Discover the profound allure of the Former Hokkaido Government Building in 18 chapters!


“The Stories of the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building-
The Scenes from the four seasons and the Painting Collection”

Chapter 1:The Former Hokkaido Government Building continued the visual tradition set by the Sapporo Main Office of the Hokkaido Development Commission, completed in 1872

The Hokkaido Development Commission was a governmental office overseeing development in Hokkaido in the early days of the Meiji Era. The Sapporo Main Office of the Hokkaido Development Commission, which was the office for that Commission, was crowned by a large dome at its peak. The Former Hokkaido Government Building continues that design style.

While the outside view of the Sapporo Main Office of the Hokkaido Development Commission looks like a two story framework, the building is actually made up of four levels and had a scale corresponding to eight story buildings of today. The American Georgian design element of capping building tops with a large dome as seen here was also used in the mid-19th century Capitol Building of the United States of America as a symbol of the spirit of independence and innovation.

Currently, a restoration of the Sapporo Main Office of the Hokkaido Development Commission is on display at the “Historical Village of Hokkaido.”

Chapter 2:European architectural style was incorporated into American building and implemented first in Japan at the Former Hokkaido Government Building

The Former Hokkaido Government Building was designed in the American neo-baroque style.

If you look attentively, you will notice something interesting. The design in which bay windows extrude on both sides is a fundamental framework for French baroque countryside mansions. The Mansard roof atop the front and center porch is another element seen in French neo-baroque architecture. The practices of displaying column shaped skeletal frames on the wall surface and installing windows underneath comb-like arches have their origins in 19th century German and French architectural design. These traditions filtered into the US and united there. In other words, while the various motifs of the Former Hokkaido Government Building trace their origins to Europe, presenting all of these elements together in one building was only achievable in the US.

Former Hokkaido Government Building head designer Hirai Seijiro had studied abroad in the US. Also, the Hokkaido Development Commission had ordered sample books of architectural design from the US.

The US was a giant melting pot of new potential. And the aesthetics that mixed together in that pot found their fruition in the Former Hokkaido Government Building. The Former Hokkaido Government Building is a crystallization of aesthetics transcending space and time.

Chapter 3:The strange connection between head designer Hirai Seijiro and the brick building.

Former Hokkaido Government Building head designer Hirai Seijiro studied civil engineering and architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, USA for four years starting in 1875. There were many Dutch immigrants in that area, and just as in the Former Hokkaido Government Building, there were also many buildings with a beautifully raw brick feel to the outer walls. It is highly likely that he looked at the New York State Capitol, which was being constructed right during his study period, and took that as inspiration.

After returning to Japan, Hirai became involved in the construction of Hokkaido’s first railway, the Horonai Railway, though a connection with foreign advisor Joseph Crawford. To prevent fires from occurring due to locomotive fire sparks, Hirai used the highly fireproof material of bricks in the design for the Temiya Locomotive Shed.

Suzuki Sahey’s factory located on the outskirts of Sapporo was the main supplier of the bricks used in the Former Hokkaido Government Building. However, there are old records indicating that Suzuki’s original decision to establish a brick factory in the first place was based on a special order from Horonai Railway office engineer Hirai Seijiro.

There are still more connections linking Hirai to bricks. During construction of the red brick Tokyo Station about 20 years after the completion of the Former Hokkaido Government Building, Hirai was the head of the Japan Imperial Railway Office. Watching over the gradually forming Tokyo Station, Hirai’s heart was probably filled with nostalgia for the passion invoked in him by the Former Hokkaido Government Building of his younger days.

Chapter 4:The Former Hokkaido Government Building stretched over 5 eras.

Most cities in Japan have long histories stretching back since before the Edo Period. City construction in Sapporo, however, only began in 1869. The population shot up to around two million people in a mere 150 years. In this dramatically changing city, the Former Hokkaido Government Building looks as if it has preserved the remnants of the Meiji Period up to modern times. However, the truth is that this building went through disaster and changes before it was returned to its original appearance much later.

