top of page
  • FUKUKAWA Yuichi

Yanaka / Otaru / Yashima Hana: Two Days Considering Future of Urban Historic Conservation

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

All of the events planned in conjunction with this year's Annual General Meeting of our association were very interesting in terms of thinking about the future of historic urban conservation.

On June 3 (Sat), the day before the general meeting, as a pre-event for the 46th National Conference in Otaru, which will be held in October, after walking around Yanaka, Tokyo, there was an event called "Thinking about Future Historic Urban Conservation." A symposium was held on the title. Where and how are Yanaka and Otaru connected? , will be discussed later.

The next day's general meeting was held at the "Kyutei-keikoba" in Kyojima, Sumida Ward, and in the afternoon, a walk around Yashima Hana was held. Yashima Hana is a shortened name of Yahiro, Mukojima, Kyojima, Terajima, Bunka, and Tachibana, which once constituted former Mukojima Ward. In Kyojima, which survived the war damage, efforts are being made to revive the old row houses (nagaya), and the venue is one of the results. We are indebted to the Yashima Hana Cultural Foundation, a general incorporated foundation that was just established on February 10th.


At 1:00 pm on the first day, nearly 100 people, including 14 from Otaru, gathered in the basement seminar room of the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, and started walking around Yanaka. Every time I go to Yanaka, there is something new to discover. My discovery this time is Ms. Akiko Shiihara, the chairman of the NPO Taito Historical City Study Group. She was overwhelmed by the outpouring of words, from accumulating history to building relationships with owners to protect the building. Come to think of it, this may have been the first time Ms. Shiihara showed me around.

So, where and how are Yanaka and Otaru connected? The answer is that they are both aiming to become Important Preservation Districts for Groups of Traditional Buildings (national conservation districts). In the mid-1970s, before and after the enactment of the national conservation district system, Otaru refused to be listed as a candidate for a survey by the national government, and in 1983 it enacted an ordinance to preserve its historic buildings. However, in order to protect the modern heritage, including reinforced concrete building, which is scattered in the historic district, it is necessary to consider it as an area and pour the latest restoration technology into it, so they turned to the use of the national system.

Though the unique character of Yanaka has been portrayed through the activities of YANESEN, a local magazine, and the activities of YANAKA Gakko, local amenity group. but physically, it's an ordinary town that never suffered an air raid. However it is facing a crisis of survival due to inheritance and building standards laws. Both districts surpass the established concept of the 126 national conservation district. This is the point that we should consider about historical urban conservation from now on. Can these two districts become national conservation districts? Or is it necessary for the 50-year-old national conservation district to transform to meet the demands of the times?

At the symposium, after I explained the purpose of this symposium, Yukio Nishimura, a professor at Kokugakuin University, gave a lecture titled "History of Historic Urban Conservation in Japan." After looking back on trends in the protection of cultural properties and urban development since the Meiji era, prof. Nishimura positioned the present as a new stage in which "we must stop the destruction from the inside, not the destruction from the outside.'' On the other hand, it is our responsibility to determine how to draw future historic urban conservation.

Next, there were presentations of case studies from four cities::

* A transcript of the presentation was created. You can also see the PDF of the slides by clicking the red letters below. Record numbers and slide numbers correspond. Please read while contrasting.

Otaru City is currently preparing a "Historical Scenic Maintenance and Improvement Plan" with a view to the national urban construction district. Mr. Hirose raised the basic issue of "how to think about the historical buildings that are scattered about?" Also he said it was necessary to address a wide range of individual issues, including technology, economics, conservation awareness, succession, and conservation regimes.

From Kanazawa, which has the most well-developed historic conservation system in Japan, we received a special focus on the Teramachidai national conservation district. It is based on the assumption that if Yanaka were to aim for a national conservation district, it might be based on the genre of temple town. The Teramachidai district is a temple town, but there are townhouses along the old highway, and it resembles Yanaka. Prof. Kawakami concluded, "As the relationship between temples and local communities is fading, revitalizing residents' activities is a challenge."

The port town of Yokohama, like Otaru, has so far not relied too much on the national system, and has developed its own historic conservation system. Mr. Suge talked in detail about the Yamate district, where the government and residents have sometimes cooperated and sometimes opposed each other in the historic conservation. The city of Yokohama is currently working on Plans for the Maintenance and Improvement of Historic Landscapes prescribed by national law. It seems that Yokohama City has also become financially tight. Suge also took up Shonan, Fujisawa City, which developed as a villa area from the Meiji to the early Showa period. Momentum for the preservation and utilization of Shonan's mansion culture is growing, and a network of wide-ranging civic activities has been created, and activities aimed at historical town development have begun. However, there are no designated cultural properties that meet the requirements of the Plans for the Maintenance and Improvement of Historic Landscapes, and it is said that it is difficult to utilize the national system..

