JAPANESE  ENGLISH

PEOPLE

2017.06.06
Vol.19
The next generation of technological innovation is born from carrying forward history and culture. - Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution open the way to "conserving while using"

Executive Director of Kogakuin University

Dr.Osamu Goto
Dr.Osamu Goto
  • Looking back on his years at the Cultural Agency and instituting the system for “registered tangible cultural properties (structures).”

Q: I was in charge of planning and editing Ms. Kato’s Sangyo isan. While working on the project, I also felt, “The contents of this book are well ahead of the times.” Frankly, I had my doubts and concerns and was asking myself, “Can we really expect society to understand and appreciate the concept of industrial heritage?” The fact of the matter is that it took quite a bit of effort to get the publisher onboard. (Laugh)

At the time, there was considerable resistance to designating anything that was modern as a cultural property. The difficulties were further compounded when it came to “industrial heritage.” There was even a sense that “modern industries were the culprits in destroying traditional culture.” (Laugh)

Q: I have heard that those were very mainstream sentiments even within the Cultural Agency at the time. That leads me to think that you were in charge of modern cultural properties as a member of the “counterculture in cultural properties administration.” As a university student, had you already chosen modern architecture and structures as your area of specialty?

No, not at all. As a graduate student at the University of Tokyo, I too was totally engrossed in the study of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples of antiquity. (Laugh) Before joining the Cultural Agency, I remember telling my mentor, the late Professor Naomi Okawa, “The future of this field [conservation of cultural properties] belongs to the conservation of modern cultural properties and international cooperation. Wouldn’t it be better for you to find a student other than me who has those interests?” This is what he told me in response. “Once you are in the field, you can work on those pursuits.” Ironically, that is exactly what happened when I was hired by the Cultural Agency. I was assigned to the conservation of modern cultural properties.

When I joined the Cultural Agency, the primary focus was on the preservation of Tokyo Station and the Bankers Club in Marunouchi. Ultimately, the Bankers Club was replaced by a skyscraper. All that was saved was a portion of the façade (external wall at the front of the building) to convey an image of the original brick structure. As someone specializing in this field, this was a very unfortunate outcome. With regard to Tokyo Station, at the time, there was no social consensus on the significance of designating a modern structure as a cultural property.

Q: Today, Tokyo Station has been restored to its original glory and stands proudly as a new symbol for Tokyo. It has also become a very popular tourist site. Probably this is an indication of the changes that have occurred in society over the past twenty years. Society has adopted a different perspective on the significance of “modern cultural heritages.” Important changes have also occurred in the conservation of cultural properties.

I observed first-hand how my seniors at the Cultural Agency were struggling with the conservation of Tokyo Station and the Bankers Club. This generated a very strong awareness within me. As I worked to promote policies and measures for the preservation of modern cultural properties, I was constantly asking myself, “What do we have to do to encourage companies to preserve cultural properties in the context of their social and economic activities.” Just about the same time that Ms. Kato came to us with her project, I was working on the designation of the Meiji Life Insurance Building in Marunouchi and the Mitsui Honkan headquarters in Nihonbashi as important cultural properties. In both instances, designation went through successfully. At the same time, I was working on the designation of government structures as important cultural properties, which included the designation of the main building of the Ministry of Justice. There were some other ongoing projects that I was not directly involved in, such as the designation of the present-day Nihonbashi Bridge that had been reconstructed in the Meiji Era. In other words, I was engaged in the designation of “operational heritages” that remained in current use.

Q: This puts these structures in the same category of “operational heritages” as the sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution.

Indeed, there are many points in common. “Conserving while using” is by no means impossible. On the other hand, in many respects, these conservation projects do not conform to Japan’s traditional conservation methods and approaches. The question is how to reconcile the two. What I was doing in my years with the Cultural Agency was to develop a new framework and new approaches for the conservation of cultural properties.

Q: Even after you became a professor at Kogakuin University, you continued to interact with Ms. Kato as researchers in a mentor-mentee relationship. I understand that you continued to exchange information throughout those years.

Yes, that is right. For example, there is an old merchant house in Takahashi City in Okayama Prefecture. This is the Nishie Residence located in the Nariwa-cho district of the city. For many generations, this wealthy family was involved in the production of roha used in the manufacture of red-ocher rouge. The Nishie family continues to live in this house. The question was how to preserve this house. Ms. Kato brought this case to me, and I consulted with her on this project. During my years with the Cultural Agency, I had worked to create a registration system. Now in the private sector, I was in a position to utilize the system that I had created. So, we consulted on how to apply the registration system to the Nishie Residence. In this way, Ms. Kato and I worked on individual conservation projects. I have remained in touch with the Nishie family throughout the years.

Q: You were instrumental in establishing the registration system for tangible cultural properties. How far has this system spread?

The system was launched in 1996 and the number of registered properties now exceeds 10,000. At the start, we were aiming to register 500 cultural properties per year. So, the system has been expanding at more or less the pace that we initially planned. It is true that many challenges remain. I hope that various improvements can be made as the system continues to develop.

Q: What are some of the challenges for the future?

Basically, the system has two salient features. On one hand, restrictions are not enforced. On the other, relatively little public support is provided. This differs fundamentally from the conservation of national treasures and important cultural properties where the national government plays an active role in preservation through enforcement of strict restrictions and regulations. The focus of the cultural properties registration system is placed elsewhere. The idea is to allow local communities and municipalities to utilize properties that have been registered with the government in promoting their own community development projects. That is how the system has been designed. The ideal is to develop the registration system so that greater government support flows to those areas that are making the best use of their registered cultural properties. We still have a long way to go, but I believe that industrial heritage sites are particularly suited to use in promoting local and regional development. In 2008, I published a book entitled Toshi no kioku wo ushinau maeni [Before the memory of cities is lost] (Hakuyosha Shinsho). In this book, I cited many cases and concrete methods. My focus was not so much on industrial heritage sites, but instead on the various types of structures that remain standing in our cities. I hope this book will serve as a reference for those interested in preserving these types of cultural properties.

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