  1. 1888: The Former Hokkaido Government Building was completed. In this era, “citizens” were not allowed to enter through the front door, and there was an entrance in the back. The appearance of the building displays the norms of the times.
  2. 1896: The octagonal dome tower and the ventilation stack were removed, decreasing rooftop weight and reducing architectural burden on the building.
  3. 1909: A fire caused the roof to burn and collapse. The entire interior was destroyed. The outer brick wall survived. At the time, people believed that “being burned in the fire actually strengthened the bricks.”
  4. 1911: Post-fire restoration was completed. Fire doors were installed and the ceiling was fireproofed. Function became the focal point. In that vein, the gorgeously constructed north and south side-entrances were converted to staircases and the roof over the main entrance was transformed from a French style Mansard roof to a tapered roof.
  5. 1968: The building was restored to its original poignantly atmospheric appearance. The items that were removed in stage (4) above were returned.

Chapter 5:Light and shadow of the octagonal dome tower, the symbol of the Former Hokkaido Government Building.

Its uppermost tip, the octagonal dome tower is about 33 meters high. It stands as tall as a 12 story building by modern standards. However, this tower was not included in the initial designs. It was added after head designer Hirai Seijiro was transferred to Tokyo after construction had already started. The motivation for that addition is thought to have been a strong push from first Hokkaido Agency Director Iwamura Michitoshi and his administrative leader contemporaries. It is thought that Iwamura and his contemporaries forced the dome to be attached because they were not able to forget the dome on the Sapporo Main Office of the Hokkaido Development Commission, seen as a past symbol of Sapporo. Common opinion is that cutting the fire door budget to allocate funds to pay for installing this octagonal dome tower was what eventually caused the complete demolishing of the interior in the fire of 1909.

Chapter 6:The Former Hokkaido Government Building went up in flames about one hundred years ago. It was a catastrophic blaze in a minus 21.8 degree deep winter.

The Former Hokkaido Government Building fire started a little after 6:00 pm on January 11, 1901. According to newspaper articles from that era, the source was the first floor printing press room. Embers from a brazier for melting lead in the printing room ignited the surrounding paneled walling. The flames traversed steam heater wooden covering piping, rising to higher levels where it grew among the book storage space under the roof and spread from the upper levels down to the lower levels. The only firefighting water was the well. Perhaps that unpreparedness came from an overconfidence inspired by the fireproof material of the bricks. Moreover, the night of the fire was minus 21.8 degrees Celsius in temperature. The pond in the front garden was completely frozen over and no help to firefighting at all. Many Sapporo citizens came out to help fight the fire, and at around 6:00 the next morning, the flames were finally put out. The entire interior was demolished in the fire, and it is said that the only thing remaining was a triple arch in the front of the foyer hall space. Regardless of the nature of the arches themselves, the columns might have survived the fire because they were cast-iron made.

Chapter 7:The 2.5 million bricks are the color of Sapporo soil.

The number of bricks used in the Former Hokkaido Government Building is around 2.5 million. Most were made in 1886 and 1887. They were produced at several plants, including Suzuki Sahey’s plant in Shiroishi Mura (currently the Shiroishi ward of Sapporo City)

The red color of the bricks was a new and charming color that felt evocative of Western culture to Japanese people of those times. It is a color derived from the iron in the soil oxidizing during the baking process, and is uniquely characteristic of soil in Sapporo. At a firing temperature of about 800 degrees the bricks turn a vibrant, bright orange. At temperatures above that, they turn red. And at 1,000 to 1,500 degrees they go from a red-purple to blackish-brown. The black glossy bricks seen around the mid-trim area of the outer wall are covered in a glassy surface from being baked at high temperatures. They are hard and highly water resistant.

Some bricks have a cross etched into them to indicate the plant at which they were produced. This was achieved by pressing a brand into them before the brick material hardened.

