Japanese Artist and Modelmakers Renew Interest in Castle Construction

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Robison Wells
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Two pieces of art have emerged simultaneously, which have spurred Japanese national interest in reconstructing that nation’s largest wooden castle, which was destroyed in a fire 360 years ago. The Edo Castle tower, built-in 1457, burned down in the Great Fire of Meireki, which burned down 60% of the capital city Edo (now Tokyo) in 1657. While much of the large castle structure remains intact, the iconic tower was destroyed and never rebuilt.

“Paris has the Palace of Versailles nearby, London has Buckingham Palace and Beijing has the Forbidden City,” Shizuo Kigawa, one of a citizen group’s executive members, told The Japan Times recently. “Tokyo has nothing that embodies Japan’s history.” Rebuilding the Edo Tower would fill that gap, the group says.

This renewed interest has been seen most clearly in two works of art. The first, a massive scale model replica of the tower, revealed at the Imperial Palace in September, has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors. The second is a manga series Edo Castle Rebuilding, written by 39-year-old Seisaku Kurokawa. In that three-book story, an employee of the Imperial Household Agency goes step by step through the reconstruction process.

These artworks have sparked a national conversation about what it would take to recreate the tower. Though the manga estimates the price of construction at JPY 50 billion ($497 million), the above-mentioned citizen group has projected that the resulting tourism in a single year could exceed JPY 180 billion ($1.7 billion).

Kurokawa says there are four reasons why the reconstruction should take place: a rediscovery of Japanese history, tradition, and culture; continuation of construction technology involving wood; economic benefits of creating a tourist attraction; creation of a public project driven by public and private donations, as opposed to tax funding.

The one that he sees as most important is the continuation of wood technology: “Making castles out of wood is uniquely Japanese. However, the number of carpenters with this expertise is decreasing. Given that it would take ten years to rebuild the Edo Castle tower, followed by additional repairs, a project like this would be an ideal opportunity for a young craftsperson to carry on the wood-construction baton.”

Not everyone in Japan is in favor of reconstruction. Some say that it is “irreverent” to use the land the imperial family has lived on and performed ceremonies for centuries as a tourist attraction.

Despite all this talk in the public square, the Japanese government has taken no position on the matter—or even approached it. Kigawa says “I find it odd to consult with the Imperial Household Agency about what is merely a dream. I think we would be ready to talk with the agency only after we know for sure that we are able to build it and that we have the resources and technologies to do so.”

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