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Release | Shizuko Kosuna

Learn the history of Hokkaido at “Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (Red Brick Office)”


I will introduce the highlight of “Red Brick Office”, which is one of the major sightseeing spots in Hokkaido, and the frontier spirit put into this building!
The place is definitely worth a visit because you can feel the spirits of people who involved to the development of Hokkaido and the significant flow of times such as the change of the government from Edo to Meiji, Kaitakushi (Hokkaido Development Commissioner), and frontier spirit Hokkaido government office inherited from them.


The octagonal tower is the symbol of “independence and progressiveness”

“Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office”, built in 1873 can’t be excluded when we talk about the “Red Brick Office”. It is an example of American neo-baroque architecture. The biggest characteristic is the huge dome on the top of the building. The doom was popular in the United States at that time as the symbol of “independence and progressiveness”. 

開拓使札幌本庁舎▲“The former Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office” burned down in 1879, only 6 years after completion. You can visit Historical Village of Hokkaido to see the restored building. 

The system of Kaitakushi was abolished in 1882, and they started to build the “Red Brick Office” from 1886, at the same time as Hokkaido government office was established. They built the octagonal tower to mimic the dome and inherit the symbol of “independence and progressiveness” from the former Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office. The Red Brick Office completed in 1888. 

八角塔▲The green dome in the center is the octagonal tower. The octagonal tower was not in the plan at first, and it was removed in 1895 due to safety reasons. The octagonal tower did not exist in the government office until it was rebuilt in 1968. 

By the way, did you know that there is a historical site of “Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office” in the property of Hokkaido government office? The historical site of “Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office” is carved in the stone monument located in the north of the government office. 

「開拓使札幌本庁舎」跡地▲The historical landmark of “Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office” located in the north of Red Brick Office. It was designated as a historical site in 1967 together with “Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (Red Brick Office)”. 

「開拓使札幌本庁舎」跡地▲Where the flags are raised now was the center of “Former Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office”. The building in the back is the Hokkaido government office today. 


The building was rebuilt after a great fire 

The Hokkaido government office was established in 1886 and the “Red Brick Office” completed in 1888. This was the original model of “Red Brick Office” today. It was one of the biggest buildings in all Japan at that time, as being a second-stories building, 33 meters high, 36 meters depth, and 61meters width.

It may not be too well-known that there is a basement, too. There used to be a pressroom, etc., now used as a library of the record office.

創建時の赤れんが庁舎▲The picture of Red Brick Office when it was built at first. The construction of a pond and planting works were done in the next year. 

In 1909, the great fire occurred in the government building. It was a mid-winter day; January 11th. The origin of the fire is said to be the pressroom. It was unable to fight the fire at that time. The building continued to burn for 11 hours, and the inside was entirely destroyed by the fire.

The inside was completely destroyed, but the red brick outside, which was fire resistant, was almost completely fine. 
The government office was rebuilt in 1911, only two years after the fire. 
The inside of the government office viewable today is what was built at this timing. You can notice fire protections everywhere in this building. 

防火扉▲The big fire shutter which can cover the hallway totally. 

天井の防火対策▲The ceiling changed to metallic plates covered with white paint from wooden plates covered with plaster. You can see the samples of the new ceiling at the record office exhibitions on the first floor. 


The building uses red bricks produced in Sapporo during Meiji Period 

Let’s take a look at red bricks on the exterior wall, which was not destroyed by the great fire. 
“Red Brick Office” uses 250 million red bricks. 
The stacking pattern is notable. They adopted “Flemish bond” which is somewhat uncommon in Japan. Flemish bond is a pattern of bricks in which each course consists of alternate headers and stretchers. It is said to be the most beautiful brickwork. 

フランス積みレンガ▲They use red bricks produced in Shiraishi Village (Sapporo City today). They also used red bricks from Ebetsu during the reconstruction works in 1968. 

換気塔▲The ventilating tower on the roof. The decoration of red bricks are beautiful even it is not a place to be seen by everyone. 


The Red Brick Office looks beautiful from every angle

The “Red Brick Office” is beautiful when it’s seen from the front but you can see it in a different way when you see it from the back or side.

Below is how the back looks. The building is well-known for being beautiful from the back. The attraction of its figure from the back is simple yet dignified comparing to the front, which is more glorious. The ventilating towers look beautiful from here. 