Chapter 8:The bricks were sized using human body measurements. The French style layering is beautiful.

Stacking one brick atop two or more bricks beneath it gives a brick structure that function of dispersing force in a pyramidal direction. This is why stacking them so the gaps line up in perfect vertical lines is not done. Even in the interior of the wall structure, if the bricks do not interlock, the wall will come crashing down like a sheet of paper. Stacking the bricks is thus limited to one uniform pattern, and within that there are the stacking styles known as French stacking and British stacking.

The Former Hokkaido Government Building uses French stacking (this is actually a style of stacking developed in the Flanders region, thus the formally correct name is Flanders stacking). In this style, long bricks and short bricks are stacked in alternating order, giving the building a rhythm of “long, short, long, short,” and producing a sense of playful beauty. Conversely, British stacking is a layer by layer alternation of “layers made up of long bricks only” and “layers made up of short bricks only.” It is a simpler effect aesthetically, but very sturdy.

The brick sizes were determined using human hand sizes as measurement. When stacking bricks, a builder will hold the trowel for handling the adhesive mortar in his or her dominant hand. The other hand grabs a brick and stacks it where it is supposed to go. Bricks were produced so that the width fit the hand size, enabling the builder to easily grip brocks with a single hand at that point in the process. Bricks produced at the beginning of the Meiji Period were large. This was because Westerners taught Japanese people measurements based on their own hand sizes. After Japanese people acquired the skill of making bricks on their own, the bricks started to shrink in size. You can see how bricks are profoundly connected to the human body.

Chapter 9:Pigeon breast curved bricks, sword tip shape bricks, maple leaf shaped bricks, lightning-design bricks… The “variant bricks” that display a pageant of beauty.

Bricks are not always only perfectly rectangular in shape. For example, “pigeon breast curved bricks” are bricks that are elegantly curved like the breast line of a pigeon. Uniquely shaped bricks like this are called “variant bricks.”

The Former Hokkaido Government Building employs “maple leaf” and “lightning” designs that depict the jaggedness of lightning and leaves by off-setting bricks at a 45 degree angle. The bricks that shore up the ends are called “sword tip shaped bricks.” They are pointed like the tip of a sword, with lengths of up to 30 cm pointing deep into the walling. Of course, the manufacturing process is correspondingly difficult. During the 1968 restoration process, 30 cm long bricks were not producible via machine specs and thus had to be pulled out of wooden molds one-by-one. They were thus fashioned with great care, under the additional concern that they would not crack apart during the baking process as well.

Chapter 10:Sapporo Kouseki stone and Ogatsu stone. The stone materials play an amazing supporting role to the bricks.

Bricks are the star of the show at the Former Hokkaido Government Building, but an amazing supporting role is played by the stone materials.

The light gray stones seen in areas like the entrance driveway, window backs, window areas, and stairs are andesite rocks extracted from Mt. Kosekiyama in the South ward of Sapporo City. They add depth to the building with a color and texture that is in exquisite contrast to the bricks, and are also allocated in important points structurally as well.

The roof is covered with natural slate tiles made from Ogatsu stone. Ogatsu stones are stones extracted at the Ogatsu district of Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, an area that suffered damage during the 2011 Eastern Japan Earthquake. Ogatsu stone has a very fine structure that is highly resistant to water penetration. The Tokyo Station roof is also adorned with Ogatsu stone as well.

Chapter 11:A century since rebuilding after the fire. Hiding aesthetic beauty within functionality.

In the restoration after the 1909 fire, focus was placed on fire prevention measures. A deep regret that the fire door budget was reduced for the erection of the octagonal dome tower imbued the structure in a way that is still present today. The strength of that concern can also be seen in the luxurious use of new and expensive foreign materials. The ceiling was repaired with specially ordered Australian metal plating called “metal ceiling.” The detailed patterns pounded out in the metal plating is different in each room. The visual effect of the ceiling changes with how the lighting hits the protrusions and indentations of the patterns, producing a depth of atmosphere not unlike works of art. The ceiling space is coated white for a stucco-like feel. You can see the difference between bare and coated metal in the first floor Archives of Hokkaido display room.

