Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright discovered Japan through the same method as many in his time: ukiyo-e prints. “I remember when I first met Japanese prints, I’ll never forget it,” Wright once said in a filmed interview. “Japanese art had a great influence on my feeling and thinking.”
Wright first arrived in Japan in 1917 and that same year he met Arata Endo – 27 years old at the time and fresh off the team working on plans to construct Meiji Shrine. Like Wright, Endo had also risen to notoriety after publishing a scathing criticism of architect Kingo Tatsuno.
The two architects bonded – both “had an infectious wit, no tolerance for mediocrity, and a belief in the sanctity of architecture” – and Wright hired Endo as chief draftsman on the Imperial Hotel project. As fate would have it, Okura & Co., whom Wright attributes as his first encounter with Japan 20 years earlier at the World’s Fair in Chicago, financed and built the hotel.
However, ballooning costs for the Imperial Hotel project – it climbed to an extraordinary $3 million – put pressure on Wright. It’s unclear whether he was fired or resigned (wikipedia states he was fired) but Wright left Japan and his primary protégé Endo oversaw the completion. Endo also continued to oversee projects that Wright had begun, like Jiyu Gakuen, the Tokyo school for girls, and the only surviving Frank Lloyd Wright residence in Japan: the Yodoko Guest House.
As an architect and disciple of Wright, Endo can be easily criticized for never fully emerging from the shadow of Wright’s hegemony. His most important architectural contribution is, arguably, the Koshien Hotel, which was heavily influenced by Wright’s Imperial Hotel.
Currently there is an accelerating revival movement to rediscover the work of Endo. This fall, for the first time ever, the Heritage Houses Trust is opening one of Endo’s private residences for public display. The Kaji Villa in Hayama was completed in 1928 and is significant in that Endo designed not only the home but the lighting and furniture as well. For a limited time only (October and November of 2014) the owner is allowing a public viewing.