Post-Earthquake Restoration at Kumamoto Castle Town
In the Spring of 2020, WMF completed its project at the Kumamoto Castle Town, a Japanese city dating back to the seventeenth century.
WMF's work at Kumamoto began in 2016 in response to the damage caused by a series of earthquakes. After conducting an on-site field study to determine conservation needs with ICOMOS Japan in May 2016, WMF partnered with Kumamoto Machinami Trust (KMT), a non-profit corporation dedicated to heritage preservation in Kumamoto, in 2017 to restore five historic houses: Shio Kosho, Natural and Harmonic Purely, Nishimura Tei, PS Orangerie, and Kiyonaga Honten.
Last summer, President of KMT Juko Ito and Founder and Secretary of KMT Kazuhiro Fujikawa told us about the work to help transform the houses into a symbol of the city's recovery.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves— How did you get involved in heritage preservation?
Juko Ito: Kumamoto is my actual home town. I have lived there for 52 years. When I studied architecture at Kumamoto University, Mr. Fujikawa was a close friend of mine. We became acquainted with WMF after the earthquake in 2016, when we met Mitsuo Inagaski, WMF’s Regional Representative for Japan.
Kazuhiro Fujikawa: I was born in 1951 in the house I currently live in, and have always lived in Kumamoto - apart from 10 years in Kobe. When I returned from my time there, I was shocked to find that the number of historic buildings in Kumamoto had decreased by about two thirds. The following year, I established an urban development office and organized a “Machinami Festival”, which led to the creation of Kumamoto Machinami Trust (KMT) in 1997.
When the earthquake hit in 2016, where were you, what were your initial thoughts?
Juko Ito: I was working as a professor of architecture at Kumamoto University then. When the first strong quake happened, my wife and I had to run out of the house. The second earthquake was the strongest I have ever experienced. The next day my office was flooded up to 1.5 meter with books! The University Museum’s walls had cracks 10 centimeters wide.
Kazuhiro Fujikawa: At the time of the main shock, I immediately ran to the garden and crouched down under podocarps trees for 30 minutes. The trees nearby shook. The mountains in the distance and the ground on which my house was built swayed together.
When and how did you decide to take action?
Juko Ito: At first all the University staff was preoccupied with arranging safe classrooms etc. But quickly we realized how badly damaged the town was; the effect on the Kumamoto Castle Main Tower and Walls in particular had a real impact on everybody.
When the WMF and ICOMOS Japan team came to survey this damage, it was an opportunity to take action. Unlike Kumamoto Castle and the University Museum, older town buildings that were not designated as national cultural properties were vulnerable; most of their owners didn't have the means to protect them. We were lucky WMF offered aid to preserve five of these monuments, when so many were lost.
Kazuhiro Fujikawa: At our regular KMT meeting four days after the earthquake, six gray-faced members gathered. All were shocked at the state of historic buildings around the town. We recorded down our findings on a whiteboard.
I participated in the ICOMOS survey and engaged in consultation with experts and owners of the damaged historic buildings. Our social role at KMT is to help save cities’ cultural heritage that is not protected under official designations - help them be used. There is a real need for a preservation economics of “in-town cultural heritage", completely different from "designated cultural properties”, which are already protected by the system. So we took various measures, such as opening a counseling office, making appeals to the governments, and holding symposiums.
What did it mean to you to watch the five houses' transformation take place?
Juko Ito: Most of all, I felt proud to be from Kumamoto. The five structures rescued with WMF are a symbol of the Castle Town’s recovery from the damage of earthquake; they help maintain the traditions and the history of communities, which are at the origin of our sense of pride of being the Kumamoto people. All of us are thankful to WMF.
Kazuhiro Fujikawa: Setting historical heritage preservation as a means for town development helped clarify what the city would look like after restoration. The protection of cultural heritage contributed greatly to the sustainable development of the town, with historical buildings for instance becoming popular as cafes after restoration.
What does it mean to you now that the project has finished?
Kazuhiro Fujikawa: For all five sites we saved, physical life of the buildings was extended, their businesses were revived, and - most importantly I think - awareness of the value of heritage and motivation for preservation was enhanced.
The PS Orangerie, a 100-year-old brick building, and the 140-years old Kiyonaga Honten are expected to endure for another 100 years. Both are at the center of new business initiatives which take advantage of their historic characteristics. The Natural Harmonic Purely, an organic shop, continues to thrive even during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a historic building it has a certain resilience, with spatial characteristics allowing for social distancing and sufficient ventilation.
Juko Ito: It is nothing but a sense of accomplishment for me.
WMF continues to work with KMT at the Hitoyoshi Ryokan Inn, damaged by the Kyushu Floods in the Summer of 2020.