At the Fair

The Japanese Pavilion at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago

World's Columbian Exposition, Ho-o-den. c. 1891-1893.
Source: The Art Institute of Chicago

Navigating the World's Columbian Exposition

This map published by the Chicago Tribune shows the layout of the World's Columbian Exposition. The main exposition ground was located in Jackson Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan. In addition to the main section, many of the minor buildings and special exhibits were located on the strip of space known as Midway Plaisance that connected Jackson Park and Washington Park.


Some of the main buildings in the fairground included: the Administration Building, the Agricultural Building, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, the Mines and Mining Building, the Electricity Building, the Machinery Hall, the Woman's Building, the Transportation Building, the Fisheries Building, the Forestry Building, the Horticultural Building and the Anthropology Building. 

1893 Chicago Tribune Columbian Exposition Souvenir map
Source: University of Michigan Library Digital Collections

Location of Ho-o-den

The image shows the Columbian Fountain and the Great Basin (the pool) in the center, with the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building on the left and the Agricultural Building on the right. In the distance is the great Statue of the Republic.




As the World's Columbian Exposition commemorated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus in the New World, his likeness is featured on an admissions ticket.

1. Chicago World's Fair, 1893. 
Source: Boston Public Library
2. Chicago of To-Day
. The Metropolis of the West.
The nation's choice for the World's Columbian E
xposition, 1893.
Source: Internet Archive
3. Advertisement for the World's Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World's Fair), 1893.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

4. Admission Ticket to the fair, with a portrait of Christopher Columbus, 1893.

Source: University of Maryland Libraries



Columbian Exposition

The World's Columbian Exposition was

held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. As an international exposition, it was a showcase event for the host nation's progress and civilization as well as an opportunity for foreign countries to illustrate their own achievements in the industries, sciences, and arts. 


The exposition had a profound impact on

architecture. The buildings created for the event not only functioned as the most explicit physical and visual realizations of the presenters' self-images, but also opened a window to the world for the 27 million visitors to the fair to learn about participating U.S. states and foreign countries. 


The exposition featured approximately 200 buildings in total. While most of the buildings were designed in the European Neoclassical style, white in color and magnificent in scale, 18 foreign sites and buildings assumed distinctive vernacular styles.

Japan at the Fair


1. The New York Times: "Japan Deeply Interested."

February 17, 1893. 

Source: The New York Times

2. Chicago Tribune Archive: "Japan’s Exhibit at the Fair."
Source: Chicago Tribune 



Japan at the
World's Columbian Exposition

Japan was one of the first foreign countries to show great

interest in participating in the Chicago exposition and led all foreign countries in the amount of the appropriation, providing around $630,000 for its display.


At the fair, Japan contributed to all of the main exhibition

themes except machinery and electricity. In the Manufactures Building, Japan presented samples of silk textile, embroidery, porcelain, pottery and many other goods for which it was famous. In the Agriculture Building, Japan's tea industry was a highlight. In the Fine Arts Palace, Japan displayed fine collections of paintings, porcelains, textile fabrics, carvings in ivory and wood, lacquered wares, and enameling on metal.


Besides its exhibits in the various main departments, Japan also

erected three freestanding structures on the fairgrounds: the Japanese Pavilion (also known as the Ho-o-den), the Tea House, and the Japanese Bazaar. Among these, the Ho-o-den drew the most attention; it was built as a permanent structure and later gifted to the City of Chicago at the close of the exposition.



The Japanese Pavilion, Ho-o-den

The Japanese Pavilion, Ho-o-den

The Japanese Tea House

The Japanese Tea House

The Japanese Bazaar

The Japanese Bazaar

The Japanese Pavilion, Ho-o-den

“From an architectural standpoint it is perhaps the most interesting contribution to the Exposition. For it is not set up as an imitation, but is what it pretends to be, a genuine product of materials and labor that has never before been seen on this continent.”


— P.B. Wight, "Japanese Architecture at Chicago," in The Inland Architect and News Record, December 1892.


Today, the Hōōdō is the only remaining original building of Byōdōin and was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1994. Learn more through the official website of Byōdōin here.

Ho-o-den is modeled after the Hōōdō of Byōdōin, Uji, Kyoto.  

Japanese Ho-o-den.                                             



The Ho-o-den as a Reproduction of a Historic Model, Byōdōin

The Japanese Pavilion by design

resembled the main building of an ancient Japanese Buddhist temple Byōdōin, located outside of Kyoto in the city of Uji. 


The aristocrat Fujiwara no Yorimichi created Byōdōin in 1052 by converting a pastoral villa into a Buddhist temple. The Hōōdō (Phoenix Hall) was the most famous building in the Byōdōin complex, as it was extraordinary in architectural form as well as housed a rich concentration of sculptural icons and painted panels. The building comprises a central hall, two side corridors and a rear corridor that approximate the form of a phoenix (hōō) with spreading wings and long tail.


