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Josiah Conder – a Tokyo builder

Josiah Conder (1852 – 1920) is one of my favorite Tokyoites.  You have probably already guessed he wasn’t Japanese.  He came from England.  The Meiji government hired him to teach at the Imperial College of Engineering.  Later, he joined the Ministry of Public Works.  He was one of the builders of Tokyo.  

Josiah Conder grave

At the college, Conder taught design theory, architectural history, drawing and technical draftsmanship. His students included Sone Tatsuzo, Shimoda Kikutaro, Tatsuno Kingo and Katayama Tōkuma.  These men went on to become very important architects in their own right. 

Kyu-Furukawa built by Josiah Conder
Josiah designed his mansion at Kyu-Furukawa Gardens.

It was this tutoring that proved most influential.  Conder’s students gained the knowledge and ideas to create modern buildings.  They pushed Tokyo into a new era of construction, design, modernity, and new ideas.


Conder devoted a large part of his life to Japan.  He died in 1920 and now lies in the cemetery at Gokokuji, a temple near Ikebukuro.  The grave is relatively small, typically Japanese, and under a shady tree.  His wife, who died ten days before he passed away, was buried next to him.  

Josiah Conder grave plaque

In front of the grave is a plaque.  It gives a brief commentary on his life in Japan.  Unfortunately, it is in Japanese only.

Kyu-Iwasaki mansion
The mansion at Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens.

What buildings did Josiah Conder design?

Some on that long list include:

  • mansions at Kyu-Iwasaki and Kyu-Furukawa Gardens
  • Holy Resurrection Cathedral
  • Ministry of the Navy in Kasumigaseki (no longer standing)
  • Rokumeikan (no longer standing)
  • Christ Church in Yokohama

I’ve visited many of his buildings in Tokyo.  But it was only in the summer of 2018 I finally visited his grave. That was a great thrill.  It was my chance to meet a person who played a role in the development of my favorite city, Tokyo.

Japanese plaque about Josiah Conder life

The cemetery of Gokokuji is beautiful.  The grounds come alive in spring with azaleas and cherry blossoms.  Read my main article about the temple to learn more.  You can leave questions and comments below.

4 thoughts on “Josiah Conder – a Tokyo builder”

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  3. Pingback: Kyu-Furukawa Gardens - a beautiful English garden in Tokyo

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