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Historic castle towers need faithful restoration

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 1960

    Twelve castles across Japan, including Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle, pictured, still have wooden castle towers that were erected before the Edo period (1603-1867). These towers have all been designated by the government as national treasures and important cultural assets. Tourists sit in front of the moats around Matsumoto Castle in Tokyo, Japan.

A number of reinforced-concrete castle towers that were erected during the castle-building and restoration boom in the Showa era (1926-1989) need to be reconstructed.

Many of the castle towers are structures that people feel connected to as symbols of their communities. In this respect, the task is to preserve the value of the castle towers as historical relics while also using them as a tourism resource for regional vitalization. To achieve this goal, it is desirable that castle tower rebuilding projects should be based on a broad consensus formed among the local people.

Twelve castles across the nation, including Himeji Castle and Matsumoto Castle, still have wooden castle towers that were erected before the Edo period (1603-1867). These towers have all been designated by the government as national treasures and important cultural assets.

Almost all other castle towers were rebuilt in the post-World War II years.

If changes are made to castles on government-designated historical sites, the Cultural Affairs Agency currently requires wood to be used in restoring pertinent structures, based on precise drawings, photos and records. The agency’s establishment of even more rigorous standards than those laid down during the Showa era has made the issue of castle tower reconstruction difficult.

It is understandable for the agency, in principle, to demand castle towers be restored as faithfully as possible, given that these structures are precious historical relics.

A case in point is Nagoya Castle’s tower, which has a surveyed drawing and photos that were produced before the structure burned down in a wartime air raid. Although the Nagoya city government intends to carry out a castle tower reconstruction plan using wood, local residents are divided over the matter, as the cost of restoring the structure is estimated at about 50 billion yen (about $443.5 million).

If the tower is eventually restored, it will serve as a model case for rebuilding castle towers.

The Nagoya Castle case is exceptional, as plenty of historical documents still exist. Such documents have been scattered and lost for most other castle towers.

A case in point is Kumamoto Castle’s tower, which was damaged by the Kumamoto earthquake in April. Using wood to reconstruct the structure is one option for rebuilding it in the future. Doing so will require finding a detailed drawing of the tower. The current plan calls for leaving the reinforced concrete tower as it is and carrying out repair work in the meantime.

An attempt to build a castle based on guesswork is out of the question. However, in some cases people can only gain a deeper understanding of historical relics if they still exist. Given this, we believe there is room to flexibly accept the idea of using wood to rebuild historical relics if pertinent documents have a certain measure of credibility, despite the lack of precise drawings.

Efforts are also being made to restore Edo Castle’s tower. A nonprofit organization formed by business and cultural leaders and others is seeking action from the government and others regarding the idea of restoring the five-tier, six-story castle tower, which was destroyed by a great fire in the mid-17th century, known as Meireki-no-taika, and was never reconstructed. A report on the findings made through expert investigations has also been drawn up.

Although rebuilding the castle tower requires a massive amount of funding, the proposal is an inspirational scheme. The idea needs to be considered.

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