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  • John Barr

Do|Co|Mo|Mo|Japan|11 Ozaki Memorial Hall : Ichiro Ebihara

Do|Co|Mo|Mo is an international organisation dedicated to the Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement. The Japanese branch has selected 100 works as representative of the development of the Modern Movement in Japan.

In a series of short posts I will feature some of the selected works that I have had the chance to visit and photograph. This post features the Ozaki Memorial Hall in Tokyo, designed by Ichiro Ebihara and built in 1960...


Now known as the Parliamentary Museum of Japan, the building was originally conceived as a memorial to the politician Yukio Ozaki. Ozaki, who was born in 1858 and died in 1954, lived through the entire period of Japan’s modernisation, from the Meiji Restoration that cemented the power of the emperor in 1868 until the post WWII establishment of a new constitution under which parliament is supreme and the emperor is a figurehead with no political power.

The journalist Mark Gayn, who reported from Japan during the immediate post WWII occupation, has noted that, in conversations about the direction Japanese politics might take after the war, it was Ozaki who was always mentioned as Japan’s outstanding democrat.[i]

In 1887, Ozaki was one of 540 political activists expelled from Tokyo by the police as ‘dangerous individuals’ for demanding ‘People’s Rights’.[ii] Three years later he was elected in the general election of 1890 and in a long political career established a reputation for criticising successive governments whilst pushing for universal suffrage and expansion of democracy. When his party leader, Shigenobu Ōkuma was forced from office for proposing a new constitution based on the British system of parliamentary democracy and majority rule decided by public vote, Ozaki resigned his position in support.[iii] He was a vocal proponent of arms reduction and international cooperation during the 1920’s and 30’s, when Japan’s government was building up its military power and seeking confrontation.[iv] During WWII he was arrested, but quickly acquitted, for giving a speech in which he was considered to have impugned the emperor.

Gayn interviewed him in 1946 and found an old man, a liberal conditioned by a feudal environment who could not meet the challenges of the post war order. A decade earlier, says Gayn, the measure of a Japanese progressive had been opposition to the army. With the army now gone what was needed was progressives with a blueprint for social improvement.[v]

Ozaki had spent his life promoting parliamentary democracy, but it took the U.S occupation forces to finally impose the type of constitution that he had always sought. In a sense Ozaki had failed. He had failed to change the system, he had failed to prevent the rise of nationalist militarism, and he had failed to prevent the imperial expansion and aggressive military action that had led to Japan’s involvement in WWII, destruction and defeat. Ironically, through that defeat, the system that he had sought became a reality and, in the quest for a ‘new beginning’ after the war, Ozaki’s legacy was recovered and he was installed in the national consciousness as The Father of Parliamentarianism. In 1958, four years after his death, a competition was held for the design of a Memorial Hall in his name and was won by Ichiro Ebihara.


Ichiro Ebihara stood in the rational-functional tradition of the architects working in the Ministry of Communications described in my earlier post about the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building designed by Hideo Kosaka. As a group, they were committed to the architectural and social ideals of international modernism and, following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that destroyed much of Tokyo, they formed the Sō-u-sha (Creation of the Universe Society) that promoted architecture as a means of social reform.

The members of Sō-u-sha were predominately junior architects, architectural technicians, draftsmen and engineers working in the public sector, and in 1930 they joined with others of similar background who had formed the AS Kenchiku-kai (AS Architectural Society – AS denoting Architecture School, as the members were graduates of vocational colleges not elite universities). Together with other like-minded architects, university researchers and government technical experts they founded Shinko Kenchikuka Renmei (the League of New Architects), which adopted an openly Marxist stance. In a climate of growing nationalism and anti-communist sentiment, and as a result of a hostile press article about ‘Red Propaganda in Architecture’, the League of New Architects came under police scrutiny and disbanded within a few months.

There is little written about Ebihara, and nothing to say that he was a member of any of these groups, but his 1929 design for the Workers Health Centre, which has been described as a critique of the existing social order, suggests that, at least in his early career, he sympathised with their views.[vi]

Whilst Ozaki could not be described as a socialist or a modernist, it seems that he and Ebihara shared an aversion to nationalism and a support of democracy and internationalism. Ebihara’s design for the Ozaki Memorial Hall stands in the same tradition as Kosaka’s design for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, built in the same year. It is a simple, unassuming building in modern style with no hint of national symbolism.

Built on a small knoll in front of the National Diet (Parliament) and on the edge of the moat surrounding the imperial palace, the building sits between the Parliament to the west and the Palace to the east. The various functions (auditorium, conference hall, gallery, library, archives) are arranged round a square central courtyard that is filled by a pool of water with a statue of Ozaki in its centre. He waves his hat in friendly greeting, or perhaps he acknowledges the crowd. Whether deliberately or coincidentally he faces the Parliament, which, due to the geography of the three buildings, places him with his back to the palace and the emperor.

Osaka Memorial Hall, Tokyo : Ichiro Ebihara : 1960

View from entrance. Ozaki waves his hat in friendly greeting, or perhaps acknowledging the crowd.

Osaka Memorial Hall, Tokyo : Ichiro Ebihara : 1960

View back towards entrance and Parliament. Central courtyard with reflecting pool and statue of Ozaki.

Osaka Memorial Hall, Tokyo : Ichiro Ebihara : 1960

Garden to rear, which looks towards the moat and the imperial palace.

