William Merrell Vories

Merrell Hitotsuyanagi (一柳米来留, Hitotsuyanagi Mereru; October 28, 1880 - May 7, 1964), born William Merrell Vories, was an educator, architect, entrepreneur, Christian lay missionary, and founder of the Omi Mission. Born in the United States, he later became a naturalized Japanese citizen.[1]

Merrell lived and worked mainly in Shiga prefecture in Japan. With only limited formal training as an architect, he founded an architectural office in Shiga which employed over thirty professional staff and was responsible for the design of well over 1000 residential, commercial, and church structures in Japan and occupied Korea, prior to the Second World War.


Vories was born in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1880. He graduated from Colorado College in 1904. At first he hoped to be an architect, although he came to Japan in 1905 as an English-language teacher, with an intention to engage in Christian missionary work. While working as a teacher in Omi Hachiman, Shiga prefecture, he was asked to inspect the construction of Kyoto YMCA office building in 1908, and thus started an architectural design firm (later called "W.M.Vories & Company Architects Ichiryusha").[2]

Through YMCA activities in Japan, Vories became acquainted with many American and Japanese people, and received numerous commissions to design houses, churches, schools, hospitals, and YMCA facilities.

In 1917, Vories married the daughter of viscount Suenori Hitotsuyanagi, Makiko Hitotsuyanagi (一柳満喜子 Hitotsuyanagi Makiko, 1884-1969). He became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 1941, taking his wife's family name of Hitotsuyanagi.[3]

In 1918, he founded the Omi Mission, and devoted his efforts to Christian missionary work and education. However, he was also an entrepreneur, and established Omi Sales Company in 1920, to promote an ointment named Mentholatum to earn funds to support his missionary work. The company was renamed Omi Brothers (近江兄弟社 Ōmi Kyōdaisha) in 1934.

Vories also loved music, and is credited with introducing the Hammond Organ into Japan.

He was posthumously awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 3rd class, by the Japanese government. His house in Omi Hachiman is now the "Vories Commemorative Museum".


  1. Larking, Matthew (February 28, 2008). "The time before the starchitects". Japan Times. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  2. 会社のご案内 − 歴史年表 | 一粒社ヴォーリズ建築事務所
  3. Colorado College Tutt Library: Special Collections


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