A massive fire door was installed in the hall. You can actually touch the fire door and feel the thickness with your hands. According to a 1911 newspaper article, it is apparently made from asbestos inserted in between iron panels.

Functional double paned windows for protection against the cold are also aesthetically pleasing forms mixed with functionality. They serve as double paned windows in the winter, but are adjusted to serve as slender single paned windows in the summer. At that time, they folded for storage as three section folding glass doors within boxed shaped decorative molds. You can see how that works by looking at the second floor Memorial Room windows.

Chapter 12:The spirit of a country of wood breathes within the bricks.

Women have been heard to say, “When I am inside the Former Hokkaido Government Building, my skin kind of feels pleasantly moist.” This is most likely due to the power of a space enclosed by wood. After the 1909 fire, over a century has passed since the interior décor was restored in 1911, and it has become all the more alluring with an amber tint.

First, when you enter the foyer hall, the front staircases rises above you. The handrail that forms an outward expanding arc from the bottom step emphasizes the sense of depth and a triple arch adorns the overhead space. The central ornamentation of the arch space is an unconstrained design that pulls the arc element together, and molding has been added to flow along the inner edge. The stairway and arch space produce a theater like feel. In the afternoon, sunlight pours down from directly overhead onto the expansive landing for an even more dramatic allure. The stairs split into a right and left side at the landing and head for the second floor.

The second floor Memorial Room once served as a place of top Hokkaido administrational decision making in its role of Director’s Office and Governor’s Office. This might be a bit of a leap, but in terms of the American White House, this would perhaps be equivalent to the President’s Oval Office. Specially selected precious wood is used here, and a sense of design higher in status from the other rooms can be felt.
The entrance door frame and waist-high window sill area casing trim molding is decorated with hand-worked foliage pattern engravings. The lower wall paneling is formed from an extremely precious single panel with a tamamoku woodgrain pattern. Tamamoku grain is a ball like pattern that appears when a knot on a tree trunk is slash-cut. The wood surface is protected by a transparent varnish film and exudes an amber luster. In this environment, the sensibility of the Japanese people who have loved the randomly flowing beauty of natural wood grain throughout their history, the spirit of a country of wood, breathes firmly.

Development towards the interior of Hokkaido has advanced since the mid Meiji Period onward, and massive trees were cut down in massive amounts. Tire restoration work might also have been intended to display the timberland riches of bountiful Hokkaido.

The Former Hokkaido Government Building expresses the strong desire to advance the development of Hokkaido in a modern Western rational spirit, but it is also a place in which visitors may experience firsthand the Japanese people’s sense of aesthetics towards trees cultivated in a gentle climate and culture of temperate moistness.

Chapter 13:In 1968 the building was restored to match its original structure using old photographs from Meiji Era.

In 1968, to commemorate one hundred years since the establishment of Hokkaido, the Former Hokkaido Government Building was restored to its original appearance. The major areas worked on were the octagonal dome tower, the Mansard roof over the front entrance, the roof windows, the ventilation stack, the chimney, the North-South side-entrance, and the munekazari roof ornament.

Restoration faced immense difficulties. This was because there were no blueprints of the original structure, and the only aid available was old photographs. In particular, photograph survey images for the roof, including the octagonal dome tower, were used to construct a 1/100 full size model. The job of serving as a standard for measuring dimensions was fulfilled by the bricks. The standard dimensions for bricks when the structure was originally built was 23 cm x 11 cm x 5.2 cm. Old, unclear photographs were enlarged and bricks were counted one by one to calculate sizes.

The ventilation stacks were previously thought to have been a vent for supplemental heating, but it was discovered that they were connected to air vents in each room, and it also became clear that the total number was 18 vents.

