1. Overview of the Myonichikan History
In 1921, Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan, was built as the original Jiyu Gakuen Girls’ School by the renowned American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright and his assistant, Arata Endo. The couple who founded Jiyu Gakuen who worked as publishers of Fujin-no-Tomo, Yoshikazu and Motoko Hani, were friends of Endo, and consulted with him concerning building school facilities. As Endo was Wright’s assistant in building the Imperial Hotel at that time, he introduced Wright to the Hanis. Impressed by the Hanis’ educational philosophy, Wright designed Jiyu Gakuen with respect to their wish to “nurture magnificent thinking in the shell of a simple structure.”
As in the original Imperial Hotel, which was constructed at roughly the same time as Jiyu Gakuen, the Hall and the Dining Hall are in the center of the building with classrooms lined up on each side symmetrically. The architectural style known as the “Prairie School” design represents the characteristics of Wright’s First Golden Age, which is known for features such as low ceilings, emphasis on the horizontal, and use of geometric windows. Myonichikan has been used for various activities for graduates since the school relocated to a larger campus in 1934.However, in the late 1960s, leaky roofs, deteriorating walls, and leaning pillars made ageing of the building quite evident. Because it was the original Jiyu Gakuen building, one of the few Wright buildings in Japan, an increasing number of graduates and architects voiced their desire to preserve it. However, when considering the high costs of repair and maintenance, school officials could not come to a consensus. After debating the situation for nearly 10 years, a decision was finalized to preserve the building in 1997. In May of the same year, the building was designated as an Important Cultural Property. Restoration work took place from March 1999 to September 2001, and in May 2001, the facility was reopened to the public. Since then, the facility has been used not only for tours, but also for weddings, concerts, classes, and community education and public lectures, functioning as a cultural asset and a public facility at the same time.