Kyoto Tower: Traditionalism over Modernism
The serenity of Kyoto’s traditional scenery has been formed as a result of its rich natural environment and urban space, established by 1000 years of historical and cultural background as an imperial capital. The presence of historical monuments, cultural events and arts creates a unique urban landscape that cannot be discovered in other places. Thus, the Kyoto Tower, a contemporary addition to the ancient city back in the 1960s, received wide range of oppositions by various parties. The outcry further ignited debates on how Kyoto should deal with the influx of modernisation in its traditional grounds till nowadays. It is apparent that such dispute has stirred up debates on a more intellectual level, situating the clash between traditionalism and modernism into spotlight. Stakeholders that bear negative views on the issue are mainly scholars and citizens. They generally opted for preservation of the traditional cityscape. In this blogpost, I would like to focus on the protagonists’ view on opposing the construction of Kyoto Tower, thus discussing the cultural identity of Kyoto.
After the construction plan of Kyoto Tower was announced, it immediately triggered vigorous public protests from different disciplines. French Scholar, Jean Pierre Gaston posted written protests to Japanese Newspaper, as an attempt to halt the construction. Other concern groups such as The Group of Loving Kyoto, The Group of Wives to Protect Kyoto and The Council of The Young to Protest Construction of Kyoto Tower were established followingly, revealing the strong disapproval of the new addition to the city. They believed that the aesthetics of Kyoto was framed by its low skyline of traditional homes. Yet, Kyoto Tower, breaking the 31 meters maximum height of their Building Standard Act back then, was seen to be greatly obstructive to the entire scenery. A Japanologist Alex Kerr once criticised Kyoto Tower as a ‘symbolic stake through the heart’. This revealed the importance of the cityscape to the citizens’ cultural identity, the image of the city is deeply embedded to its skyline.
Referring to a photo test survey concerning the aesthetics of architecture in Kyoto, it reveals that Kyotoites has their affiliation towards tradition architecture,such as Kyo-Machiyas and shrines, and are less welcoming towards Western contemporary structures, such as Kyoto Tower. Christoph Brumann, the conductor of this survey, concluded that the citizens perceptions of ‘what is beautiful in Kyoto architecture and what is not do not diverge at all; in fact,… there is a wide agreement that the city’s historical and Japanese-style building are its best.’ Furthermore, the tower is like an “object building”, emphasizing its importance but ignoring its surrounding context, i.e. the ancient Kyoto fabric.
As the project was forcefully pushed through, the construction of the Kyoto Tower opened up a series of destruction of most of the old Town. The municipal government seized the opportunity to quicken the pace of destruction since then, more than 40000 Kyo-Machiyas ( old wooden traditional homes) were torn down, according to the International Society to Save Kyoto.
All these accounted for the proposition of oppressive movement towards the construction of Kyoto Tower. Backers of traditionalism are not minority but the general public and intellectuals. Although the tower has been built at last, but the tension between traditionalism and modernism still persists in the context of Kyoto, triggering a series of amendments in their landscape policies.
Alex Kerr, Lost Japan. (New York: Lonely Planet Publications, 1996), 179-180
Christoph Brumann,Tradition, Democracy and the Townscape of Kyoto: Claiming a Right to the Past ( New York: Routledge, 2012), 215-217
Pradyumna P. Karan, Japan in the 21st Century: Environment, Economy, and Society. (Kentucky, The University Press of Kentucky, 2005) 147-148