Tohoku’s traditional homes slowly vanishing

Sendai Minamisanriku kominka
A 309-year old tsunami-hit kominka in Minamisanriku, Miyagi.

Repair bills up to 100 million Yen or more

Yoichi Haryu, 57, owns a 2-storey home and storehouse in Wakabayashi-ku, Sendai City. The buildings date back to the late Meiji ~ early Showa era. The 2011 earthquake caused the beams to twist and bend and the wooden posts to twist and come unstuck.

The house had been used as a traditional inn for 40 years following the war and is currently used by Mr. Haryu as a home office. Temporary repairs were carried out but the quote to fully repair the buildings came in at around 100 million Yen (~ 1 million USD). While Mr. Haryu does not want to tear down the house, he is at a loss for how to maintain it.

Sendai traditional home
Mr. Haryu’s home in Wakabayashi-ku, Sendai (left) and a traditional warehouse with damaged walls in Taiwa Town, Miyagi Prefecture (right).

 Need for specialist training

Last year, the Sendai Branch of the Miyagi Society of Architects and Building Engineers introduced a ‘Heritage Manager’ training course for those wanting to learn how to repair and make use of traditional Japanese buildings. 28 architects completed the course in March.

A number of traditional ‘kominka’ homes have been demolished since 2011, and there are fears that many more could be lost in the coming years.

Hyogo Prefecture was the first to introduce Heritage Manager training courses after losing a number of historic western-style houses after the 1995 Hanshin earthquake.

Between 2011 and 2013, the Agency for Cultural Affairs conducted an investigation of historic properties that were damaged in the 2011 disaster. In Miyagi Prefecture, 608 historic buildings either suffered damage or were washed away in the tsunami.

Owners of designated cultural properties are eligible for support payments and tax reductions. However, the financial assistance is not always sufficient. Owners of historic, but unregistered homes are left with a larger burden.

In March, the town of Murata in Miyagi Prefecture petitioned the government to designate a 7.4 hectare neighbourhood of traditional merchant houses as a Group of Traditional Buildings zone. If approved, they will be eligible for government assistance to preserve the area. The town had identified 115 old warehouses and traditional walls that were worthy of preservation but a number have been demolished since the disaster.

Historic buildings are an important part of an area’s character and once they are gone, they cannot be easily replaced.

Murata earthquake damage
Earthquake-damaged merchant houses in Murata Town, Miyagi Prefecture. 

Source: The Kahoku Shimbun, April 3, 2014.

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