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Preservation of Kyoto's historical districts

Wed Feb 15, 2017 12:52 pm

What would be the Karyukai without the historical urban areas, the famous 5 kagais?

I propose a topic concerning the preservation of the historical districts of Kyoto, because for me it is a very important issue of Karyukai's continuity.

There is no elegance, no beauty of the seasons, without an historical architectural and urban framework. What would be the outfits of maiko and geiko without the very fine architecture of the okiyas and ochayas in the background?

A rather attentive visit of Kyoto city shows that the city was not spared by a wave of modernism going very close to the doors of the kagais. I was surprised during my trip last year, not disapointed, but i found that there was a lack of architectural coherence near the kagais..(except Kamishichiken maybe...)

Not a problem of diversity...but there are many buildings too high (often due to urban densification policies because of the lack of space), with banal architecture, alongside the traditional districts and especially Gion.

Also many very interesting machiyas (traditional Kyoto house) have been demolished, all over Kyoto.

It is clear that a city must evolve. Nevertheless, architecture and landscape are a common heritage, factor of identity and touristical attraction.

Truth is, local authorities have become aware of the problem since the 70ies. But it took so many time for them to find appropriate responses.

The removal of overhead power lines and the rehabilitation of pedestrian walkways in the kagai has already been a success, though

I found in Kyoto City Hall website this very interesting document. It explains all the choices of policies...i hope it will interest you

I think that the effects of the policies aren't all yet seen. The landscape changes little by little with each building permit on these constructions that Kyoto City Council authorizes, by applying the new rules

Re: Preservation of Kyoto's historical districts

Wed Feb 15, 2017 5:54 pm

By chance recently I found this article about Pontocho, the city is concerned about the kagai world, it's great :

Kyoto removing utility eyesores to revive old-time ambiance
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/0 ... JwYDsTm7qB

Re: Preservation of Kyoto's historical districts

Thu Feb 16, 2017 5:02 am

It was super smart to remove the poles and run the wires underneath the newly laid interlocking brick roads. So, now that it's been cleaned up very well (and will continue to have improvements made all the way through 2020), what else do you think could be done? It looks like the main streets like Hanamikoji will prove to be the hardest as they're full of shops and tourists, but not every kagai looks like Pontocho or Gion Kobu. Gion Higashi and Kamishichiken don't look as "traditional" as the others (especially Gion Higashi), so will they be forgotten or will only minimal change occur?

Also, someone in the comments section of the Japan Times suggested bike lanes, even though those are clearly not traditional. Do you think that Kyoto could benefit from bike lanes or do you think that this would be a waste?

Re: Preservation of Kyoto's historical districts

Thu Feb 16, 2017 12:59 pm

Thank you for the link and answers.

I think there is 2 separate issues:
- improvement of public space: removal of overhead power lines, rehabilitation of pedestrian walkways, roads, advertisement restrictions
-City planning : urban framework, architecture etc...

Improvement of public space produces its effects in the short term. Only one campaign can change the perception of public space.

The architecture of buildings is a matter of urban planning. And, to me, that's where the main issue lies.

Indeed, there is a lack of architecture that makes the transition between the modern districts and the traditional districts, by respecting a principle of lowering the height of buildings.

The architectural evolution is gradual, step by step : many constructions of low quality, too high, built near the hanamachis, were not built to last. Now, with the new rules, there height can no longer be extended. And when it will be demolished, the new building will have to respect the rule of maximum height, which has been lowered to 15 m.

This will, in the long term, improve the landscapes around the kagais.

Demolition is something very common in the Japanese - and even Asian - perception of construction. The city is renewing itself and recomposing itself incessantly. People build and demolish, nobody feel shock about that.

Thus, for many years, a lot of kyo-machiyas were demolished without causing a real wave of indignation ( this would have been the case in my country)…that was before the strong awareness of local authority and the subsidy system for the renovation of machiyas. Indeed it's quite hard to live inside, day by day, without an important (and expensive) renovation.

Concerning the installation of bicycle lanes, I don’t think it is a good idea in the kagais because of the narrowness of the (very often) crowded streets. There will be safety problems for pedestrians : even if the Japanese are quite disciplined (big difference with my country!!). But outside the kagais, Kyoto is a very interesting city for biking.

As for the situation of the 5 kagais (in my opinion, after visiting them):

-Gion Kobu: essentially well preserved, except that there are many buildings too high on the main roads around the district. The “jewels” are skirakawa minami dori and shimbashi dori (but quite close to modern areas)

-Gion Higashi: There is indeed a mixture between the modern and the old. Knowing that most of the ground floor retains traditional features. So you feel that traditional look despite this very disparate urban landscape. As soon as you look up, you feel lost in that (quite strange) decor.

-Pontocho and Miyagawacho: these 2 kagais, although distant from one another, have similar characteristics because the (well preserved) machiyas are aligned on one central pedestrian axis. The street is very narrow in Pontocho, it is more open in Miyagawacho
Pontocho is on the edge of the shopping avenue and so there are very modern buildings directly behind. The height of these buildings should hardly evolve because of the very commercial and central character.

-Kamishichiken: the neighborhood is less concerned with the problem of building height. Inside the district, some kyo-machiyas have been modernized (more than Gion Kobu indeed) not necessarily in the best way, but overall the neighborhood remains a very traditional configuration, with a very enjoyable calm.
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