In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • In Defense of Kenchiku:Itō Chūta's Theorization of Architecture as a Fine Art in the Meiji Period
  • Alice Y. Tseng (bio)

Recent scholarship has explored the Japanese absorption and implementation of the concept of the fine arts (bijutsu) by focusing almost exclusively on its advancement and regulation of painting (kaiga) and sculpture (chōkoku), whereas comparatively little has been published about the other art forms that Meiji-period officials, intellectuals, and practitioners recognized under the same heading of "bijutsu." This paper intends to situate architecture (kenchiku) within the larger Meiji cultural agenda. Contact with Western criteria and expectations greatly altered in concept and form architectural design as a process, and buildings as objects. Akin to "kaiga" and "chōkoku," "kenchiku" operated as much as a neologism as it did as a whole new endeavor. Emergent practitioners of architecture claimed cultural, intellectual, and social superiority to traditional builders for meeting new standards of a university-level education, Western-inflected expertise, and cosmopolitan demeanor. The focus of this essay is a self-defining moment for the nascent profession in the 1890s when a young member, Itō Chūta (1867-1954), who would eventually become the pioneer historian and theoretician of architecture in his country, spoke ardently for the recognition of architecture as a fine art. Not the inventor of the term "kenchiku," nor the first to privilege its usage, Itō deserves credit for vocally urging his peers to regulate terminology that defined the very identity of their profession.

Encountering Okakura Kakuzō (1863-1913) during the former's most productive and influential decade in the formulation and categorization of the fine arts must have buttressed Itō's sense of professional obligation and urgency to define his own discipline in similarly sweeping terms. Okakura effectively played the role of chief arbiter of the fine arts in the Meiji period through his positions as educator, administrator, and curator. While his most penetrating effort was in the development of painting,1 Okakura's professional endeavors exerted multipronged impact on the national aesthetics of Japan. As part of a coterie of expert-cum-bureaucrats, he contributed to the ongoing definition of [End Page 155] the fine arts and applied arts at the official level in the nation's museums and schools,2 achieving an ambitiously coordinated and comprehensive system supporting art's creation, dissemination, and preservation. To date, there has been little scholarly exploration of Okakura's impact on the institutional recognition of architecture, especially architecture as a fine art.

At the two institutions where Okakura made his strongest administrative impact, "fine arts" encompassed more than painting and sculpture. At the Imperial Museum (Teikoku Hakubutsukan) in Tokyo where Okakura served as the head of the Fine Arts Department until his resignation in 1898, the departmental collection consisted of painting, sculpture, architecture, calligraphy (sho), and prints (hankoku).3 At the Tokyo School of Fine Arts (Tōkyō Bijutsu Gakkō), painting, sculpture, architecture, and applied arts (bijutsu kōgei) composed the four major curricular programs from the opening of this school to the time of Okakura's directorship (1890-98). In spite of the formal specification in the school's general regulations, however, the architecture program remained an empty placeholder until the establishment of the Architecture Department in 1923.4 That architecture, along with painting and sculpture, occupied a conceptually, if not always functionally, essential position as a fine art at the nation's primary museum and art school defies the general assumption hitherto formed in scholarship that modern architecture in Japan was developed exclusively under the aegis of engineering.5

This essay specifically examines how, in the 1890s during Okakura's administrative ascendancy, Itō as a government-trained Meiji architect comprehended the aesthetic imperative of architecture, an understanding that worked hand in hand with a mastery of scientific and technical principles in contributing to nation building efforts. The crux of his argument rested on capturing the original meaning of the Western word "architecture" (ākitekuchūru) with an appropriately supple Japanese term to convey the profession's and practice's aspirational standing, not only as new and modern, but also intellectually and culturally sophisticated. While the immediate concern was one of translation—namely, debating the adoption of...