Home‎ > ‎Artists‎ > ‎Utagawa Kuniteru II (1830-1874)‎ > ‎

Illustration of Mitsui Group's Western-style Three Story House at Surugachō, Tokyo

Japanese Color Woodblock Print 

Illustration of Mitsui Group's Western-style Three Story House at Surugachō, Tokyo

by Utagawa Kuniteru II, 1873

Mansei Bridge from the series Pride of Tokyo Area, Comparison
IHL Cat. #342

IHL Cat. #1817 (center and right panels only)

About This Print

The Mitsui Exchange Bank, with its bronze dolphin on top, was a popular building depicted in a number of woodblock prints.  This print made in December of 1873, prior to the cited 1874 completion date of the building, shows the building with Mt. Fuji to its left and the First National Bank [第一銀行], with its distinctive Western-style towers, completed in 1872, in the background to its right.  The artist Utagawa Hiroshige III (1842–1894) created a similar view of the First National Bank building and Kuniteru II's design was popular enough for the publisher to have issued a variant color printing, shown below.

Variant color printing, 1873 by Kuniteru II

Tributes to European Architecture

Source: “The Modernization of Tokyo during the Meiji Period: Typological Questions,” Jinnai, Hidenobu appearing in Rethinking XIXth Century City, Attilio Petruccioli (ed). Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture,1998 and as footnoted.

“In the early years of the Meiji era, when the remnants of old Edo were still abundant, two buildings were built as a tribute to European architectural culture.  One was the First National Bank (1872)1 by the Kaiun Bridge; the other was the Mitsui Bank (1874) which faced a street in the Surugachō area.  Both were the work of Kisuke Shimizu2, a master carpenter with traditional skills.  They had an unusual design which mixed Japanese and Western styles by placing traditional castle-like roofs atop colonial-style buildings.  The tall skyline created by the two buildings was very popular and regarded as a new symbol replacing Mt. Fuji.  In both location and height the two were detached from the surrounding urban context, and that made the particularly prominent symbols of Japanese enlightenment by Western civilization.”

The Mitsui Exchange Bank was topped with a huge dolphin cast in bronze. “According to folklore, the green dolphin would protect it from fire; but the bank needed a more potent talisman against the holocaust that... would soon threaten the financial structure of Japan.”3

In the 1890s these buildings "became a public embarrassment and were torn down."4

Mitsui Exchange Bank, Completed 1874
source: website of Shimizu Corporation

1 The Mitsui Bank built in the commercial district of  Suruga-cho (present-day. Nihonbashi Hongoku-cho, Tokyo), was built to be Mitsui's head office (known as Exchange Bank Mitsui-Gumi.)  Mitsui-gumi had been active in currency exchange and trade in kimono fabrics since the Edo period (1603-1887) in Suruga-cho.
2 Shimizu also built the Tsukiji Hotel (the first Western-style hotel in Japan).  It and the First National Bank (Dai-Ichi National Bank), were two other commercial buildings much pictured in woodblock prints of the period. Today, Shimizu Corporation, is a major construction company operating internationally.
3 Mitsui Three Centuries of Japanese Business, John G. Roberts, Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1973
4 Meiji Revisited The Sites of Victorian Japan, Dallas Finn, Weather Hill, Inc. 1995, p. 17.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog
 Title or Description Illustration of Mitsui Group's Western-style Three Story House at Surugachō, Tokyo 
 東京駿河町三井組 三階家西洋形之圖 東京名所之内駿河町之 
[東京駿河町三井組 三階屋西洋形之図 東京名所之内駿河町之図 ]
 Artist  Utagawa Kuniteru II (1830-1874)
Ichiyōsai Kuniteru mosha 一曜斎国輝摸寫 
 Seal  none
 Publication Date December 1873 明治6年12月 (西十 censor's date seal, see Publisher below) 
 伊勢屋兼吉 hanmoto Iseya Kanekichi [Marks: pub. ref. 145; seal not shown]
 Impression excellent
 Colors excellent
 Condition IHL Cat. #342: fair - wrinkling, vertical folds, soiling throughout, numerous small holes, margin fraying, trimmed to image 
 IHL Cat. #1817: excellent 
 Genre ukiyo-e; kaika-e
 Format horizontal oban triptych
 H x W Paper
 IHL Cat. #342: 14 1/4 x 9 3/8 in. (36.2 x 23.8 cm) each sheet
 IHL Cat. #1817: 14 7/16 x 9 7/8 in. (36.7 x 25.1 cm) each sheet
 H x W Image IHL Cat. #342: 14 1/4 x 9 3/8 in. (36.2 x 23.8 cm) each sheet
 IHL Cat. #1817: 14 x 9 9/16 in. (35.6 x 24.3 cm) right sheet
                          14 3/16 x 9 7/16(36 x 24 cm) center sheet

 Collections This Print
 Bank of Japan Currency Museum ⅡBfカイ1/68
last revision: