Disappearing valuable structures in Japan

Disappearing valuable structures in Japan
A sake brewery in Higashi-Nada Ward, Kobe, that may be demolished.

JAPAN - Nearly 100 architectural structures registered as tangible cultural properties by the central government have been lost, either because they were destroyed in disasters or demolished. Their registration is meant to preserve them as historical heritage sites open for public viewing, but the regulations for maintaining these structures are looser than those for national treasures and important cultural properties. Also, many owners have been forced to relinquish ownership of the buildings for financial reasons.

To help prevent further loss of these culturally significant buildings, the Cultural Affairs Agency launched a programme to provide financial support to owners this fiscal year, such as providing subsidies for making the buildings quake-resistant and constructing toilet facilities if they are open to the public.

One such building in Higashi-Nada Ward, Kobe, is on the verge of being demolished. To stop the move, local citizens have launched a signature collection campaign.

The building is owned by a sake brewer in Nadagogo, which refers to the five areas known for manufacturing quality sake in Kobe and Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture. It was built in the late Edo period (1603-1867) in the "kasanegura" (double breweries) style as it is a combination of a sake-brewing facility and a facility for other works.

The two-story wooden building, which features classic architecture and covers about 1,000 square meters, was registered as a tangible cultural property in 2010.

However, as the brewer failed to repay loans, the building was seized. At an auction at the Kobe District Court in March, it was won by a housing developer in the prefecture for about ¥220 million.

According to the Nadagogo Brewers Association and other industry members, the kasanegura structure is one of tens of wooden sake manufacturing facilities hit in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. It was the only one repaired and kept in use.

If it is demolished, the registration will be nullified. So in June, local citizens requested that the developer hold off on demolition while they began a signature collection drive in July to ask the Kobe municipal government to buy the building.

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