By Yoshihisa Watanabe / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterHIROSAKI, Aomori — The vibrant Tatsuno-shiki style of building featuring red bricks and white stripes is epitomized by Tokyo Station in eastern Japan and the Osaka City Central Public Hall in the west. Prolific architect Kingo Tatsuno created many distinctive buildings like these from the 1880s to the 1910s. Also around this time, master architect Sakichi Horie designed many Western-style buildings with a hint of a Japanese feel in Hirosaki in northern Japan.
Sakichi was born in 1845 as the heir to a family of carpenters employed by the feudal Tsugaru domain. The Memorial Hall of Aomori Bank (previously the main branch of what was the 59th National Bank) completed in 1904 is one of his signature designs, featuring a Renaissance style and bilateral symmetry.
Its walls have been replastered and the building retains the kurazukuri warehouse style architecture. The former Hirosaki City Library, which was completed in 1906, has distinctive twin towers with red roofs.
Why did Sakichi design buildings in Hirosaki? To find the answer to this question, I visited the city and spoke with Satoshi Horie, a 69-year-old great-grandson of Sakichi’s and the president of the Horie-gumi construction company based in the city.
According to a book about Sakichi’s life, which was written by Kiyoshi Funamizu and put out by a local publisher, he traveled to Hakodate, Hokkaido, in his mid-30s as the city was going through a development boom. Sakichi saw many buildings with fashionable Western-style architecture and reportedly went around talking to the architects there to soak up as much information as he could.
“I think the structure of the buildings first piqued his interest,” Satoshi said. “He felt that if he could understand the framework of a building, he could combine this with any exterior he imagined. The incredible skills of some amazing craftsmen turned this into reality.”
The Tsugaru domain had a culture of nurturing and retaining superb craftsmen. Joiners and plasterers possessing meticulous decorative techniques unleashed their full range of skills while working under Sakichi, who was born and raised to be a master carpenter.
Horie-gumi is currently doing repairs and preservation work on the former Kaiko-sha Building, which was completed in 1907 under the guidance of Sakichi’s eldest son, Hikosaburo.
“The techniques they used at that time were far beyond anything anyone else could imagine,” Satoshi said.
The area near Hirosaki Park is dotted with distinctive buildings, including the Catholic Hirosaki Church constructed by Sakichi’s younger brother, and Hirosaki Church-United Church of Christ in Japan, which Sakichi’s fourth son was involved in building.
The former official residence of the commander of the Eighth Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, which was built by Hikosaburo, has been renovated and transformed into a Starbucks cafe in front of Hirosaki Park.
Buildings designed by Kunio Maekawa, who studied under Le Corbusier, a giant of modern architecture, also still stand in Hirosaki, including the Hirosaki City Hall and the Hirosaki City Museum.
The Hirosaki Kogin Laboratory operates within the Kimura Industrial Laboratory, which was the first building Maekawa worked on after returning from Paris. Visitors to the Kogin lab can try their hand at koginzashi, a traditional embroidery craft in which white cotton thread is stitched into linen dyed indigo blue and other colors to form geometric patterns. The specialty store called “green” offers a range of original products jointly developed with the laboratory.
The area north of Hirosaki Park is studded with buildings preserved since the Edo period (1603-1867), such as the former Iwata House, which was the home of an intermediate-class samurai warrior.
The city also has several bars and dining establishments where diners can listen to live performances of the Tsugaru shamisen three-stringed musical instrument. At Anzu, a restaurant serving local cuisine, customers sitting at the sunken hearth in the wooden floor are treated to a powerful and at-times delicate performance by talented young shamisen stars, including Kaoru Osanai, 38.
“In the past, Tsugaru shamisen players would go from door to door to play for money,” said Anzu’s manager Shigeki Yamamoto, 68. “And during the times when there wasn’t much entertainment, the farmers and other people would gather at the home of the village headman and listen to performances while they sat on the wooden floor. I want people to experience that atmosphere.”
Coffee culture since Edo period
Hirosaki also is known as a coffee town. According to Senzo Narita of the Hirosaki Coffee School, the city’s love for coffee goes back as far as 1855, when the samurai assigned to guard Hokkaido were given coffee as a medicine to prevent disease.
“Meeting people over coffee has given this city luster,” said Narita, 66.
Thinking back on my trip to Hirosaki, most of my interviews were conducted while drinking coffee. Hopefully that will add some luster to this article.
It takes about 3 hours 20 minutes on the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori. Change there to the Ou Line and take the local train to Hirosaki, a 40-minute journey. The Memorial Hall of Aomori Bank is a 10-minute drive or a 20-minute walk.
Inquiries: Hirosaki Sightseeing Information Center at 0172-37-5501.
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