Kesennuma’s long-standing historic significance began in the twelfth century when it was a post station and gold-mining town toward the eastern end of Japan’s Golden Trail. A fire devastated the community in 1929 but with relentless effort, most of Kesennuma’s historic structures were recovered or rebuilt between the Taisho period (1912–1925) and the early Showa period (1926–1988).
Then, on March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake and a tsunami struck the northeast coast of Japan, almost completely destroying Kesennuma’s historic structures and fishing port. The coastal city, along with other damaged traditional buildings and historic townscapes in the area, was listed as The East Japan Earthquake Heritage Sites on the 2012 and 2014 World Monuments Watch.
Restoration of an historic cityscape and revitalization of the community
The restoration of Kesennuma became a high priority both at the local and national levels because of the severity of the tsunami in Japan’s Tohoku (northeast) area. Since 2013, with support from the Freeman Foundation and a subsidy from Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs and Miyagi Prefecture, we have been working with the Kesennuma Kazamachi Cityscape Preservation Association for Community Recovery (KKCPA) on the restoration of six historic buildings including machiya (traditional townhouses), dozo (traditional storehouses), and examples of Kesennuma’s landmark early modern architecture.
The restoration of these endangered historic buildings, all nationally registered Cultural Properties owned and maintained by the same families since their original construction, not only restores their cultural heritage value but also helps to rebuild the community devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Among the six historic buildings of Kesennuma Historic Cityscape, two machiya—Onoken Store Storehouse and Kakuboshi Store—were completed in 2016. The restoration of Sanji-do Sasaki Store was completed in the summer of 2017. In addition, Takeyama Rice Store was completed in 2018, Otokoyama Headquarters was completed in June 2020, and Chida House in Fall 2020. Land re-adjustment for a new historic commercial district designation will be executed in accordance with the recovery and help to secure these historic buildings in the future.
The owners of these buildings intended to rebuild these structures to put them back in service as galleries, a fishery museum, and a visitors’ center. These historic structures serve as community hubs to showcase the history of the district and encourage its post-disaster vitality.