Completed in 1883, the Rokumeikan was a large two-story Western-style building in Tokyo commissioned by then-Foreign Minister Inoue Kaoru (1836-1915) and designed by Josiah Conder (1852-1920), a prominent British architect working in Japan. Conder was a student and close friend of the painter Kawanabe Kyosai (see lot 618). The building was constructed as a residence for Western visitors and a kind of elite international club that symbolized the official government policy of bunmei kaika (civilization and enlightenment) to the extent that the Westernizing years around its opening are sometimes referred to in Japan as the Rokumeikan jidai (Rokumeikan era). The hope was that this type of diplomacy through fraternity would help level the playing field for Japan, facilitating in the renegotiation of treaties and expediting Japan's entry into the ranks of world powers.
The results were mixed, and the apparent failure of the "Rokumeikan diplomacy" to achieve its desired goals lead to Inoue's resignation in 1887. In 1890 the much more opulent Imperial Hotel was opened nearby which eliminated the necessity for the Rokumeikan to serve as a residence for foreign visitors. With the increasing Westernization of buildings in Tokyo and the elimination of the so-called Unequal Treaties in 1899, the Rokumeikan steadily lost its place of importance. The building was demolished in 1941.