Japan and its industrial heritage
A cultural exchange visit to Japan earlier this year promoted the need to protect industrial heritage and found that Japanese conservation is not always what it seems.
A redundant silk weaving mill at Maebashi
With the ubiquitous presence of Japanese manufactured goods in our daily lives, it is hard to imagine that Japan arrived very late on the scene of global industrialisation. But as a result of its policy of isolation from 1615 until the mid-19th century, Japan had no significant organised methods of production or revolutionary industrial technology until the second half of the 19th century. even then, it relied heavily on imported technology for both building construction and manufacturing from europe and america.
While Japan has long been a producer of raw silk, and has spun and woven silk domestically since its introduction from China, its most impressive early industrial spinning mill, at Tomioka in gunma Prefecture (about 100 miles North West of Tokyo), dates only from 1870, compared to Thomas Cotchett’s three-storey silk spinning mill in Derby of 1702. Lombe’s Mill, also in Derby, dates back to 1721, when it was of five storeys and in Italian style. although Lombe’s Mill was substantially rebuilt in 1910, it is included within the Derwent Valley Mills world heritage site for its place at the beginning of the phenomenon that was the industrial revolution.
In 1853 america became the first country to trade with Japan. Britain was not far behind, signing a trade
treaty with Japan in 1855. By 1867 the Liverpool agents Butterfield and Squire had opened an office in Yokohama, primarily to arrange trade for the Ocean Steamship Company of Liverpool. They opened an office in Kobe in 1887 and the Blue funnel ships of the Ocean Steamship Company then dominated Liverpool’s trade with Japan. from 1883, its ships were making regular weekly visits to Japan, delivering manufactured goods such as rail tracks, and bringing back tea, silk and general merchandise.
Until recently, Japan’s early industrial heritage was little valued as a heritage resource within that country. a nationwide investigation into ‘Japanese Modernisation-Period Monuments’ began only in 1990. Prior to that, most early railroad facilities, port facilities, power plants and iron and silk mills had been abandoned or destroyed without any records being kept. However, knowledgeable local communities and academics, led by Professor Saito of Tsukuba University and Professor Inaba of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, do place great cultural importance on the early manifestations of Japan’s industrial heritage.
Professors Saito and Inaba were in a party of seven heritage experts from Japan who undertook a whistle-
The delightful
Hamarkyuteien Palace
Garden in Tokyo with a
backdrop of tall buildings.
stop tour of the UK in 2005 to study industrial heritage sites in Swindon, Blaenavon, Ironbridge, Manchester, the Lake District and Liverpool. following the tour, Keith falconer (head of industrial heritage at english Heritage), John Rodger (world heritage site manager, Blaenavon, Torfaen County Borough Council) and John Hinchliffe (world heritage officer, Liverpool City Council) were invited to participate in a cultural exchange programme on industrial heritage in Japan.
We gladly agreed to participate in the cultural exchange programme between Japan and the UK over ten days in January 2006, as part of a move to increase local, national and international recognition of its significance.
The purposes of the Cultural exchange Programme were to improve mutual understanding of the adaptive re-use of industrial heritage between Japan and the UK; to give UK practitioners an opportunity to visit a range of heritage sites in Japan and to study conservation principles and practice; to enable UK practitioners to give presentations on the adaptive re-use of industrial heritage in the UK; and to secure an initial international assessment of potential world heritage sites in gunma Prefecture.
Like many countries, Japan has a long and complex history and an extensive cultural heritage, as crudely suggested to us in the west by our somewhat sketchy knowledge of Shogun, Samurai and geisha. However, it has traditionally focused conservation priorities for the built environment on its ancient sites, such as its sacred shrines and temples, some of which date from the 8th century. all ten cultural world heritage sites in Japan (except the Hiroshima Peace Memorial) date from the 17th century and most from very much earlier.
a sophisticated system of protection for a diverse spectrum of cultural properties in Japan was
established by the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties 1950. This categorises cultural properties into tangible cultural properties (including buildings, paintings, applied art works, calligraphy and books); intangible cultural properties (including drama, music and craft techniques); folk-cultural properties (including manners, customs, food, clothing, faiths and implements); monuments (monumental sites such as castles, palaces and tombs; scenic landscapes such as gardens, bridges, gorges and mountains; and places of high scientific value due to animals, plants and geological features); and groups of historic buildings (historic areas of scenic beauty integrated into their surroundings).
