Executive Director of Kogakuin University
Industrial sites can be preserved while they continue to be used! The special value of “live properties.”
Q: I understand that you are currently making recommendations on how to conserve the constituent properties of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal’s Yawata Steel Works in Kita-Kyushu. What kind of recommendations have you made?
In Japan, there is a tendency to say, “Conservation of an operational industrial heritage site is difficult to achieve.” But on the global stage, this is not rare at all. Basically, if there is a will, there is a way. For example, take the historical towns and streets of Europe and America. These are being preserved even as people continue to live and work there. The same applies to many old Japanese towns. There are many instances of this form of conservation. Indeed, the preservation of operational sites as cultural properties has become very commonplace.
In this sense, it is my hope that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal will serve as pioneers in Japan’s conservation of operational heritage sites in their fully operational forms. In both instances, we see that industrial facilities have been repurposed and undergone minor overhauls and improvements in the course of their long histories. But what is really important is that both remain alive and operational. This is truly rare and valuable. “Continued operation” and “conservation of culture and history” are by no means mutually exclusive. It is my hope to convey this message to larger numbers of people and broader segments of society.
Q: It seems to me that this is the mission that defines your lifework.
Yes, that is right. The ideal form of conservation for modern cultural properties is to preserve them in their operational form while continuing to use them. This applies to plants and factories, as well as to towns and streets. Industrial heritage sites are not my area of expertise, but I believe some of the constituent elements of the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” will serve as pioneering cases in “live conservation.” Cultural properties conservation and administration in Japan remains focused on the presupposition of “not changing anything.” But there is another possible path that is based on the assumption that “change is natural and acceptable.” The focus of this path would be placed on controlling the scope and speed of such changes, and retaining and conserving what is essential while continuing to use the property. Both approaches are similar in that they share the same ultimate goal, which is to “preserve culture and history.” What sets Japan apart from Europe and America is that the Japanese thinking is the reverse of its Western counterpart.
Q: Japan is struggling with the growing challenges of declining birth rates and the aging of its population, and we have come to a point in our history where we must fundamentally rethink the paradigm of Japan as a nation. My question to you is this. From the perspective of these daunting challenges, what must Japan do to preserve the history and culture that is so important to us?
Recently, I have been playing with this thought. “Regions that are successful in conserving their culture and history are regions that have succeeded in branding themselves.” This can be simply restated in the following question. “Where would you prefer to live, a new and shiny town or an older town that is rich in history?” I believe many people would choose the latter. And even if you choose to live in a new and shiny town, no doubt you would choose to visit the old and historic town as a tourist. (Laugh)
Whether we like it or not, acceleration of the downward trend in birth rates and the aging of the population will intensify interregional competition for survival. Who is going to survive this competition? I believe victory will belong to those regions and communities that are able to successfully develop powerful brands that place a premium on history and culture.
The goal is to add to the attractiveness of towns rich in culture and history. To do this, we need to invest in presenting history and culture in a more attractive light. It is my hope that the registration of “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” as a World Heritage site will serve as an excellent case of such undertakings. In the future, this type of strategy will become increasingly important in regional development. On its part, the government should respond with active support for regions and communities that show initiative. It is absolutely essential to create systems and mechanisms for channeling this support.
Q: I would like to close this interview with this final question. What role do you think the “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” has played in the broad framework of preserving our history and culture, and what role do you anticipate it to play in the future?
My response does not apply to all of the constituent elements, but personally, I have a special attachment to, and interest in “operational plants and factories” as can be seen in the cases of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal. From this particular vantage point, I would like to say, “The next generation of technological innovation is born from cherishing and carrying forward history and culture.” There are so many examples of how new technologies spring forth by learning from the past. It is often said that what the past can teach us is “the spirit and not the physical.” But because my area of expertise is architecture and structures, I subscribe to an opposite adage that I always repeat. “There is nothing without the physical.” (Laugh) In the context of architecture, this can be restated as follows. “Structures create space, and that is what refreshes the spirit.”
In case of plants and factories, welcoming people from afar to “come, see and learn” generates a great deal of pride and is very stimulating. This creates new opportunities for explaining to others through the medium of culture and history what work the people of the community have been doing. I believe this is an extremely valuable perspective for people who are engaged in producing and manufacturing.
Q: Thank you very much for your illuminating comments, and thank you for making time in your busy schedule today.
(Interviewer: Takeo Takashima)
Former Mayor of Omuta City
Archaeologist and Heritage Conservation Specialist
A fellow of the Japan Federation of Engineering Societies
Team Member of the Industrial Project Team Office for the Promotion of World Heritage Listing under Cabinet Secretariat
Governor of Kagoshima Prefecture
Mayor of Hagi City
Mayor of Uki City, Kumamoto Prefecture
The Former Employee of Nippon Steel Corporation
An Associate Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering in Iwate University
Chairman of the Tourist Guide Association of Misumi West Port
President of Kuraya Narusawa Co., Ltd.
Chairman of Izunokuni City Tourism Association
Director and General Manager of Gunkanjima Concierge
Producer of the Gunkanjima Digital Museum
Owner at Tōge Chaya
Chairman: Mr. Hidenori Date
President: Mr. Masahiro Date
Proprietor, Houraikan Inn
Representative Director of Egawa Bunko non-profit incorporated foundation
The 42nd head of the Egawa Family
Democratic Party for the People (DPP) Representative for Nagasaki Prefecture
President of the NPO, Way to World Heritage Gunkanjima
MI Consulting Group
President of Watanabe Production Group and Honorary Chair of Watanabe Productions Co., Ltd.
Member of the House of Councillors
World Heritage Consultant
Director and Dean, The Kyushu-Asia Institute of Leadership
Representative Director, SUMIDA, Inc.
Journalist, founder of the Shimomura Mitsuko Ikikata Juku School
Representative, Rally Nippon
Chairman, Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution World Heritage Route Promotion Council Director, National Congress of Industrial Heritage
Representative Director, General Incorporated Foundation National Congress of Industrial Heritage (Advisor, Public Interest Incorporated Foundation Capital Markets Research Institute）
Mayor of Nagasaki City
Policy Director at Heritage Montreal
World Heritage Consultant
Executive Director of Kogakuin University
Heritage Architect and International Consultant
Head of Data Acquisition at The Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualisation
Head of Industrial Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh
Scottish Ten Project Manager, Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh
Mayor of Izunokuni City, Shizuoka Prefecture
Pro-Provost and Chairman of Council of the Royal College of Art. Heritage advisor of Canal & River Trust for England and Wales.
Dean of Tokyo Rissho Junior College
Professor emeritus of Keio University
Mayor of Kitakyushu City
At the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee convened in Bonn, Germany, from June 28 to July 8, 2015, the decision was approved to inscribe the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution on the World Heritage list.
At a celebratory party held to mark the occasion, some of the primary promoters of the project spoke of their joy in achieving their goal and of the trials and tribulations to getting there.
Director and Managing Executive Officer, Hanshin Expressway Company Limited
Member, Board of Directors, National Congress of Industrial Heritage
Vice-Governor of Shizuoka Prefecture
Mayor of Hagi City
Chairman, Tokyo Metro Co., Ltd.
Mayor of Omuta City
Deputy Director-General, Lifelong Learning Policy Bureau, MEXT
Former Counsellor, Cabinet Secretariat
Mayor of Kamaishi City
Member, Board of Directors, National Congress of Industrial Heritage Counselor, Shimadzu Limited
Chairman of the Consortium for the World Heritage Inscription of Modern Industrial Heritage (Kyushu-Yamaguchi) and governor of Kagoshima Prefecture (as of 2015)