Modeled after the remarkable  Hōōdō of Byōdōin, the Chicago replica thus brought an authentic example of Japan's unique culture and history to a world audience.



United States Government Building and Japanese Ho-o-den. Official Views of the World's Columbian Exposition.

Go to link

Birds Eye View Looking Northwest from Liberal Arts Building. Official Views of the World's Columbian Exposition.

Go to link

Southeast Across the Lagoon. The World's fair album: containing photographic views of buildings ... at the World's Columbian exposition, Chicago 1893 by Rand McNally and Company

Go to link

Wooded Island Near Horticultural Building. Official Views of the World's Columbian Exposition

Go to link
A Unique Location:
Ho-o-den on the
Wooded Island

The Japanese Pavilion was given a

unique site at the exposition, away from the crowded main section where all the U.S. state buildings and foreign pavilions were located. Similar to its ancient model of Byōdōin, which is surrounded by a lush garden and a peaceful pond, the 1893 Ho-o-den was placed on the Wooded Island where trees and water abound. In terms of both style and scale, it contrasted sharply with the majestic European Neoclassicism cladding the main buildings. The Japanese Pavilion and its verdant environment expressed a scenic beauty that distinguished itself from the rest of the fair. 



of the Ho-o-den

To construct the Japanese Pavilion, 

Ho-o-den, twenty-four Japanese carpenters traveled across the ocean and arrived in Chicago to demonstrate their specialized craftsmanship. To save time, all of the building materials were already worked and fitted by hundreds of men in Japan months earlier. The materials were then transported to Chicago at great expense, and only twenty-four workmen were needed to perform the actual construction on site.


News reports at the time noted that the

chosen carpenters were the most skillful ones, and they talked and chanted songs energetically and happily during the construction. Photographs showed them dressed in special workmen's half coats (happi) that bore the trade insignia indicating their esteemed status as master carpenters. 


1. The Dream City: a Portfolio of Photographic Views of the World's Columbian Exposition. St. Louis, Mo.: Published weekly by N.D. Thompson Publishing Co., 1893.
Source: Babel Hathitrust

2. World's Columbian Exposition, c. 1891-1893.
Source: The Art Institute of Chicago

3. Constructing Japanese Pavilion Ho-o-den at World's Columbian Exposition,
Chicago, c. 1893. 
Source: Wikimedia Commons 

4. Constructing Japanese Pavilion Ho-o-den at World's Columbian Exposition,
Chicago, c. 1893. 
Source: Wikimedia Commons

5. Constructing Japanese Pavilion Ho-o-den at World's Columbian Exposition,
Chicago, c. 1893. 
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Symbol of the Phoenix (Hōō)

The name of the historical Hōōdō (Phoenix Hall) of Byōdōin in Japan derived from its physical likeness to the mythical phoenix bird; the building also features a pair of bronze phoenixes that adorn its roof ridge. Similarly, the phoenix motif could be found everywhere in the Ho-o-den at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. For the Japanese, Ho-o is not only a sacred bird of heaven, but also a symbolic creature that is associated with the glories and dignities of Japan.



 "The Ho-o is described by the ancients as having the head of a cock, the beak of  a sparrow, a neck like a moving snake, feathers like dragon scales piled one upon another, the wings of a Kirin (a mythical animal), and a tail like that of a fish. Its plumage is brilliant with all the colors, the whole effect being one of supernatural beauty."


    — Okakura Kakuzo, The Hooden 




Ho-o-den as a National Pavilion

While its bird form and natural setting were modeled after the historical Hōōdō of the temple Byōdōin, the Ho-o-den

at the Chicago exposition was not a Buddhist temple but a national pavilion that aimed to embody the magnitude of the Japanese nation to a world audience. Ho-o-den was thus staged to present a progression of artistic and architectural achievements. The pavilion’s three connected halls represented designs from three major periods in Japanese history.

The whole project of the Ho-o-den was carried out under the Japanese Imperial Commission, and the architectural design was supervised by Kuru Masamichi, a university-trained architect. It is also worth noting that the professors and students of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts designed the decorations inside the Ho-o-den.  



The north wing assumed the style of the Fujiwara period (880-1150), an era of courtly accomplishments. At the time, sliding doors were not yet in use; instead, vertical shutters served as exterior enclosure and were removable for admitting light and air when desired. On the inside, walls were covered with papers an decorated with paintings.   

The central hall represented the prevailing style during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). The rooms in this hall were the most elaborately and richly decorated, with lacquered, gilded, carved and painted works covering almost every possible surface.

