William Merrell Vories (ウィリアム・メレル・ヴォーリズ)

William Merrell Vories (October 28, 1880 - May 7, 1964), who was born in the United States, was an architect who designed many western-style buildings in Japan; he was also a businessman responsible for widely popularizing Mentholatum (present-day Menturm) in Japan in his role as one of the founders of W.M. Vories & Company (whose name was later changed to Omi Brotherhood Co., Ltd.). As a Christian believer, he was also an active and enthusiastic participant in Protestant missionary work; he was involved in the activities of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and also founded the "Omi Mission." Though he is often described as a "missionary" he was not in fact a professional pastor, simply a Christian evangelist. He was professionally trained in many aspects of music, including the writing of hymns, and also introduced the Hammond organ into Japan.

Vories was born in the U.S. in the town of Leavenworth, Kansas.

He came to Japan as an English teacher, but later became involved in the architectural design of a great many western-style buildings throughout Japan.

He designed a number of buildings of various types, including schools, churchs, YMCAs, hospitals, department stores, and houses.

He became a naturalized resident of Japan in 1941, thereafter referring to himself as Mereru HITOTSUYANAGI, using the maiden name of his wife Mariko, daughter of Viscount Suenori HITOTSUYANAGI. His first name, Mereru, written 米来留 (literally: "(from) America came (and) stayed") in Chinese characters, is a pun on his coming from America and remaining in Japan.

Immediately after World War II ended, he worked to fill the role of intermediary between Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) and leader of General Headquarters, and Fumimaro KONOE. He is was also called the "American who protected the Emperor."

Brief Personal History

Vories was born in 1880 in Leavenworth, Kansas.

In 1900 he enrolled in Colorado College in their science and technology program, and began to be involved with YMCA activities.

Initially interested in architecture, Vories was admitted to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) but opted to enter Colorado College instead due to his family's budgetary situation.

In 1902, after being deeply impressed by a lecture at the Student Mission Voluntary Army Congress, he decided to devote himself to missionary work abroad. Around this time, Vories was acquainted with Mr. Bates who later became the fourth Chancellor of Kwansei Gakuin. Vories later changed his major to art.

In 1904, he graduated from the philosophy department of Colorado College, and then took up the post of assistant secretary of the YMCA in Colorado Springs.

Vories went to Japan in 1905 to be an English teacher at Shiga Prefectural Commercial School (today's Shiga Prefectural Hachiman Commercial Senior High School).

In 1908 he opened an office supervising architectural projects (later named the Vories Architectural Office) in Kyoto.

In 1910, Vories founded the "W.M. Vories & Company" along with Lester Chapin, an architect, and Etsuzo YOSHIDA.

In 1918, he opened the Omi Ryotoin (Omi Sanatorium, which today is the Vories Memorial Hospital) as a tuberculosis sanatorium.

In 1919, Vories married Makiko HITOTSUYANAGI, a Viscount's daughter. Their wedding ceremony was held at the Meiji Gakuin Chapel designed by Vories.

In 1920 he dissolved W.M. Vories & Company, establishing the "W.M. Vories Architect Office"as well as the "Omi Sales Company."

In 1934, he renamed the "Omi Brotherhood Co., Ltd." to "Omi Mission" and founded the "Kohan Press Company."

In 1941, Vories acquired Japanese citizenship, changing his name to Mereru HITOTSUYANAGI. He thereafter renamed the W.M. Vories Architectural Office the Hitotsuyanagi Architectural Office.

In 1945, Vories acted as intermediary between Douglas MacArthur and Fumimaro KONOE.

In 1951 he was awarded a type of medal of merit (for distinguished service in social and public works).

In 1958, Vories was chosen as the city of Omihachiman's first honorary citizen.

He also received a medal of merit in 1961 (for distinguished service in architecture).

He passed away in 1964 in his own room on the second floor of his house (which is now the Vories Museum) at 11 Moto, Jionji-cho in Omihachiman. He was 83 years old. After his death, Vories to whom Shogoi (Senior Fifth Rank) was conferred upon received the Order of the Sacred Treasure.

Conservation Activities

In May 2007, the "Vories Architectural Culture National Network" was established with the participation approximately twenty organizations located in the areas from Hokkaido to Yamaguchi Prefecture who were invited by nine organizations including NPOs (specified nonprofit organizations) and individuals in Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture, and in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture.

Issue of reconstructing Toyosato Elementary School building

In 2001, a controversy erupted over the Toyosato Elementary School building (constructed in 1937) in Toyosato-cho, Inugami-gun County, Shiga Prefecture, which was designed by Vories; the dispute arose between the faction, consisting of the town government and the PTA, who wanted to demolish the building and then reconstruct it, and a group consisting of regular citizens (local people like graduates of the school and people connected with construction work) who wanted the school building to be preserved.

Yet some old buildings could not escape demolition, as shown by examples such as the decision to demolish the Zucker House (of the Vories Memorial Hospital) located like the Toyosato Elementary School in Shiga Prefecture (although part of the house will be preserved).