7th Seminar on the Conservation
of Asian Cultural Heritage

The World Cultural Heritage in Asian Countries
- Sustainable Development and Conservation -

Policy and System of Urban / Territorial Conservation in Japan

Nobuko Inaba, Ph.D.

Senior Specialist for Cultural Properties
Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan
Member of Japanese Delegation to the World Heritage Committee

Good Morning, ladies and gentlemen.

It is very difficult for me to make a speech following such excellent and energetic ones by both Prof. Domicelj and Mr. Engelhart.

My name is Nobuko Inaba. I am a Senior Specialist for Cultural Properties of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. I am an architect and, in my office, I am in charge of the program for conservation of historic districts, such as historic cities, towns and villages. I am also a member of the Japanese Delegation to the World Heritage Committee. I have been attending the annual meetings of the World Heritage Committee since the 1994 meeting, which was held in Phuket in Thailand.

My role, here, as a key-note speaker, is to introduce the overall system of urban and territorial conservation programs in Japan and their relation to the World Heritage program.


    It is now recognized in the heritage conservation field that we are rapidly moving beyond the classic concept of individual monument protection which was the focus in the past. These expanded concepts of heritage conservation range from those which focus on the total expression of culture - including the intangible value of heritage or the intangible heritage itself - to those which aim at integrating the larger context of environmental conservation or the general development planning fields of their society. The distances between the heritage conservation, environmental conservation and general development planning fields are being shortened and it is becoming more and more difficult to identify the actual practice of heritage conservation in terms of real field work. Such words as "sustainable" and "ecological" are being used to describe and express these trends and the atmosphere of their focus; those words are quite useful, but because of the "softness" of their meaning we sometimes lose focus of our role in heritage conservation and are easily pushed back to the level of fundamental questions on the necessity of conservation itself.

    In the context of World Heritage, in 1994 the World Heritage Committee adopted a recommendation paper under the title of "Global Strategy". This paper points out that the sites currently on the World Heritage List well represent European culture, especially those examples of Christian heritage, but that non-European culture is under-represented - and, more importantly, that there is inadequate representation of heritage expressed in living tradition and vernacular heritage. The Nara Document on Authenticity of the same year exists in this same context. A reference to this document was recently introduced in the explanatory note for preparation of the nomination form.

    The keyword concept in this context is "cultural diversity". Following these efforts, new types of heritage are being introduced into the List and overall representation is being improved. The category of "cultural landscape" that was introduced in 1992 is one major example of the expanded scope of the World Heritage program. Recent discussions in the World Heritage Committee deal with questions about how to determine and protect the values of the new concepts of heritage which vary among cultures and heritage types. The conservation of the urban landscape in the Asian development context, which is rapidly expanding, is a major concern -- and there is a definite need to establish a suitable framework for the conservation of Asian heritage.

    Here I would like to speak about the situation of the heritage conservation program in Japan, focusing on urban / territorial conservation and its policies and systems in the contexts mentioned above.

Protection of World Heritage in Japan

    At first, I will explain the system of the World Heritage program in Japan, how it works and how we decide the tentative list and prepare the nominations. Japan ratified the Convention in 1992. In 1993, as the first heritage properties from Japan, the Buddhist Buildings in the Horyu-ji Area and Himeji-jo were inscribed as cultural heritage, and Shirakami-sanchi and Yakushima were inscribed as natural heritage on the List. Since then, almost every year, we have nominated new properties. The Historic Monuments in Kyoto, some of which you visited yesterday, were inscribed in 1994, with Shirakawa-go and Gokayama inscribed in 1995, and last year the Itsukushima shrine and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial - Genbaku Dome - were inscribed. I have been involved in the preparation of the nomination dossiers for all of these sites. The Historic Monuments in Nara were nominated and now under consideration, and Nikko and Okinawa are in preparation for the next nomination.

    To make the tentative list we formulate a special consultation committee composed of outside professionals and scholars. Revisions to the tentative list are now required since the concepts and criteria of the convention have been changed over the last several years.

