Heritage Preservation in Kyoto VS. Hong Kong

Heritage Preservation in Kyoto VS. Hong Kong
Fig. 1 The street of Kyoto in 2014 ©2014, SCMP

Kyoto, which has the most “stringent” city’s law on architectural heritage in the world, has successfully preserved the Japanese capital of Heian-kyo built 1,220 years ago. In contrast, Hong Kong is rapidly loosing its historical heritages and “historical ambience”. What is the reason behind the differences between the two cities and can Hong Kong learn the lesson from Kyoto?

Whether historical building saleable or not, is one of the big difference between Kyoto and Hong Kong. South China Morning Post stated that “In Hong Kong, private owners of graded historic buildings may apply for maintenance grants of up to HK $1 million. But Kyoto does not buy private buildings in order to preserve them.” Recently, Hong Kong has already lost the famed Ho Tung Garden due to disagreement between the building’s owner and the government.

A proactive government that learns its lesson is another factor to the success of preservation. Kyoto has no difference from other cities that it has gone through struggles between heritage conservation and urban development. The 131-metre Kyoto tower built in 1964 and the massive Kyoto Station construction along with department store and hotel have once been criticized for destroying the city’s “historic ambience”. Therefore the Kyoto authorities have announced seven years ago to lower all building height and imposed different restrictions. However, take Kowloon City has an example of Hong Kong, many old low-rise Tong Lou has become high-rise pencil towers. Professor Ho Puay-peng, the board member and director of the Centre for Achitectural Heritage Research at Chinese University of Hong Kong said, he is saddened whenever he sees the Kowloon City area is destroyed because of the high-rise pencil towers.

Can Kyoto’s approach to preservation be implemented in Hong Kong? Kazuhiro Yamamoto, chief of Kyoto city government’s landscape policy section, doubts the possibility that the Kyoto’s strategies work anywhere else. The strict building codes are very site specific to the Kyoto city. However, this case study already can rise the discussion on whether Hong Kong’s building codes and policies for heritage preservation should be revised.

Fig. 2 Kazuhiro Yamamoto, chief of Kyoto city government’s landscape policy section, doubts the possibility that the Kyoto’s strategies work anywhere else. ©2014, SCMP


Fung, Y.W. Fanny. “Lessons from Kyoto on Preserving Hong Kong’s Architectural Heritage.” SCMP. South China Morning Post, 29 July 2014. Web. Dec.-Jan. 2015. <http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1561314/lessons-kyoto-preserving-hong-kongs-architectural-heritage>.

6 Comments on “Heritage Preservation in Kyoto VS. Hong Kong

  1. I believe that the entire role of architectural preservation really depends on the culture and beliefs of the society. Hong Kong has always been in the international stage, an important economic hub in Asia that attracts foreign investors. Throughout the process, Hong Kong more or less would be influenced by these foreign changes in terms of lifestyle and so on. The Japanese on the other hand has always been persistent and has a strong sense towards their own culture. Any changes on it is deem to be at wrong and would be rejected strongly. As mentioned in the post, the strategy in Kyoto can only be applied there and no where else, which I see as culturally driven.

  2. To follow up your comment, I think civic awareness and engagement are important drivers to the success in preservation. In Kyoto, not only groups of local citizens have called an effort to preserve machiya, but also professors and architect like Kengo Kuma have participated in the Machiya Preservation Project. Therefore better policies can be made, which get influenced by these people from different background. From referenced news, Yamamoto, the chief of Kyoto landscape policy, also mentioned in the interview that “most of our citizens have a strong sense of preserving the historic landscape, and that’s why it is easier for us to secure people’s support when implementing these restrictions.” When we look back to Hong Kong, how often we see architects participate in heritage preservation or stand up for what they have been learning at school?

  3. I agree that preservation is of paramount importance in Hong Kong, however, I am not sure is Kyoto a good example/reference to compare. I believe architectural preservation depends not only on cultural, but also on geographical constrains. Take Hong Kong as an example, the occur of the high-rise pencil tower mainly due to the lack of land problem, thus residential building is forced to develop vertically which allows more people to live in. However, since Japan has a high frequency of earthquake and a larger land, people barely develop high-rise building. In terms of culture, as mentioned in the post, I believe the strategy is specifically apply to Japan only.

  4. I agree Kyoto and Hong Kong initially have a very different background. While Kyoto’s economy largely base on tourism, Hong Kong is an economic hub. My post is written base on a journal from South China Morning Post, and I believe the reason that the author comparing these two cities is to rise Hong Kong citizens’ awareness on the less valued (but equally important) field in the city – preservation, and hopefully there will be more civic engagement in culture issues. Also, referencing from my previous historical document posts, you can see Kyoto City Lanscaping Policy 2007 has addressed so much details in balancing the old and new in a city. The sensitive and almost surgical approach is very impressive (in my opinion) that the government has shown the effort to preserve the old while allowing other areas in a city to grow in industrial fields. Therefore, it is very upset to see cases like the Wan Chai locals struggling so hard to keep the Blue House and the unsuccessful cases like the Pawn that finally turned into a grand restaurant instead of a place for public to engage.

    • In my opinion, it is hard to directly compare the conservation case in Hong Kong with that of Kyoto. The city and architecture of Kyoto has been planned and built for hundreds of years. Many of the preserved Machiya and other historical buildings such as temples and shrines have at least six hundred years of history, some of them are even catagorized in the UNESCO World Heritage. Due to the high density of historical building typologies in the city, the image of city and its pattern is unique in the world, thus, strict law to protect the uniformity and to maintain architectural style seems to be necessary. Compared to the case you mentioned in Hong Kong, most heritage buildings are only built within 150 years, which is of less historical value that those in Kyoto. However, I agree with you that the conservation cases in Hong Kong is not successful as the program is completely altered. A case in Kyoto is worth mentioning: the Gion district built in the middle ages is used to be a Geisha district where women perform arts to entertain visitors. Nowadays, it still maintains its old function, whilst new entertainment establishment strike a harmonious relationship with the environment, and traditional performance is preserved. It can be seen the Gion case is base on the fact that Japanese people are still enjoying traditional activities. The case of pawn shop in Hong Kong is hard to maintain the building’s old function though – as traditional pawn shop is not used by people anymore. Therefore, Cultural difference is an obstacle in successful preservation of historical buildings.

  5. In terms of conservation I think Hong Kong is lacking behind compare to many other cities, I agree that the strategy that used by Kyoto government is very smart and useful but it might not be applicable to Hong Kong case as Hong Kong and Kyoto has too different backgrounds and urban structure and planning.

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