Japan’s statutory recognition of the concept and value of intangible heritage was thus way ahead of the west and even UNeSCO’s world heritage committee. Similarly, Japanese law placed great cultural value, as well as scientific value, on its indigenous plants, animals and various traditions such as its cuisine.
These cultural properties have two levels of designation. The most important are ‘national treasures’ and those of lesser importance are ‘important cultural properties’. Surprisingly, only 3,700 individual buildings and structures have been designated as important cultural properties, compared with around 400,000 listed buildings in the UK. Of those, around 60 per cent are shrines and temples.
The relatively rare survival of structures of cultural heritage is a result of destruction by earthquakes; fire (timber is the traditional building material); war-time destruction (most dramatically in the second world war but also during civil wars); and intensive urbanisation (as Japan has a population of 122 million and much of the country is mountainous, the country has seen a continuing programme of redevelopment).
The conservation of cultural properties in Japan
relies to a great extent on the goodwill of their owners. Under Japanese law, cultural properties are ‘the possessions of the Japanese people’. accordingly the law considers that their preservation is entrusted mainly to their direct owners. The role of national and local government is to take measures to protect cultural properties by giving advice, orders for their proper management and grants for repair.
The cultural exchange programme was an intensive mix of field visits, symposia and receptions. The field visits to heritage sites included historic wet and dry docks in Yokohama City, which have been integrated into the modern city, and red-brick warehouses of 1910, which have been restored and converted to cultural, retail and leisure uses; the enviable National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo; the reinforcement of the 8th century timber Todai-ji Temple in Nara with an inserted steel frame made in the UK’s Shelton Steelworks in around 1910; the world’s oldest timber building at Horyu-ji Temple; and solemn contemplation in Kobe at the memorial for the 6,000 who died in the earthquake of 1995, and to admire the incredible reconstruction of the port, the city and the waterfront and its dazzling night-time illumination.
at a symposium at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, Keith falconer gave a presentation on the UK’s industrial heritage and its representation on the world heritage list; John Rodger discussed protection, promotion and community regeneration at Blaenavon industrial landscape world heritage site; and I gave a presentation on conservation and adaptive re-use at the Liverpool maritime mercantile city world heritage site.
at a symposium in gunma, attended by around 130 Japanese practitioners, students and others parties, the same presenters spoke respectively about the sustainable re-use of historic industrial sites in england; industrial heritage networking, with reference to the european Route of Industrial Heritage; and the Historic environment of Liverpool Project (HeLP) and the RopeWalks Project.
My abiding personal memories of the exchange programme are the efficiency, cleanliness, complexity and extent of the public transport system; the respect of the Japanese people for each other, at least as individuals, and for their environment; the massive scale of urbanisation, with miniscule apartments, capsule hotels, plot cramming and stacker car parks; and the healthy diet.
from a professional viewpoint, one of the lessons related to the difference in approaches to authenticity. UNeSCO’s World Heritage Committee agreed the Nara Document on authenticity at its meeting in Nara in 1994. This statement is still the definitive international word on authenticity and integrity, and the benchmark for much decision-making. It is therefore curious that Japan sometimes adopts an approach to the authenticity of its historic environment which is less rigorous than might be expected. for
An attic extension to an historic building, Kobe-style
example, the 77-storey Landmark Tower in Yokohama (the tallest in Japan) has seemingly been built on the axis of an historic dry dock, is visually stunning and has the appearance of being a perfect architectural response to archaeology. But the authenticity of the dock is questionable as its stepped walls have had restaurant windows and doors inserted in them, and the dock was relocated and fore-shortened to fit the construction of the tower.
The Bank art exhibition space in Yokohama appears to be a good example of adaptive re-use of a former bank, and certainly provides a popular and attractive gallery. But it is not authentic, as only the front porch of the bank is original, and even that has been moved 200 metres.
