Looking to the past, looking to the future: the localization of Japanese historic preservation, 1950-1975



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Japan in the decades after 1945 is often thought of in the image of Japan, Inc., a uniform, business-driven, and homogenous society. In historic preservation, it is assumed that the protection of buildings and landscapes was absent altogether or was directed only from the bureaucratic center, either as a peripheral activity required by the nation’s status as a world leader or demanded by citizens as compensation for harsh living conditions in rapidly industrializing urban areas. A look at cultural dynamics in the middle years of the postwar period (1950–1975), however, reveals significant activity in historic preservation outside of national programs centered in the Ministry of Education. These locally conceived and implemented programs to protect and restore buildings and landscapes, while not always in direct conflict with national efforts, nonetheless sought above all to achieve particularly local goals, including economic development, improvement of the quality of life, and the protection and promotion of municipal and regional identity. It is these localized and largely independent efforts toward the implementation of historic preservation projects, beginning in the early 1950s, that are the focus of this research. This study asks three main questions. First, what were the social and legislative contexts in which local efforts at historic preservation were enacted in the years between 1950 and 1975? Second, how and why did local governments and civic institutions play such important roles in historic preservation in these years and how did the local presence in historic preservation evolve over the course of the period? Finally, how did local historic preservation debates and the programs they engendered affect and reflect a broader localization of control over other aspects of civic life, such as city planning and economic development, in this period? This research addresses those questions by first proposing philosophical, structural, and legislative genealogies for historic Japanese preservation before 1945. In the heart of the study, I then investigate the evolution of historic preservation language and practice in three locations during the middle postwar period, tracing the articulation of preservation concerns in each place and charting the programs enacted to bring those ideas to realization.