    For properties to be nominated to the World Heritage List, adequate national or local legal protection is required. This is one of the criteria which are specified in the Operational Guidelines. In Japan, to meet these criteria, it was decided at the National Diet that the nominated properties should be limited to those that are protected strictly by national laws dedicated to the conservation of cultural and natural properties. In the case of cultural properties, the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties is the applicable law, and our office, the national Agency for Cultural Affairs is the primary office in charge. In the case of natural properties, the National Park Law and other related laws apply, and the national Environment Agency is in charge. For buffer zones which are required for cultural heritage sites, we usually use a combination of several other laws and regulations designed for territorial control. The City Planning Law is one of these. As you saw in Kyoto, for example, we use the categories of "aesthetic zones" and "scenic zones" as provided in the City Planning Law.

History of Urban and Territorial Conservation in Japan

    In Japan the concept of conserving the built environment - beyond the scale of individual buildings or sites - began in the late 1960's, parallel with various movements at the grass roots level to protect the natural environment. In Japan the conservation movement started from peoples' movements such as NGO's which were concerned about the destruction of the historical environment due to the rapid development growth in Japan, starting in the 1950's. From the late 1960's through the 1970's, new laws were introduced and new articles were added to existing laws to implement the built-environment conservation concept.

    This slide illustrates the chronological history of the Japanese system of protection of cultural properties. I distributed this same document as part of the hand-outs that you received.

    After roughly two and a half centuries of self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world, Japan opened up the country in the middle of the 19th century under the pressure of European countries and the United States. The first twenty years of this period (known as the Meiji Restoration, named after the Emperor Meiji) were a period of transition, but towards the end of the 19th century, at the time of the establishment of the Imperial Japanese Constitution, the foundation of Modern Japanese society was established.

    Law, technology, and education -- all of these fields were being developed simultaneously as part of the growth of this modern society. The protection of cultural properties just after the Meiji Restoration began with a focus on the conservation of antique objects, in accordance with a proclamation by the Imperial Cabinet. In 1898, the first law for the protection of cultural properties was enacted, and this law covered not only artworks but also buildings. In 1919, another law was established to protect historic sites, "places of scenic beauty" and natural monuments; this law was based on the concept of "national romanticism" which had become popular around the turn of the century in Europe. These two laws were combined into a single law after the end of World War II, in 1950, and the new concepts of "intangible cultural properties" and "folklore properties" were introduced. The inclusion of these categories has helped make the Japanese system unique and important, and it helps us to understand the protection of cultural property as a total system of human activity. The recognition of the intangible value of living culture in 1950 was quite early in the history of conservation and is worth noting.

    Back to the main subject :the protection of individual buildings or sites is included, but for the concepts of territorial or urban conservation, we had no wait until the 1960's as I mentioned before when it started from the peoples' movement. In 1966, base on his movement, a new national law, the so-called "Ancient Capital Law" was established, forced by the strong citizen movements in cities such as Kamakura and Kyoto. The historic cities covered by this law are Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura, and several historic cities in Nara Prefecture including Asuka-mura. This law strictly controlled the protection of the historic natural environment, concentrating more on the areas where people live than on the built environment that they inhabit.

    To protect historic areas, municipalities took initiatives earlier than the central government. In the late 1960's, we can see many examples in which local governments established their own historic preservation districts. Following this movement, in 1975, the national Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties introduced the new concept of "Preservation Districts for Groups of Historic Buildings", and the former local regulations were absorbed into the national system and unified.

System of Urban and Territorial Conservation in Japan

    As is well known, Japan's economic expansion in the post-war period was so intensive that cities grew without any control in a chaotic pattern of massive urban sprawl. By that time in many areas of the cities the traditional wooden structures were already replaced with modern concrete buildings, mostly as bad examples of the so-called "International Style". Of course I should mention that this trend is the result not only of the rapid economic expansion of those days, but also it was the result of almost one century of a national policy of "Modernization".

    In Japan it is difficult to find an example of an "historic center" such as those of Paris or Rome. In medium-to-large-scale Japanese cities, for the most part, the only remaining historic zones were random patches of the urban fabric near the center or in the areas surrounding the city. Therefore in Japan, rather than focusing on concentrated historic core zones, we cannot avoid dealing with historic- zone conservation on a larger-scale urban planning level. The objective was how to harmonize or improve the remaining historic areas, not only for the conservation of those areas but also for the sake of ecological development and healthy urban life.

    This slide illustrates the current legal system related to the built environment.

