Turning ruins into cultural properties possible with enthusiastic local actions

It has been shown that even a decayed building can be preserved and utilized if it has historical value and the enthusiasm of the local people is high.

The Council for Cultural Affairs of the Cultural Affairs Agency has advised the culture minister that the former Maya Kanko Hotel in Kobe should be registered as a tangible cultural property. The hotel will soon be officially registered.

The hotel was completed in 1930 on the hillside of Mt. Maya overlooking Kobe in the early Showa era (1926-1989) and closed in 1993. Despite its decrepit condition, the distinctive Art Deco exterior of the hotel became popular and the hotel is said to be dubbed the “queen of ruins” by aficionados.

It is extraordinary for an abandoned building, which is often regarded as a “negative legacy” for the local community, to be registered as a cultural property. The fact that the site still retains the appearance of a mountain resort from the past was highly evaluated.

It would have been difficult to register the site if it had been left unattended. The local community has conducted tours to inspect the exterior of the hotel after conducting surveys for the application and taking measures against rain leaking into the structure and to prevent trespassing.

The owner of the hotel, a civic group and an expert in cultural property preservation called a “heritage manager” worked with the local government and raised funds online. This can serve as a case for people involved in the preservation of historical buildings in various other places.

The registered cultural property system, which aims to protect and utilize cultural properties, was introduced in 1996 and about 13,000 properties have been registered. Compared to designated cultural properties such as national treasures, where changes to the existing situation are strictly restricted, the regulations on registered cultural properties are more relaxed.

However, in this regard, the owners of buildings listed as registered cultural properties are required to manage them appropriately. How to utilize the buildings after they are registered and how to secure the maintenance and management costs in the medium and long term are also issues to be addressed.

It is possible to fund the costs of maintenance and management by converting the building into a sightseeing facility. The owner of the former Maya Kanko Hotel and the civic group are considering using it as a tourism resource.

The question is whether the value and fame of the hotel as a registered cultural property can be utilized to convey its appeal to a wide range of people. Even if the popularity of the site increases with its registration, it is necessary to take measures to prevent this from becoming fleeting.

There are still buildings across the nation that are decaying, having fulfilled the role demanded by their times, including mines and other industrial facilities that supported Japan’s modernization as well as hotels and amusement parks that reflected the trends when they opened.

Some of them may have to be demolished due to safety concerns, but some of them may have value to be preserved for the next generation, such as to show the history of a region and the characteristics of the times.

It would be desirable for local governments and residents to work together to understand the current situation of such sites and discuss whether they should be preserved.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 9, 2021.