後ろから見た赤れんが庁舎▲The Red Brick Office from the back. You can notice the five-pointed star, the symbol of Kaitakushi, on the circular window in the center. 

Below is the Red Brick Office from the side. The bay windows on each side look pretty. 
There is an entrance in the center of the building. There are also stairs going to the basement at the back. It may used to be a staff entrance. There is also a five-pointed star on the roof on this side as well. 

横から見た赤れんが庁舎▲The Red Brick Office from the side. It has some exotic feeling. 


The record office stores many Important Cultural Properties

There are many places to see inside the “Red Brick Office”. Since it’s a free entry, you can stop by casually. 

The “record office” stores and exhibits documents about the history of Hokkaido.
In this record office, many documents recorded about the end of Edo Period, Meiji Period when the government changed from Kaitakushi to Hokkaido government office, and until now are stored carefully. 

What surprising is that 167 pieces of Hakodate magistrate’s documents at the end of Edo Period and 7832 pieces of Kaitakushi documents are designated as Important Cultural Properties. 
Furthermore, anyone can take a look at original documents at the “record office reading room” on the first floor.
“The record office was built to store the historical documents and at the same time to make documents readable to everyone. We ask for everyone's corporations to avoid degradation, but we wish those documents are used for studies.” The staff told me. 

It is rare to find such amount of documents from the end of Edo Period to early Meiji Period stored in all Japan. Why did all the records not burn down from the big fire? Most of the documents left today were stored in the stone-built storeroom distant from the Red Brick Office at that time, and that saved the records from the fire. 


The “record office exhibition room” passes down the history of colonization

Visit the “record office exhibition room” to learn the history of Hokkaido. You can take a look at documents during Kaitakushi Period, etc., here. 
The must-see here is the map of Hokkaido made by Takeshiro Matsuura, who named Hokkaido. The map is very interesting with the place names from the shore to inland in Ainu language. 

松浦武四郎の北海道地図▲The map of Hokkaido by Takeshiro Matsuura is in the back of this picture. 

Another exciting exhibition is the diorama of Sapporo in early Meiji. You can find out where “Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Office” and “Red Brick Office” are located. 

ジオラマ▲The diorama of Sapporo in early Meiji Period is in the center. 

ジオラマ▲There are many rivers flow from springs in the city. There is also a wild forest which is a botanical garden today in the diorama. 


The beautiful architecture inside

The three-stranded arches come right in front of your eyes after entering. The sculptures on the top and pillars of arches and stairs are characteristics of Western-style architecture. 

三連アーチ▲The three-stranded arches will welcome visitors right after entering. 

三連アーチの彫刻▲The sculpture of three-stranded arches. It is said that the exterior wall and this three-stranded arches survived from the great fire in 1909, but there is also a theory that it was built during the restoration work after the great fire. 

Go through the arches and you will see the entrance of the memorial room from the staircase landing. Successive chiefs and governors worked in the memorial room. The room is located right above the main entrance. 

階段と記念室▲The door of the memorial room on the second floor is in a shape of the arch like the main entrance. It has a well-proportional beauty. 

記念室▲The entrance to the memorial room is spacious. 

In the memorial room, pictures of successive chiefs and governors are displayed, and you can feel the dignity from the sculptures on the doors and window frames. Also, it has the heat-retaining double doors which are another characteristics of this architecture. It is said that they used a single door window during summer. 

記念室▲The memorial room was used until 1968 when the Hokkaido government office building today was built. 

二重窓▲The double door in the memorial room. It is difficult to notice in the picture, but warped glasses also tells us that the architecture has a lot of history. 


The “Red Brick Office” tells us the history of Hokkaido

The “Red Brick Office”, which was used as the office of Hokkaido government until 1968 and restored its original look in 1888. The building was restored as the memorial of 100th anniversary from the naming of Hokkaido. It was designated as the Important Cultural Property in the next year. After 50 years, Hokkaido will celebrate its 150th anniversary from the naming of Hokkaido in 2018.
The “Red Brick Office” tells a lot about the history of Hokkaido by the existence of itself. Why don’t you visit here to feel the frontier spirit? 

Those who would like to learn more about the “Red Brick Office”, I recommend asking for a volunteer guide. They will give you a free guided tour according to your schedule. 
  • Learn the history of Hokkaido at “Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (Red Brick Office)”