hich Scottish engineer planned water supply systems for most of the
major cities in Meiji Japan? Which Scottish engineer was responsible
for the design of Ryounkaku the first skyscraper in Japan? Which
Scottish engineer was, with John Milne, the founder of the first photographic
Society in Japan? The answer is William Kinninmond Burton (1856-1899)
who, despite his hard work, has received none of the public recognition
which fell to other British engineers who worked for the Japanese in
the late nineteenth century.
was an old style engineer, trained on the job. He had none of the prestige
of the young graduates, products of the new University courses in engineering.
When Henry Dyer (1848-1918) was appointed principal of the Imperial
College of engineering in Tokyo in 19872 he was Henry Dyer, CE (Certificate
of Engineering), MA, B.Sc., degrees awarded by the University of Glasgow.
When William Kinninmond Burton was appointed to the Faculty of Engineering
of the University of Tokyo in 1887, he had no such commendations.
Kinninmond Burton was born and educated in Edinburgh. In 1973 he was
apprenticed for five years to Messrs Brown Brothers, Hydraulic and Mechanical
Engineers, of Rosebank Ironworks, Edinburgh. He later moved to London.
On the strength of his work experience in Edinburgh and in London, W.K.
Burton was appointed by the Japanese government in 1887. At the faculty
of Engineering of the University of Tokyo Burton was 'Professor of Sanitary
Engineering and Lecturer on Rivers, Docks and Harbours'.
the purposes of this brief note an attempt will be made to look at Burton's
work as Sanitary Engineer, as pure water engineer, as designer of the
Ryounkaku, as photographer and as a family man in Japan.
K. Burton, the Sanitary engineer
At the age
of 31 Burton's appointment as a sanitary engineer reflected the Japanese
government's recognition of the perils of disease which were an increasing
threat to people in Japanese cities. But as Burton was to find in the
1880's, the position in Japan was very different from that in Britain.
Arrangements in Japan ensured that the Benjo, 'place for business' or
toilet, had an opening in the outer house wall. This enabled the Benjo
collector to remove the sewage regularly. The sewage was carried weekly
on the fields as fertiliser, a remarkably self-sufficient system with
which Burton could not tamper, but which was later to cause many problems.
as pure water engineer
From the early days of his arrival in Japan, Burton was committed to
providing plans and drawings for the water supply of many towns and
cities in Japan. With the help of young Japanese water engineers, Burton
prepared plans for a modern water supply for most of the Japanese cities.
Ryounkaku, the first sky scraper
commissioned sometime in the late 1880's, not long after his arrival
in Japan, to design an extraordinary tall 'Twelve Storeys' which opened
to the public in 1890. It was some 220 feet high, octagonal in shape,
made of brick and boasted the first elevator ever installed in a Japanese
building. In 1890 this 'confection' was the tallest building in Tokyo.
was a Japanese inspired, commercial enterprise, designed to attract
working men and their families to visit Asakusa, in Tokyo. On the top
floor, for example, it was possible to search out other Tokyo landmarks
by peering through the telescope provided for the purpose. Other attractions
were to be found on the various floors of this commercial 'confection'.
The 'Twelve Storeys', which had survived the earthquake of 1894, was
seriously damaged in the Great Kanto earthquake of September 1923 and
the remains were pulled down.
K. Burton as photographer
In 1887, the year in which Burton left Britain for Japan, the Seventh
edition of W. K. Burton's Modern Photography was issued in London. This
book sold well and was in print for many years. In 1892 W. K. Burton's
Practical Guide to Photography, which also remained in print for many
years, was published.
K. Burton became involved with photographing the immediate aftermath
of earthquakes. He was a friend of John Milne in Japan. Together Milne
and Burton produced The Great Earthquake of Japan (1891) and
also a more general book, The Volcanoes of Japan.
Burton arrived in Japan in May 1887. He seemed to settle into Japanese
society with remarkable ease. He learnt to speak Japanese and by 1892
he had a daughter, Tamako, by his young wife Matsu Orakawa. On 19 May
1894 he married the mother of his child at a ceremony at the British
Consulate in Tokyo. Consul Joseph H. Longford officiated; Burton's own
signature was 'illegible'. Angus MacDonald signed on behalf of Burton's
wife. There were many 'marriages' of British men to Japanese women in
Japan at this time. Few went to the lengths of presenting themselves
and their partners to the British consul for a formal wedding ceremony.
K. Burton died on 14 August 1899 in the University Hospital, Tokyo.
He was 43 years of age. He is said to have died of a fever. Into a period
of some twelve years, his residence in Japan, he had crammed a lifetime
of work experience. One can only marvel at the dedication of this Edinburgh
man to his adopted country.