Osaka Memorial Hall, Tokyo : Ichiro Ebihara : 1960

Restrained functionalist modernism.


Ozaki’s life spanned the entire period that saw the introduction of modernism to Japan. Whilst there was general agreement over the need to modernise Japan’s technology and industry it was driven by a desire to establish Japan as a world power rather than a desire to change the face of Japanese society. Ozaki was one of the few individuals who sought to modernise the political system and pass more power to the people through the establishment of a parliamentary democracy. He was also one of the few that tried to resist the increasing power of the military, the growth of belligerent nationalism and the quest for overseas expansion. He failed in these endeavours and, paradoxically, his failure to prevent the course set by the government and the military led eventually to defeat in WWII and the imposition by foreign forces of the type of changes that Ozaki had spent his life fighting for.

The journalist Mark Gayn, whilst noting the contradiction inherent in a ‘democratic constitution’ that was forced on the Japanese by an occupying power, nonetheless is of the opinion that the constitution imposed by the U.S. was not a bad constitution, and his reporting of the Japanese government’s own attempts to draft a new constitution suggests that, without American interference, it would have delayed and obfuscated and eventually produced some minor amendments to the existing constitution that did not address the primary issues of democratic representation and imperial power.[vii]

In the immediate post war period there was a growing feeling amongst the Japanese population that the lives and welfare of the people had been sacrificed by an elite that had led them into a foolish, un-winnable and disastrous war, following which it had entered into a security treaty that gave U.S forces continuing access to Japanese soil. As Shigematsu, the main character in Black Rain, Masuji Ibuse’s novel of Hiroshima in the days following the atomic bombing, says: …from the time the bomb was dropped, my ideas had suffered an abrupt about-face, and I began to feel that what I had been believing was a lot of nonsense.[viii]

The extent of public support for these attitudes is demonstrated by the performance of the Japan Communist Party (JCP) in the 1949 elections. The JCP had first been established as an underground movement in 1922. It was immediately outlawed and its members persecuted by the police and military. Ironically, it was finally legalised in 1945 under the U.S occupation and stood in the 1949 parliamentary elections on a democratic, socialist, anti-imperialist manifesto. It won 10 percent of the vote and 35 seats in the Diet (Parliament) and might have gone on to greater success, but U.S. occupation officials, surprised and concerned by this turn of events, took steps to curtail the party’s influence by purging anyone with left-wing sympathies from official positions.

Gayn has recorded mass demonstrations demanding labour and union rights, and outright public condemnation of the emperor. Again, U.S officials became concerned and banned some demonstrations and the right of public employees to strike.

The U.S wanted to create a democratic Japan, as long as it practised the kind of democracy that suited the U.S. When the occupation ended in 1952, the U.S left Japan with a new constitution and a parliamentary democracy, but with essentially the same people in charge as had been in charge before the war. Japan now had the kind of constitution and parliamentary system that Ozaki had long desired, but it was in the hands of those forces who had long opposed such moves and it is questionable whether the vibrant democracy that he presumably envisaged had been achieved. Successive Japanese governments worked to maintain the status quo.

From the time of Ozaki’s death in 1954 until the 1990’s, one party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was in power continuously, and Japanese politics became a series of inter-factional power-struggles rather than inter-party debate on major policy issues.[ix] LDP faction leaders competed for power and, between 1954 and 2000, the average life of a cabinet was less than eighteen months and of a prime minister a little over two years.[x] Many parliamentary seats were, and still are, ‘hereditary’, meaning that incumbents tend to stay in place for life and, on their death or retirement, are often succeeded by a family member. At the end of the 1980’s around 40% of parliamentary seats were held by second or third generation incumbents.[xi]

A long period of one-party rule and factional power-struggles inevitably leads to corruption. Faction leaders and prime ministers secure and maintain support from local politicians through the distribution of government funds for public projects. Business maintains close contacts with politicians in order to gain access to those projects, and since the 1970’s a number of money-for-favours scandals have been uncovered, occasionally leading to the resignation, but not yet the conviction, of a prime minister.

It is doubtful that this is what Ozaki had in mind, but the Ozaki Memorial Hall marks a brief period after the war when a different future seemed possible.

Osaka Memorial Hall, Tokyo : Ichiro Ebihara : 1960

Ozaki faces Parliament, with his back to the emperor.

All images by John Barr unless otherwise noted

© John Barr 2019

[i] Gayn, Mark. Japan Diary. William Soane Associates (1948) Pg.133.

[ii] Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Harvard University Press (2002).


[iii] Ibid. pg.381-82.

[iv] Ibid. pg.520, 579.

[v] Gayn, Mark. Japan Diary. William Soane Associates (1948) Pg.134.

[vi] Umemiya, Hiromitsu. Naked Functionalism and the Anti-Aesthetic : The Activities of

Renshichirō Kawakita in the 1930’s. Bauhaus Imaginista Journal, Edition 1.

[vii] Gayn, Mark. Japan Diary. William Soane Associates (1948) Pg.130.

[viii] Ibuse, Masuji. Black Rain. Translated by John Bester.Kodansha

International (1969) pg.282-283.

[ix] Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Harvard University Press (2002).


[x] Ibid. pg.717-18.

[xi] Ibid. pg.721.

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