Forward: WMF in Japan
Since 2000, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has been bringing international attention and resources to the preservation of cultural resources in Japan. Our work in the country has ranged from the conservation of mid-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century imperial convents, to repairing historic cityscapes damaged by natural disaster, to raising awareness of modern icons in need of a new use. In each project, WMF works in collaboration with local organizations and government entities. These projects strive to implement best practices in the areas of advocacy and financial support and demonstrate public/private approaches to preserving historic sites at risk.
The Beauty and Sorrow of Kyoto Machiya
In Kyoto, WMF's recent work has focused on the preservation of machiya, traditional wooden townhouses dating from the Edo period (1603–1867). Fostered by a culture that integrated urban living and commerce, the machiya have long defined the historic urban character of the ancient capital of Kyoto. In recent decades, great numbers have disappeared as a result of rapid urbanization, the financial and technical difficulty of restoration and maintenance, and government regulations that create burdens on owning, restoring, and inheriting them.
Machiya are a critical part of Japan's architectural, aesthetic, and cultural legacy. They incorporate centuries of Japanese principles of architecture and design, traditional craftsmanship, materials, functionality, simplicity, nature, landscape, and gardening. The construction of new machiya became difficult after WWII because their traditional wooden architecture could not meet the new fire and earthquake safety standards adopted in the Building Standards Act of 1950. As such, the only way to sustain and preserve traditional Japanese building crafts is through the restoration of historic machiya. Unlike preservation efforts that focus on an individual building, the Kyoto Machiya Initiative seeks to preserve a building type—one that is essential to local identity and sustains the unique cultural fabric of historic Kyoto.
Kyoto Machiya Revitalization Project
In 2010, Machiya Townhouses were included on WMF's flagship program, the World Monuments Watch. With support from the Kyoto Center for Community Collaboration (KCCC) and the Kyomachiya Revitalization Study Group (currently Kyomachiya Council), WMF kicked off the Kyoto Machiya Revitalization Project. This project aimed to work towards model solutions to some of the common threats that challenge the survival of machiya through community action, preservation, and revitalization of machiya in Kyoto.
The first phase of the Kyomachiya Revitalization Project was helping to restore a building owned by the Kamanza neighbourhood association. Working with the KCCC and the Kyomachiya Council, WMF successfully completed the first pilot project in 2010 to restore a midsized machiya in Kyotors"s Kamanza-cho neighborhood. It demonstrated how owners of similar midscale buildings could avoid demolition and restore badly altered machiya to their original forms. The restored building now houses a restoration resource center, benefiting many local machiya owners. A design guideline booklet was published to help other owners make restoration decisions about windows, shoji screens, and historically appropriate changes.
As Machiya in Kyoto continue to be in danger of disappearing as a result of urban development and an ageing population, the Kyoto machiya were again included on the World Monuments Watch in 2012 to focus attention on local efforts to preserve them.
The second phase of the machiya revitalization project finished in 2012 with the restoration of another machiya, Old Muranishi Residence, which was originally converted into a museum and currently is being used as a privately-operated structure to promote Kyoto culture and tourism. It was a large-scale machiya conservation project that addressed the challenges of restoring and preserving larger buildings, as well as those facing the difficulties of elderly ownership. The project also studied how to help families incorporate a public use to make the machiya financially sustainable.
The Revival of Ofune-hoko Float Machiya
For hundreds of years, the sacred procession of Yama and Hoko floats occurs every summer during the Gion Festival in Kyoto. However, the community centers that host the festival floats are apt to be overlooked. There is a need to reaffirm the profound importance and cultural value of these community centers as neighborhood assets.
The restoration of Shijo-cho Ofune-hoko Float Machiya (Hoko Kaisho), the community center of Shijo-cho town, was the third phase of World Monuments Fundrs"s Kyoto Machiya Initiative Program. In this phase, WMF continued to work closely with committed local partners, KCCC and Kyomachiya Council, to implement a comprehensive restoration of the two-story main building, its warehouse, and its courtyard garden, called Tsuboniwa, a characteristic feature of machiya in Kyoto.
In April 2017, through local stewardship in close coordination with the owner, Shijo-cho Ofune Hoko Preservation Association (OHPA), restoration of the wooden building was completed. The machiya again serves as the home of the Ofune-hoko Float, providing space for conducting rituals, music rehearsals, and community activities. This project received the Award of Excellence in UNESCOrs"s annual Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Preservation in November 2018.
Main Façade of the Machiya (Before Restoration), 2016
Through its proud return to the annual summer Gion Festival in 2017, Shijo-cho Ofune-hoko Float Machiya demonstrates its significant value as an incubator and vehicle for the recovery of intangible cultural heritage. A series of public events were also designed to share the lessons learned from the project and to strengthen the network of stewards of machiya in Kyoto. This project has successfully set a revitalization and regeneration model for other machiya in Kyoto and throughout Japan through community engagement, meticulous restoration, and international cooperation.
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