    The character of the bureaucracy in Japan is centralization, different from the federal / state government organizations of countries such as Germany or the US. There are three dimensions of decision-making, at the national, prefectural and municipal levels. In most cases the national laws are simply copied at the local level - so that if you understand the national laws you can also understand the local systems as well.

    At the national level, related to conservation of the built-environment, on the protection side there is one comprehensive nation-wide law -- The Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties - under which the Agency for Cultural Affairs was established in the Ministry of Education, and for which the Agency is responsible in terms of implementation and operation. The national law was simply copied to the prefectural level and the municipal level, so we have national-level sites, prefectural-level sites and municipal-level sites covered by the same basic law. At the prefectural and municipal levels the board of education is in charge of the work, along the lines of the Ministry of Education.

    In this law buildings, historic sites, places of scenic beauty, natural monuments and structures in the category of tangible folk-cultural properties can be pointed out in relation to the conservation of the built environment. Among these the preservation-district system is the one designed particularly for area conservation. Compared with the other categories, the distinguishing characteristic is that regulation is the responsibility of the municipalities, not the national government or even the prefecture.

    This article that I distributed is an example of the preservation regulations and preservation plans for Preservation Districts. In this pamphlet you will find the full text regarding this control system; I'm sorry that I don't have time now to go into this in more detail.

    The name of this system in Japanese is dento-teki kenzo-butsu-gun hozon chiku. Known as "den-ken", this system is well known. We now have 47 preservation districts. This system is supported by a residents' society or association in each district. In other words, without the residents' support, the system won't work. For further support of these residents' efforts there is a nation-wide network of such citizen-movement groups. Also there are nation-wide networks of municipalities involved in urban conservation effort.

    The pamphlet that I distributed is a pamphlet produced by an association of municipalities which possess Preservation Districts, or "denken-chiku" On the last page, there are examples of repair works or improvement works. The top pair of photos illustrates the case of a listed historic building's repair, and the bottom photos show the enhancement of a non-historic building.

    The Ancient Capital Law, as mentioned before, is an important historical law which initiated the urban conservation program in Japan in 1966, but even this law is limited to selected cities or towns, and this law was forced into action by pressure from citizens' groups. Due to the difficulties of control in the face of massive development pressures in those days, the responsibility was given to the Prime Minister, beyond the control of any individual ministry. The mountainous cultural landscape surrounding Kyoto is an example of an area protected by this law.

    On the construction side, the Building Code (literally translated from the Japanese as the "Building Standard Law") and the City Planning Law are two national fundamental regulatory systems which control buildings and the environment in general. The Building Code is related to individual buildings, to control their design, structural safety, fire safety and health-related quality standards. The City Planning Law is easy to understand primarily as a zoning control system combined with urban planning project implementation.

    In basic terms the zoning system controls such points as the restriction of building floor area, volume and height, as well as building occupancy and usage. In certain important zones, the building design -- in terms of exterior appearance - is controlled also. These two laws are under the control of the Ministry of Construction, and each prefectural or municipal construction department deals with all matters related to these laws. Under this Ministry's control, each prefecture or municipality is given the task of determining its own zoning plan.

    Between these two Ministries' systems there is a high wall, all the way down from the central government to the local governments. By this I mean that, although there is good communication within the Education Ministry system network itself between their national and local government organizations -- and likewise within the Construction Ministry's own organizational network - the problem is that these networks do not communicate well with each other either at the national or the local level. The people at all levels of each network usually know each better than they know their own counterparts at the same level in the other network, for example even within the same municipality.

    Besides these national laws, individual municipalities set up various regulations such as local townscape conservation regulations.

    In Japan, in the past as well as now, the Ministry of Construction has been very powerful and its financial scale is enormous compared to that of the Agency of Cultural Affairs. Up to now a tremendous amount of funding has been spent for large-scale projects carried out in the name of "environmental "enhancement" all over Japan, unfortunately with the general destruction of the historic environment as one of the consequences. Among the many projects funded by this Ministry, a large number have included subsidies to local governments to be used for the improvement and enhancement of historic buildings and districts.

    This is an example of a magazine published in the commercial fields to introduce examples of so- called "successful" town planning efforts, together with information on the available financial support programs provided by ministries or public foundations for local town planning or projects. Among the many projects by the Ministry of Construction, we can find about 40 projects related to the town planning of historic cities or towns. Not only the Ministry of Construction but also the Ministry of Agriculture and the Prime Minister's Office are providing financial support for various projects listed under the term, "protection of historic or traditional environments".