The lighting fixtures, handrails, munekazari roof ornament, and the lightning rod were also restored referring to design standards of the era in which the building was originally constructed. Incidentally, it is thought that when the building was originally constructed, the lighting consisted entirely of gas lights but changed to electric lighting the very next year. The reason for this is that there was not even one electric pole in the outside view photographs taken when the building was originally built, but they are present in photographs taken in the subsequent year. The change from gas lighting to electrical lighting is yet another example of the Former Hokkaido Government Building surviving through changing eras.

Regarding the north and south side-entrances that were converted to staircases, restoration blueprints were crafted using the number of bricks in enlarged photographs and actual measurements of the then-current dimensions.

The reason that the Former Hokkaido Government Building is also referred to as “beauty viewed from the back” is the slender form that highlights its two chimneys. When it was originally built, there was annex house area connected to the main building. However, in the restoration process beauty of appearance and convenience of traversing through the premises were prioritized, and thus this element alone was not included in the restoration.

The five pointed star, a symbol of pioneering and development, can be seen in 13 locations in the Former Hokkaido Government Building.

Chapter 14:Three exhibition halls on the second floor unveil the expansive and rich character of Hokkaido.

The second floor is home to (1) “Hokkaido Museum: AKARENGA(Red Brick) Satellite,” (2) “Karafuto/Sakhalin Related Resources Library,” and (3) “The Red Brick Northern Territories Museun.” Entrance to all three centers is free.

In the entrance of (1) are ammonite fossils. Actually, Hokkaido is a treasure trove of ammonite fossils. They were produced in the Cretaceous layer and are also used as a fossil index to determine geological layer age. In the Meiji Period, they were used as a pointer when searching for coal resources.

In addition, there is also information on Hokkaido nature, history, and culture as well as museums in Hokkaido.

At (2), visitors are greeted by a dignified Mamiya Rinzo statue. Rinzo explored Karafuto by order of the shogunate in 1808 and confirmed that Karafuto is an island. Also, photographs and video footage introduce South Karafuto, where about 400,000 Japanese people had formed a communal society before World War II. The tragedy of World War II is conveyed as well.

In (3), visitors can trace history to better understand the jurisdiction dispute over the four northern islands (Iturup Island, Kunashir Island, Shikotan Island, and the Habomai Islands).

Chapter 15:The Archives of Hokkaido are a lavish world of abundant written works.

The Former Hokkaido Government Building houses the Archives of Hokkaido, which stores approximately 265,000 books. The first floor Archives of Hokkaido display room exhibits the “Tozai Ezo Sansen Chiri Torishirabezu” (Atlas of the Geographical Research of the Mountains and Rivers in Eastern and Western Ezo) compiled by Takeshiro Matsuura, the person who exhaustively explored Hokkaido and first suggested the name for this area. In addition, other resources tracing Hokkaido throughout the ages are also on display.

You might wonder, however, why there are books from before 1909 when the entire building was completely destroyed by fire that year. The reason is that Book Storage Space #1, installed in 1901, was in a different building and thus escaped the devastation. The framework of Hokkaido administration changed throughout time from the Hokkaido Development Commission to the Three Prefectures and the Hokkaido Agency, and resources stamped with book archive seals such as the “Hokkaido Development Commission Seal,” the “Sapporo Prefecture Library Seal,” and the “Hokkaido Agency Library Seal” trace the history of organizational changes.

In the reading room, visitors can look for books via index card and computer as well as read books in the room. Visitors can also look for their own personal roots, including information like when and why their own ancestors came to Hokkaido.

Historical books might seem unrelated to our modern lives, but these books summarize the perseverance of people living their life in those early days in a way we can all understand.

Chapter 16:What are Nationally Designated Important Cultural Properties inside a Nationally Designated Important Cultural Property?

