Preserving Japan’s Legacy— A Chance to Give Back

Posted on March 15, 2017 in News

Kobe and Architectural Heritage Preservation

Inspired by the cultural diversity of Kobe’s architectural treasures, which range from streamlined, modernistic Tadao Ando masterpieces to Meiji-era, Western-influenced residences and office buildings, Rica Bradshaw Otani, Core Eight’s founder, has become increasingly concerned about the fate of these legacy buildings and saddened by the increasing disappearance of these legacy buildings in the Kobe area. In her 15-years’ experience as the leading English-speaking real estate agent in the Kobe area, she has become keenly aware of the importance of these heritage buildings in attracting both foreign residents and tourists to Kobe.

With a surge in the number of foreign tourists visiting Kobe each year, it is vital that Kobe preserve the unique architectural heritage that makes it a tourist mecca. Preservation of architectural heritage, both the buildings and the techniques, is essential not only from a cultural perspective, but also from an economic perspective.

Good News—Extensive Protection in Japan

The upside is that Japan has had an extensive web of protective laws since the late 19th century covering tangible cultural properties (有形文化財), such as temples, castles, etc.; intangible cultural assets (無形文化財), such as Noh, kabuki, and traditional crafts; and even folk cultural properties (無形民族文化財), such as manners and customs related to food, religion, festivals and the like.

The introduction of a new category in 1975 for preservation of groups of traditional buildings (伝統的建造物群)—castle towns, merchant quarters, and other historical districts—
paved the way for increased heritage activities at the local level and the creation of NPOs to support this work. The timing was perfect since Japanese had become increasingly concerned about the destruction of the historic and cultural environment due to rapid economic development and urbanization. This website provides a great English overview of heritage preservation efforts in Japan from the Agency of Cultural Affairs.

Heritage Houses Trust Kansai—Fighting the Good Fight

Because of Core Eight’s passionate commitment to the preservation of heritage buildings in Kobe, Core Eight has recently become a proud and active member in Heritage Houses Trust Kansai, an NPO established in 2015 to provide support for the maintenance and inheritance of heritage houses. Despite being a young organization, the Heritage Houses Trust Kansai has more than 50 active members, including architects, artists, designer, curators, craftsmen, professors, and interested citizens, and is the most active architectural preservation group in Kobe.

This group’s mission is preserving residences with historical significance, unique architectural techniques or spaces, together with their landscape. This involves identifying heritage homes and assisting with their registration. It may also entail coordinating with the heritage homes’ owners to locate suitable successors and caretakers for the property. Once registered, heritage houses may be subject to restrictions on external renovations and use. However, owners may be eligible for certain subsidies for renovation and maintenance, though the conditions for eligibility tend to be somewhat rigorous.

In addition, the Heritage Houses Trust Kansai is constantly raising public awareness through seminars, tours, and the like.

There is one heritage house in Okamoto, designed in 1923 by Shichiro Kigo an Osaka architect from a family of master builders that worked on the Imperial Palace in Kyoto during the Edo period. The Okamoto house is a 1032m2 three-story wooden structure with a reinforced concrete basement. It is a signature Kigo creation, involving a fusion of Japanese and Western elements.

Get Involved!

If you enjoy and value the architectural gems that Kobe offers, the Heritage Houses Trust Kansai is an easy and fun way to get involved. Check out the website here. Or let us know below whether you would like to attend one of their events by letting us know here.