Company) built the famed Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which was inspired by the Phoenix Pavilion which Wright encountered at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Image:
  • The Fukagawa Lumberyards (Fukagawa Kiba) depicted by Hiroshige Utagawa (1797-1858) in 1856 in his series entitled One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (Meisho Edo Hyakkei).  Beyond the umbrella is an enchanted winter landscape of lumber covered with fresh snow, which project through the sky.  The raft masters in their snow-covered straw cloaks navigate the lumber through the canals, while sparrows fly above in the sky.
Resources:
  • Japanese Building Practices, From Ancient Times to the Meiji Period, Kenneth Frampton and Kunio Kudo, International Thompson Publishing Company, 1997.
  • Tokyo Now & Then, An Explorer’s Guide, Paul Whaley, Weatherhill, 1984.

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