Since 1985, Kawagoe City has been engaged in the Historic Street Improvement Project (Rekimichi Project) with state support, and later, the National Conservation District, the Plans for the Maintenance and Improvement of Historic Landscapes, the landscape plan based on the Landscape Ac. It has a full set of national systems. In the Plans for the Maintenance and Improvement of Historic Landscapes, the historic buildings outside of the national conservation district are actively designated as "Historic Scenic Buildings", and the number of such buildings reaches 94. On the other hand, activities by residents and citizens are also firmly carried out. In the National Conservation District, the Machinate Committee has established a “Community Development Code” and has continued activities to voluntarily manage the townscape even before it became the National Conservation District. In recent years, renovation activities by citizens such as "Kawagoe Kura no Kai" are also active. Mr. Kato is one of them, and he runs “Mukadeya,” a warehouse-style storehouse. He concluded that it is necessary for these civic groups to strengthen their authority, and for them to be supported continuously by the government and related organizations.

In the discussion that followed, Kumiko Shimotsuma, a professor at Kokugakuin University, who acted as moderator, looked back on the issues raised by Ms. Hirose of Otaru, and asked each presenter about the conservation system in particular, and cocluded as follows: “In order to improve the system, residents must raise their voices. To do that, everyone needs to understand the mechanism of the system."


The Venue for the 2023 general meeting is the rental space "Kyutei Keikojo" on the first floor of a two-story nagaya building facing Meiji-dori street. The second floor is a lodging room, and some of the participants were taken care of here last night. There is a large garden in the back and it is very bright. At the general meeting, Otaru reported on the status of preparations for this year's national conference and in a cozy atmosphere a free discussion was held after the bill was adopted. After lunch, we listened to a talk by GOTO Daiki, the representative of the Yashima Hana Culture Foundation, and then set off for a walk around town.

Mr. Goto took the podium as a panelist in the 6th subcommittee at last year's National Conferene in Niigata City. The subcommittee venues are the port town of Nuttari on the opposite bank of the Shinano River, and Tenmei-cho, a town of alleys formed in Ryusakuba. The theme was "How can we make a town with alleys safe and attractive?" I opened my eyes to Mr. Goto's announcement of the Kyojima Project, in which artists will open shops one after another in vacant row houses that has been refurbished. At the Kanto block meeting that night, Mr.Goto and Ms. Shiihara of Yanaka proposed the “Nagaya Alley in Urban Areas, Declaration of Support for Historic Conservation”. I'm sure many of you remember the scene where the two read the declaration at the closing ceremony the next day.

Starting from the lodging room on the 2nd floor of the venue, next to the Sanken Nagaya (three long houses), the Rokken Nagaya (six long houses) coffee shop YOMOCK on the opposite side of Meiji-dori street, the wine shop opened by the French in the "Reptile Annex",

old Barber Araki, a former teahouse in a three-story building (from the rooftop, the sky tree rises as far as the eye can see), Bakery Hatoya, Kyojima Joint Woodworking Shop, Time and Umeji Co., Ltd. head office building (originally a two-story wooden building made by a tinplate craftsman), cup and ball alley, triangular row houses, newly built row house, Kyojima Station, members-only library/accommodation facility KAB, under renovation to share house for students one-story tiled roof tenement, railroad crossing tenement, Bunka Kaikan, one-story annex, and URDANA...... On the way, there was a site of a very small ready-built house. It is said that there are many cases where vacant land becomes the target of such “super mini development”.

I said goodbye to everyone and had coffee at YOMOCK. Before long, I left the shop to change into an oden restaurant for the night, still unsure of how to digest today's experience.

Kyojima is a typical dense wooden area in Tokyo. When I was in my third year at university, my first exercise after entering the specialized course was "Go to Kyojima." I remembers that the administration first picked up on it as part of Governor Minobe's project, "The Tokyo Plan for Squares and Blue Sky." The report, "Sumida Ward Kyojima Survey Report: An Essay on District Planning (Bureau of Planning and Coordination, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, November 1974) is one of my important books. At that time, there was no idea to call Kyojima's town development a historical conservation. Although we had the perception that district rehabilitation = historic conservation, we did not consider Kyojima to be a historic district. After that, the basic theme of Kyojima was to improve the densely built-up area. In fact, towards the end of the last century, some districts were redeveloped to widen roads, turn vacant lots into parks, and build three-story reinforced concrete community houses (a photo below). There must be many people who thought that the improvement was a little different. In the Department of Architecture at Chiba University, where I worked, I took it up as a design challenge for students for about 20 years and searched for solutions. In such a place, Mr. Goto's activity, which could be called "exercise of force", began by repairing the old building and using it. According to the materials, the "Reptile Annex" in 2010 was the first. Transforming what was thought to be a negative legacy into “a happy building and people that inherit the local culture” (from the pamphlet). Come to think of it, isn't it the historic urban renewal that began in the middle of the 20th century?

Next year is the 50th anniversary of our association. In next year's National Conferenc, I would like to talk about the future prospects for historical town planning based on the concept of HUL (Historic Urban Landscape) that I have learned so far.



bottom of page