Within the Former Hokkaido Government Building, which is itself designated by the government as an Important Cultural Property, there exists another Nationally Designated Important Cultural Property. That property is the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office Archives. It consists of archives collected and compiled by the Hakodate Magistrate, a position placed in Hokkaido towards the end of the Edo Period. The Hakodate Magistrate was a shogunate governmental position established when Hakodate became

Japan’s first open port, along with Shimoda, via the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed in 1854. The building was completely lost to fire in the Battle of Hakodate in 1869, but archives that had remained at local outpost agencies were saved from destruction. Text in foreign languages, like English and French, is also present, illustrating the international nature of Hakodate.

The Hakodate Magistrate’s Office Archives reveal policies that the shogunate instituted regarding the Ainu people. It also sheds light on trade between the Ainu people and northern peoples who came from continental Primorsky Krai in Russia. This material illustrates that, during an era of isolationism, a northern realm of dynamic foreign exchange astonishingly existed.

One special feature is that this collection still retains archives made when the Russian father of East Asian botany Carl Johann Maximovich came by sea to conduct an on-site survey of Nagasaki after hiring Sugawa Chonosuke to act as an assistant. Funayama Hiroji explored how Maximovich conducted himself in late Edo Japan in “Russian Botanist Maximovich and Supplementary Information for Japanese Plants” (in edition no. 22 of “Northern Region Museum Exchange”)

Preservation measures are essential for important cultural properties, but since the Former Hokkaido Government Building is an important cultural property itself, it cannot be rebuilt. Instead, a two story iron box was installed in the building, and important text materials are protected within.

Chapter 17:Beautiful illustrations and books that depict the Ezo region and Hokkaido.

If you look for materials in the Archives of Hokkaido reading room, you will come across the unfamiliar words “kyuki”(old records) and “bosho” (ledgers). In these Archives, public document compilations from the end of Edo Era through mid-Meiji Era are called bosho and old records pertaining to Hokkaido are called kyuki. These kyuki consist of a wide array of things like Matsumae Clan lineage charts and chronicles, journals of head priests at the Kokutai-ji temple in Akkeshi, travel journals of shogunate travelling inspectors, and records of things like foreign ship dockings and marine drifters. The foundation for kyuki was developed in the Hokkaido Development Commission era. As materials for governing Hokkaido, records of Edo region climate and culture as well as products were needed. However, it is said that because a massive amount of records were lost in the chaos of the Meiji Restoration and battle fires in the Battle of Hakodate, people in charge of these records worked hard to compile information. These resources became the foundation of organizing Hokkaido geography and history.

Moreover, the Former Hokkaido Government Building also stores pieces like the beautiful and vivid illustration work seen on page 63.

Chapter 18:Stories and tales amass in this nexus where ancient and modern times converge.

Water springs called “memu” in the Ainu language peppered the area around the Former Hokkaido Government Building. The water vein was connected to Ishikari River, and salmon would even migrate to the small creek area in the front garden. The Sapporo Main Office of the Hokkaido Development Commission, which could justifiably be called the first incarnation of the Former Hokkaido Government Building, was about five times larger than the current Hokkaido Government Office. Western fruit trees like apple trees, European pear trees, and cherry trees were test grown here. Sapporo Agricultural College professor Nitobe Inazo, who later went on to serve as Deputy Secretary-General in the League of Nations, taught students how to skate on the frozen pond surface in winter.

This has been a journey tracing the story of the Former Hokkaido Government Building through 18 chapters. The number 18 was used to honor the number of ventilation stacks that stand atop the roof. Ventilation stacks are not something for which intricate designs can be seen from a perspective on or above the ground, and simple tubes should have been just fine in order to serve their intended function. However, the designers decided to put together diverse bricks to decorate them. They must have wanted to incorporate the dream of a new era in a design that was vivid and abundantly spirited. The Former Hokkaido Government Building tells a tale of the mingling of the nature of old when salmon migrated through the waters and modern sentiment.