The south wing was constructed in the style of the Ashikaga period (1350-1550), when Zen Buddhism and Chinese philosophy were in vogue in Japan. The building included a tearoom where the tea ceremony could be performed.

South Wing
Ashikaga Period
(1350 - 1550)

Exterior South, Right Wing

North Wing
Fujiwara Period
(880 - 1150)

Exterior North, Left Wing

Central Hall
Tokugawa Period
(1603 -1868)

Exterior Central Hall

Different Responses to the Ho-o-den

The World's Fair as Seen in One Hundred Days:
containing a complete ...,

Source: Babel Hathitrust

Praise: According to the guidebooks, daily newspapers and academic periodicals of that time, the Ho-o-den was a favorite place for many curious visitors and, artistically speaking, a great contribution to the fair and the Western world. The praise is at times double-edged, when the exoticism of the pavilion is considered its main attraction.



Sarcasm: The conversation shows a moment when the visitors are making fun of the Ho-o-den. Although it is a clip from a comic book in which the characters spoke sarcastically about nearly everything at the fair, the racist undertone of the comment is palpable.


World's Fair Puck, 1893.

Source: Babel Hathitrust

The Best Things to be Seen at the World's Fair, 1893.
Source: Babel Hathitrust

Misconception: Despite the availability of tourist albums and English-language guidebooks, Americans still remained largely familiar with Japanese monuments and landmarks. Several publications about the fair called the Ho-o-den a reproduction of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku) in Kyoto. The Golden Pavilion, also a historical Buddhist structure, is three stories in height, with the exterior surface of the top two stories covered in gold foil. The confusion of the Golden Pavilion for the Phoenix Hall, two highly disparate structures, shows the lack of basic information about Japan among Americans at the time.


Dissatisfaction: While many Western visitors liked the exotic Ho-o-den, an unobtrusive one-story building constructed of unpainted wood and paper, many Japanese 

were not happy about its modest appearance. The Japanese Pavilion looked small, fragile and "primitive" in comparison to the monumental American exposition structures. To them, the Ho-o-den presented a vulnerable image of their country.

The Japan Weekly Mail, January 1894.
Source: Babel


The Japanese Tea House

“The Japanese tea-house has been a favorite resort throughout the fair. The tea served is of excellent quality, and as one sips it from dainty Japanese ware, surrounded by natives of the Flowery Asle, it requires no great flight of the imagination to carry one thousands of miles from Chicago.”


— The World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 / a full description of the buildings and exhibits.”

The Japanese
Tea House

The Japanese Tea House was situated on the northern shore of the lagoon. Visitors could stop here to rest and enjoy tea and the picturesque view. Bamboo furnishings, such as tables and settees, could be found inside the tea house. There were also paper lanterns that decorated both the building and the surrounding garden.

The Japanese Bazaar

At the 1893 World's Columbian

Exposition, the Japanese Village at Midway Plaisance was a place where visitors could take home a Japanese souvenir. It was conducted as a bazaar in the style of a Japanese cottage where goods were offered for sale. The inside was filled with native manufactures and curio of Japan, including screens, fans, lacquer wares, iron and brass work.



Domestic Fairs in Japan

One way to understand the opposing modes Japanese self-representation at home and abroad is exhibition architecture’s fulfillment of visitor expectations and desires. To the average American, a Japanese tea house and a replica Buddhist structure offered great novelty. To the average Japanese, a clock tower and European-style colonnade represented marvels of the new era. As the tourist photography of Japan produced during this time conveyed (see room 1), foreigners preferred seeing the country one way, while domestics lived a more nuanced reality in which the old and the new intermingled.

Between 1877 and 1903, Japan held five National Industrial Exhibitions at home. Similar to their international counterparts, national exhibitions presented to visitors a coherent set of architecture that was grand and marvelous. Visible signs of modernization and industrialization dominated the exhibitions, hosted in rotation in the three major cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.


While trying to propagate a historical and traditional image at the overseas fairs, like the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, organizers expressed national identity differently at these domestic fairs. The exhibition architecture at home assumed new building styles and emphasized industrial and technological advancements. Main features of the Fourth National Industrial Exhibition of 1895, for example, were the newly-completed Lake Biwa Canal and an electric streetcar.


1890 Third National
Industrial Exhibition in Tokyo

Nijusannen hakurankai jikkyo (1890).
Source: National Diet Library Japan

Front Gate

1895 Fourth National
Industrial Exhibition in Kyoto

Fuzoku gaho n.94 (1895.6.18).

Source: National Diet Library

Ceremony Venue (Bottom) and the

Second Gate of the Industrial Building (Top-right)