Japan to enhance governmental support for historical preservation
Posted by ampontan on Thursday, January 31, 2008
THIS MIGHT BE HARD TO BELIEVE—it was for me—but the Japanese government’s financial assistance for historical preservation is rather limited. Only 10 local governments are covered under a 1966 law that restricts urban development near historical areas. Two of them, not surprisingly, are Kyoto and Nara.
There is also very little financial assistance from the national government for ensuring the survival of historical buildings through restoration and repair. As an illustration, there were 10,900 such buildings in the central part of Kanazawa, Ishikawa, in 1999, but that number had fallen to 8,700 by 2007.
This state of affairs now seems likely to change, as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport has formulated a plan for providing financial subsidies to local governments to promote urban development that takes historical scenery into account. The ministry, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and other government bodies will submit a bill incorporating this plan to the Diet during the current session.
According to news reports, the bill would permit local governments to apply for financial assistance for urban development plans that incorporate the preservation of scenic areas, subject to the approval of the national authorities. The government would provide from one-third to one-half of the expenses for restoring, repairing, or moving historical buildings, and for supporting traditional activities, such as festivals.
Under the terms of the legislation, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs would offer guidance for repair techniques. The bill also would simplify the procedures for converting historical buildings to other uses, such as eating or drinking places. (There’s an example of how well the Japanese handle such conversions about a 10-minute walk from my house. A 19th-century bank has been turned into a museum with a coffee shop and restaurant, and is often used for small-scale concerts.)
Two cities that stand to benefit from the legislation include the aforementioned Kanazawa and Hagi, Yamaguchi. Kanazawa is noted for Kenroku-en, a famous garden that has its own website, and a castle district with old homes. Meanwhile, see this page for an explanation of the attractions of Hagi, which include the homes of samurai and tradesmen dating from the Edo period.
In fact, some of Hagi’s attractions can be seen in the accompanying photo. Yes, they’re models, and yes, they made sure to scrub the location well before taking the picture, but I’d rather lean against a wall in that neighborhood than go to a shopping mall any day!