The 19th century rendered house in Kobe city centre appears to be a well-preserved example of a western-style house, but it was completely destroyed in the earthquake of 1995 and has been accurately rebuilt on earthquake-proof rubber springs.
Many of the ancient timber temples, shrines and pagodas have been dismantled, comprehensively repaired and/or relocated over the centuries.
The conservation project at Toshodai-ji Temple in
A ten-year reconstruction and restoration project at Toshodai
Red brick warehouses in
Yokohama, restored and
converted to cultural, retail
and leisure uses.
Right: Tomioka silk mill,
aspiring to be a world
heritage site
Further reading
Industrial Archaeology, Neil Cossons (1975)
Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Nomination Document, Derwent Valley Mills (2000)
History of the Protection and Concept on Cultural Properties in Japan, Hidetoshi Saito
Nara is being carried out to the very highest standards of conservation. a temporary structure has been erected to protect the complete dismantling of the temple during a ten-year project. It is a brand new steel-framed structure on concrete ring foundation complete with ramps, lighting, overhead gantries cranes and workshops. around 15 specialist carpenters are on site at any one time. It is a conservation project of exceptional thoroughness: every timber is checked, numbered, stored, photographed, measured and reinstated. a further three sheds store statues of Buddha, tiles and other timbers and workshops for new timber (Japanese cypress pine). The site is still owned by the temple authorities but work is paid for with help of a 60 per cent grant from central government.
The Library of Children’s Literature in Tokyo has been fully refurbished to a generally high standard, but all the timber windows were replaced with aluminium ones. It has good glazed extensions with a strong contemporary design. The library has a reversible (but unnecessary) glazed safety screen along the staircase and has been wholly supported on rubber shock absorbers with metal tension restraints, at what must have been incredible expense.
The Red Brick Warehouses in Yokohama have also been fully refurbished to a generally high standard and converted to cultural, retail and leisure uses. Many internal features, such as sliding doors, stairs and delicate iron tie rods have been retained in situ and many others have been displayed below glass floors. However, it has had a glazed extension with a simple functional design, which dilutes the vertical rhythm of the elevation, and replacement canopies of inferior quality and detailing have been introduced. again, original windows have been replaced with aluminium copies with inferior detailing.
at Doshisha University considerable expense and effort has been put into restoring and strengthening a brick-and-stone building of 1890 which had limited architectural merit but was highly valued as an example of a western-influenced building. Some salvaged Blaenavon rail tracks of the 1870s had been used in the construction and placed in the university
museum after they had been removed during the restoration.
In Kyoto city centre an area of 17th century timber houses has been identified through a detailed academic study. Restoration has been encouraged with advice and small grants. a restriction on height of new buildings in this area has also been imposed.
In outer Kyoto, a further area of 17th century timber houses around Nanzenji Temple has been identified. Shopfront restoration, the creation of traditional gardens, the sale of traditional craft goods and the removal of signs have all been encouraged with advice and small grants. a start has also been made on putting overhead electricity cables underground. The objective is to transform an area of low-grade shopfronts selling cheap souvenirs into a high-quality historic environment within 20 years.
In Kyriou, an analysis of the historic town centre has identified an area of long, narrow plots, which are the equivalent of burgage plots, occupied by houses, workshops and warehouses. Small grants have been made available to secure shopfront restoration, the sale of traditional craft goods and the removal of signs, but there is no intention to put overhead cables underground or improve the public realm.
Tokyo, Kobe and Kyoto have tall building policies. In Tokyo and Kobe the policy seems to advocate retaining the frontages of historic buildings, but approving the erection of tall buildings behind the frontage. Tokyo, Kobe and Yokohama all have stunning examples of tall buildings, but they also have many mundane tall buildings.
The cultural exchange programme had several benefits. It enabled the UK delegates to promote a positive image of our industrial heritage and its conservation to a wide audience in Japan, and to emphasise the importance of industrial heritage. It helped to form a network of contacts between Japan and the UK for exchanging information and experience. and it provided the opportunity for conditional independent verification of the international significance of the Tomioka Silk Mills, and its aspirations for world heritage status.
John Hinchliffe is world heritage officer with Liverpool City Council.