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Heritage or Nature – Balancing Love of History over Deforestation

2017.04.21

14th of April 2016, the huge earthquake hit the southern island of Kyushu, losing 41 lives and many livelihoods and buildings.  The symbol of the destruction was that of Kumamoto Castle.

The castle was the original building as this area was often the frontline of very fierce feudal wars, as well as subjected to natural disasters and fires.  The symbolic Tenshu-kaku keep of the castle was last rebuilt in 1960, and in 2007, as a part of the 400th anniversary of the very first completion, a lot of reconstruction projects were under way.

The image of crumbling roof tiles and the stone walls shocked Japan.  The stone wall is one of its kind, famous for its strategic shape to repel Samurai and even Ninja and it was mostly in the original form of the 17th century.  There is no concrete schedule for the completion, but people are willing to make donations towards the rebuilding project.

Tenshu-kaku Keep Is the Symbol


There are 91 castles with Tenshu-kaku keep in Japan.  Only 12 are the original, standing over 400 years.  Five are fully reconstructed with wood, mostly with the original technique, twelve are reconstructed with concrete/metal structure from the official documents.  Another fourteen are reconstructed with images only, and astonishing 51 of them are built with modern imagination, yes not even imitations.  It shows the love and affection of Japanese people towards the beautiful and imposing symbol of history.

These buildings always feature on the local guides, and the images are on promotional materials, combined with cherry blossom in spring, wisteria and Japanese iris for early summer, maple leaves in the autumn, and snow scenery in the winter.

There is no wonder some local authorities are enthusiastically proposing and discussing re-building them into the authentic state, using wooden structures.  So far, five fully reconstructed castle keeps were relatively small scale.  But there are currently two big projects under way.  One is Nagoya castle, one of the part-reconstructions, and another is Edo castle.

Nagoya castle keep has the accurate drawings from the survey in the early 1900s.  It was burned by the bombing in WWII and rebuilt in 1957 in concrete so that it would not be burned down to the ground ever again.  But 60 years on, under the tighter building regulation, the castle keep is considered unsafe in case of the major quake.  It will need either re-enforcement (est. 25 million dollars) or rebuilding (est. 350 million dollars).  When Tokyo won 2020 Olympics, the tide has shifted fast towards complete re-building with a wooden structure, with the newest quake resistant technology.  And there is a little restriction now that the government only approves rebuilding of the historic monuments, to the original shape by original materials.

The currently, it attracts over 1.5 million tourists per year, so Nagoya local authority is sacrificing the short-term tourism gain for the real rebuild.  The opinions are divided, but the budget is going through the local parliament, for completion 2022.

Truly the Symbol of Greatness and Opportunities?


Edo castle was built in 1456, and the keep was built in 1606 under first Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.  By this time, he has brought the peace to the entire Japanese archipelago, so this was the symbol of the power (and this is the same for Nagoya castle keep).  But it was burned down in 1657 and was never rebuilt, due to the financial consideration.  The money was better spent on helping people who lost everything in the very same fire.

Now fast forward for 2020 Olympics, NPO is formed to develop the plan for rebuilding this 19-story worth of Tenshu-kaku keep.  Unlike Nagoya castle, it was never there except for 50 years in 17th century.  It will be the biggest of the kind, and it will change the landscape of the financial district of Tokyo.  It has not passed any formal motion but the movement is strong, and it is something that the national government is carefully considering, through the dialogue with NPO and other groups.

Implications – Finance, Culture, and Nature


Including other smaller projects, all of them have a sound financial plan for increased revenue from the tourism.  But they are all estimates, and it is arguable that tourists do not visit all the newly reconstructed castle keeps around Japan, however beautiful they may be.  If there is a genuine necessity to rebuild for the structural problems, it is worth visiting all the possible options, but some plans may not be financially sound.

Another problem, which is seldom highlighted, is the availability of the suitably large sized wood.  There are limited resources for right sized, about 50-centimetre diametres, in some cases with a diameter over 90 centimetres.  The wood takes about 50 years to grow to this size.  Larger sized wood needs 200 years to grow.

In Japan, temples and shrines are needing to rebuild and refurbish, and a lot of times these are actively used facilities, as well as tourist attractions.

They all need naturally grown wood, mainly Japanese resources.  Over the history, Japanese forestry resources diminished substantially, and currently, Japan is already a net importer of medium to large sized wood for constructions.

Cultural symbolism attracts a lot of attention, but it may be necessary to stop and think if it is worth sacrificing the world’s natural resource.

 

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