Government Response on Kyoto Tower Controversy / Changes in Townscape Policy ( Part 1)

Kyoto is generally considered as a scenic city. Not only are there more historic buildings to be appreciated than in any other Japanese city, the mountainous terrains surrounding the city and the river spaces streaming across it provide unforgettable sceneries. Yet, triggered by the massive devastation to townscapes by the invasion of modern buildings, townscape preservation first came to public awareness in Japan in the late 1960s. The Kyoto and Japanese government enacted various policy instruments to protect the natural environment and cultural artefacts in the 20th century. The practice progressed from a strict implementation of preservation ordinances limited to preservation of individual buildings of cultural value and surrounding natural environment, to a wider consensus of the entire city on heritage protection by considering streetscapes and urban districts as it transformed.

Phase 1: Introduction of Preservation Districts for Protecting Natural Environment and Individual Buildings
As mentioned in the previous blog posts, the announcement of the construction of Kyoto Tower in 1964 ignited a series of landscape disputes regarding its disruption on the surrounding historical scenery. At that time, regulations about the conservation of the mountainous landscape which surrounds the urban area was implemented by designating 34 square kilometers of its natural mountains as Scenic Landscape Districts. The regulation guaranteed that the mountains would always be within the visual field of urban Kyoto. However, there were no systematic ordinance for the conservation of the internal setting of Kyoto, such as the ancient palaces, temples and shrines etc. The regulations were insufficient to strongly prohibit construction or destruction that might harm these man-made or manipulated historical landscapes, which further led to townscape disputes such as the construction of the Kyoto Tower. Under these circumstances, Kyoto city studied the possibility of drafting a long-term perspective and conceptual plan, and also conducted investigations on the designation of Aesthetic District to prevent imminent loss of historic landscape due to the spread of modern buildings.

The popular protests directed against the construction of the Kyoto Tower, along with other landscape disputes at that time, contributed to the national establishment of the Ancient Capitals Protection Act in 1966. This put a layer of ‘Preservation districts of historical landscape’ and the even stricter ‘Special preservation areas of historical landscape’ over the ‘Scenic Landscape Districts’ defined in 1930s. Yet, this law still was not intended for the protection of historic buildings. Its aim was to enable local governments to fence off Preservation Areas of Historic Landscapes to preserve woodland and farmland vital to the historic environment, protecting only the historical areas on the outskirts of Kyoto.

To the Kyoto and Japanese government, it had been an exhausting process to establish townscape quality and urban design in general and the preservation of historical townscapes. The topic will continue on the second blog post, discussing how the Kyoto government enacted landscape policies with wider consensus, involving restrictions on urban districts as well.

Christoph Brumann,Tradition, Democracy and the Townscape of Kyoto: Claiming a Right to the Past ( New York: Routledge, 2012), 57-58

Christoph Brumann, Urban Spaces in Japan: Cultural and Social Perspectives. (New York: Routledge, 2012), 54-55,70

Konomi Ikebe, “A Study about the Japanese landscape law including cultural landscape and Historic City Preservation and Restoration Act”, Hort Research No.66 1-9 (2012), accessed December 18, 2016

Uta Hohn, Townscape Preservation in Japanese Urban Planning, The Town Planning Review Vol. 68, No. 2 (Apr., 1997), pp. 213-255, accessed December 18, 2016

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