Turning Our Industrial Heritage into Hope for Those 100 Years From Now

Member of the House of Councillors

Mr.Tatsuo Hirano
Mr.Tatsuo Hirano

ーーWhat kind of support did you provide?

Soon after meeting with Ms. Kato, I went to talk with Mr. Hiroto Izumi, who was director of the Cabinet Secretariat’s Regional Revitalization Office at the time (currently Special Advisor to the Prime Minister). He understood the subject well, and agreed that we needed to talk with the Agency for Cultural Affairs and get them create a category for industrial heritage within Japan’s World Heritage Sites. But then the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, and I had to focus all of my efforts on my duties as Minister for Reconstruction in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Minister of State for Disaster Management. So I did next to nothing in regard to inscribing industrial heritage sites on the World Heritage List. Ms. Kato and Mr. Izumi worked in tandem to move the project forward.

Unfortunately, things did not go so smoothly. The Government Revitalization Unit was established to revamp the government’s budget and programs and it deliberated on “reevaluating overemphasis on the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties in regard to inscribing industrial heritage sites on the World Heritage List,” but the Agency for Cultural Affairs believed that it would be difficult to get the inscription approved with only protecting the sites under the law, and responded that building a new framework would be meaningless if we cannot hope for inscription. So we were caught between a rock and a hard place. Eventually, when Ms. Renho Murata, new Minister of State for Government Revitalization visited Yawata Steel Works during the “budget screening process” to review government programs to reduce wasteful spending, it opened a path for inscribing industrial heritage sites on the World Heritage List, but it did not go anywhere while the Democratic Party was in power.

Since 2005 when the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, Ms. Kato and others have got the project into full swing. Thanks to their diligent efforts, I was able to rest easy seeing that the project continued without trouble even after the rule of the Democratic Party ended and the Second Abe Cabinet was formed. And my desire to support the project remained unchanged. One thing I reaffirmed through my involvement in reconstruction efforts in the disaster-afflicted areas was that it is not politicians nor this party nor that party that is important in accomplishing things, but the dedication of individuals. What is needed is the conviction of individuals to get to the essence of what the real objective is and see it through to the end. People in many different positions were involved in moving the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution World Heritage Inscription Project forward, but each one of them worked single-mindedly for the same reason as Ms. Kato—they wanted to do something for Japan. And the strong solidarity this created bore fruit, achieving inscription on the World Heritage List.

ーーI understand that you’re from Kitakami City, Iwate. Kamaishi Hashino Iron Mining and Smelting Site is included in the industrial heritage sites. Do you think that one of the reasons you had such strong interest in Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution was your love for your hometown?

Yes I do. Kamaishi is widely known in Japan as the “City of Steel.” I knew this since I was a child, but my interest in Kamaishi’s steel history started when I joined the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and undertook jurisdiction over Iwate Prefecture. I found it incredibly interesting and became a total “steel nerd.” Actually, the first time I met Ms. Kato, the first thing we talked about was steelmaking. She is profoundly knowledgeable about steel—I was amazed how much she studied the subject. Hashino Iron Mining and Smelting Site become a National Historic Site in 1957, but at first it was not included in the industrial heritage component parts. But when preparing the nomination to submit to UNESCO, they realized that the story of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution wouldn’t be complete without Hashino, so it was added in 2013. When I mentioned this to Ms. Kato, she said, “That’s because Kamaishi was where Japan’s modern iron and steel industry began.” Hearing this made me feel proud of my hometown and want to make it a World Heritage Site so I could share that pride with the people of Iwate.

Last year there was an TV drama series on NHK called Segodon. At the beginning there was a scene where Lord Nariakira Shimadzu was struggling hard at trying to build cannons. In the final years of the Edo period there was an urgent need to manufacture steel cannons. However, steel made with Japan’s iron-sand was ill-suited for manufacturing. Therefore, they needed to make steel from flexible magnetite magnets with a Western-style blast furnace. So what drew people’s attention was an iron mine in the Ohashi district of Iwate Prefecture where magnetite was discovered. Under order of the Morioka Domain, Mr. Takato Oshima, known as the father of the modern iron and steel industry, was the first person in Japan to successfully tap molten pig iron by refining iron ore with a Western-style blast furnace in 1857; but in any case, by switching from the traditional tatarasteelmaking method in which the furnace had to be destroyed each time to extract steel to a blast furnace method in which molten pig iron could be tapped continuously without having to destroy the furnace, it enabled the mass-production of high-quality steel, moving Japan one step closer to modernization. The technology developed at Hashino Iron Mining and Smelting Site contributed to Yawata Steel Works’ activities such as railway manufacturing and shipbuilding. I can go on forever when I talk about steel, so I should probably stop here.

ーーLastly, could you tell us about the expectations and challenges that face the National Congress of Industrial Heritage and local governments?

I read the World Heritage commemorative publication Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding, and Coal Mining that was published last March. It is an impressive 400-page book that gives detailed descriptions of the 23 component parts spanning eight prefectures and 11 cities and provides an in-depth look at the history leading to inscription on the World Heritage List in 2015. The people involved conducted extensive research with experts from a variety of fields to select the component parts, pursued a serial nomination for the first time in Japan, obtained the understanding of local governments, and coordinated with the national government. Furthermore, they were fully aware that achieving World Heritage inscription was not the goal but the start of a new beginning. It made me keenly reaffirm my realization that looking back at history means to think about how one lives now.

Last year so many natural disasters occurred across Japan, forcing so many people to live as evacuees, that the kanji of the year was the character for “disaster.” Our country faces many difficulties: the grief from losing loved ones is immeasurable, those who lost their homes and fortunes face great uncertainty, reconstruction in areas like Fukushima where the population has declined is taking a long time, and so on. But there is no greater message of hope than the fact that Japanese people with an unyielding spirit accomplished the industrial revolution in the short time of 50 years.

I firmly believe that the inscription of the Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution on the World Heritage List is an epoch-making event in the history of Japan. Inscribing Japan’s industrial heritage on the World Heritage List is a great opportunity to give vitality to the people of Japan. I hope those involved will make full use of this opportunity so that those of us living today can deliver to those living 100 years from now a message of hope—that Japan overcame countless hardships and continued to grow as an industrial nation. This is not an expectation, but my earnest wish. I have profound respect for those in the National Congress of Industrial Heritage who push ahead undaunted with such meaningful initiatives, and will continue to support their work in coordination with them and local governments.

(Interviewed and written by Akane Maruyama)

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Former Mayor of Omuta City

Mr. Michio Koga
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Archaeologist and Heritage Conservation Specialist

Dr. Michael Pearson AO
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A fellow of the Japan Federation of Engineering Societies

Professor Tadahiro Inazumi
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Governor of Kagoshima Prefecture

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Yoshida Shoin preached the Theory of Engineering Education and produced the Choshu Five who risked their lives to go to England--to pass on the proud Hagi spirit to future generations

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I wish to pass on to my children's generation the wisdom, technology, and energy of our ancestors who built Misumi West Port - I will do my very best to do what I can at this moment by looking ahead to the future that will surely come after COVID-19.

Mayor of Uki City, Kumamoto Prefecture

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Vol. 43
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The Former Employee of Nippon Steel Corporation

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An Associate Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering in Iwate University

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Chairman: Mr. Hidenori Date
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Representative Director of Egawa Bunko non-profit incorporated foundation

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Ms. Misa Watanabe
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Mr.Tatsuo Hirano
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World Heritage Consultant

Ms. Sarah Jane Brazil
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Sir Neil Cossons
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Background of World Heritage Inscription
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Mr. Hiroshi Okamoto
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