    Due to the scale of financial support received from the Ministry of Construction, local governments give much more priority to these projects than to other true conservation-related projects such as those controlled by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. In many cases, because of the lack of communication between the Construction Office and the Board of Education, as well as the lack of properly qualified professional conservationists, the results are in doubt in terms of both authenticity and quality. We hear often that local officials say they are proud that they were able to improve their historic environment without introducing the kind of restrictive requirements imposed by the Cultural Properties Protection regulations. Every time I hear this kind of statement, I really doubt whether those officials have actually understood the quality of their results.

    For architects and city planners, it is easier for them to produce designs dependent on historic context rather than to produce completely new designs; in other words, it is easier to explain their design in terms of historic concepts. The problem is in the quality of their designs. We have seen so many examples of bad design employing some aspect of "historicism" in new buildings that have replaced older buildings - in the name of "improvement" or "enhancement" - often using cheap synthetic materials. So much money has been put into each city's design under the name of "enhancement", but we can see so much negative result because of the lack of understanding by the decision-makers regarding the quality of what they produce. In some cases, the more money that is put into the effort, the greater the degree of destruction that results.

    In Japan the rights of individuals are quite strong, and there is no consensus that a building's exterior appearance is something that the general public has the right to control for the sake of environmental quality. There is simply a lack of understanding about the importance of the building exterior and its influence on the environment. Under these conditions only the strict application of regulations and the distribution of monetary compensation can be effective in trying to control the quality of design of individual development.

    Last year, for the first time ever, the Ministry of Construction knocked on our door proposing to set up a joint program to carry out projects at the municipal level. This is a copy of our jointly-produced pamphlet which invites local governments to submit proposals for projects in their areas. I personally am not satisfied with the illustrations in this pamphlet because we can still see that the construction side is thinking of historic zones more or less as "spot areas" having limited meaning only as a type of cultural resource.

    Also recently, in a long-delayed response to the peoples' grass-roots promotion, the national government of Japan has finally started to move steadily toward decentralization of central power, with revisions of the national law to delegate certain decision-making powers to local governments. By now, many municipalities have established their own ordinances and characterized their own identity.
    I hope that these trends will help the situation.


    Prof. Domicelj mentioned the ICCROM ITUC course in his speech. Actually I was one of the participants of that course. Surya, who came here from Nepal, was also a participant. There were 19 participants from all over the world, mostly from non-European countries. Actually there was only one person from central Europe, from Austria. Two were from Africa, three from the middle east, three from Asia, three from Central and South America, and three from the former Soviet Union member countries. The aim of the course is explained in Dr. Jukka Jokilehto's paper. It was very interesting and useful.

    Now I am seeking a way to start a regional course in Asia. But during the two months of the program we felt some difficulties trying to get beyond the context of cultural differences and to sit down at the table to discuss issues at the universal conservation level. This relates to the fact that, as Prof. Domicelj has mentioned, there are no universal standards in the urban / territorial planning field.

    For the monument conservation field, good or bad, the Venice charter or the European system of monument conservation, has been the world standard for a long time. I make this statement in the past tense. The degree of variation from the European standard was one way to judge our own positions. The Nara Document Authenticity was made for purpose of challenging the then-existing standards of the Venice Charter.

    But in the urban planning field, there is no such doctrine of standards, and the stages of development vary greatly from country to country.

    In the World Heritage Committee, during the monitoring session, the state of conservation of Asian cities or any other cities with high-speed urban growth has been identified as a serious problem. We cannot apply the same standards as those for European cities. Just putting pressure on the government does not solve the problem, because the government bodies in charge of cultural protection are usually not powerful enough to go against economical and political pressures.

    Asian cities are examples of a kind of cultural landscape which is evolving. There is a necessity to find out our own framework for Asian World Heritage city conservation. I hope that this meeting will result in the development of new standards to support this framework - standards that may be different from the European example but which are no less demanding.

    At the beginning of my talk I picked up the words "sustainability" and "ecology" as useful but potentially problematic terms; I hope that we will be able to deal appropriately with these issues but that we will not lose the crucial focus on practical conservation theory.

Copyright(1998): Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties. No reproduction or republication without written permission.

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