Heian Kento 1200: Pont des arts Controversy –- viewing from protestor’s perspective

Heian Kento 1200: Pont des arts Controversy –- viewing from protestor’s perspective

The Pont des arts Proposal faced with strong opposition from citizens. Various approaches were taken and successfully prevented the bridge being built.

Firstly, the bridge was seen as more a destroy than a complement to the scenery. The large span of free space was valued as an asset for visitors to appreciate the continuous façade of the traditional housing and the distant mountains. A bridge with a walkway higher than that of the neighboring two bridges would unavoidably block the view. Moreover, a western bridge at a width of 10 meters would not be fit to the intimate and subtle atmosphere of the district [1]. Pontocho, the famous geisha quarter was known for the traditional wooden machiyas and narrow elegant alley ways. The bridge of a completely different scale would turn out to be an awkward addition to the lane system. Also, a mere replica of a bridge of other country would be completely inadequate for the culture preservation district and would only be a laughingstock to residents and visitors. Besides, the neighborhoods at the two sides of Kamogawa river refused to be connected at this point, since Pontocho was a historical district while the east bank was of wider modern walkways for congregations of the youngster [1].

Besides, the proposal was also objected for its possible influence on the Kamogawa river. Though for most of the time, the waterway keeps a clam and shallow flow, it could be transformed into a dangerous one with only few hours of rain and could threaten to immerse the Pontocho’s houses up to the first floor. What’s worse, the river makes a bend at the Shijo Avenue and achieves a peak water level there. The construction site for the Pont des arts was so close to the Pontocho district that the massive pillars would be huge obstacle to the waterflow. The risk at the flood season would be much higher.

The opposing sound come with various forms and from different directions. Weekly street campaigns were carried out from the Shijo bridge to the Town Hall. Protest signatures were collected and handed to the government. Scholars from all academic sectors, for instance, Japanese literature, filming, etc. advocated the anti-proposal to the prominent figures. The social media from both Japan and France paid great attention to the protest. The French daily Le Monde reported the Pont des Arts project on its first page on 10 September 1997, suggesting that the proposal of Chirac might be a thoughtless one ruining Kyoto’s townscape [2]. A British correspondent, Richard Lloyd Parry wrote an article for the Independent claiming that developers destroyed the city of good intentions [3]. A TV news program entitled News Station also had its reporter repeatedly mock the plan in October 1997 [1].

Considering the large scale of opposition aroused, the bridge proposal was postponed and then ditched by Mayor Masumoto. The project was put forward for diplomatic and economic reasons, yet it gave way to the culture preservation and environmental issues. It could serve as a representing incident showing the citizens of Kyoto rethinking the identity of their city. Through the controversy Kyoto has fortified its determination on strict preservation of the original scenery of historical district as Pontocho.


[1] Brumann, Christoph. Tradition, democracy and the townscape of Kyoto: claiming a right to the past. Routledge, 2012.

[2] Pons, Philippe. “L’idée de Jacques Chirac qui risque de défigurer Kyoto.” Le Monde.fr. September 09, 1997. Accessed December 12, 2017. http://www.lemonde.fr/accesrestreint/archives/article/1997/09/10/3de03b8cb588e2a6b058e2a2c2b005d9_3779316_1819218.html.

[3] Parry, Richard Lloyd. “Kyoto Summit: Developers destroy the city of good intentions.” The Independent. December 07, 1997. Accessed December 12, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/kyoto-summit-developers-destroy-the-city-of-good-intentions-1287630.html.

1 Comment on “Heian Kento 1200: Pont des arts Controversy –- viewing from protestor’s perspective

  1. Architectures are often disliked by people when it is proposed, particularly for ideas that are unprecedented. However, when time passes, the customs change and people may have different comments towards the architectures. Famous examples includes the Eiffel Tower and the glass pyramid entrance of the Louvre Museum. By the time they were built, people regarded them as destroyer to the cityscape. As we all know, they now become the landmarks of France. It will be interesting to imagine people’s reaction towards in present time if the project was built.

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