Classic pre-war tiles saved through crowdfunding

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People discuss the preservation of tiles in a building in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture, on June 10.

TOKONAME, Aichi — Thanks to a crowdfunding project, almost century-old tiles have been saved from destruction in Aichi Prefecture.

Located in a decrepit building scheduled for demolition in Tokoname, a town known for its pottery, the tiles date from the Taisho era (1912-1926) to the early years of the Showa era (1926-1989). They were used on a floor and walls in the building, which included a showroom for a now-defunct pottery factory.

Volunteers and others launched the crowdfunding project in a bid to save the tiles.

The building used to be an administrative wing of Sugie Seitojo, now Toyo Kogyo, a ceramic manufacturer that started producing tiles during the Taisho era. The facility was used as a showroom for the tiles until World War II began and tiles came to be seen as a luxury item, forcing the company to shift to producing grindstones.

The approximately 70-square-meter floor was paved with mosaic, clinker and other kinds of tiles in 73 different designs arranged to look like a series of panels. The lower part of the walls were also adorned with tiles in 24 different designs.

“Some of the tiles are made with sophisticated traditional techniques. They are cultural assets that represent the history of Japanese tiles,” said Tomoki Honma, 35, an architectural historian living in Kyoto.

When demolition of the building became inevitable, Honma and others started efforts to preserve the tiles. They opened the facility to visitors in April and May, and about 500 people came to have a look. The crowdfunding was launched at the end of May and raised more than ¥3.1 million as of Friday.

Work to remove the tiles began on June 10, and has already been completed. Honma and his collaborators intend to consider exhibiting the tiles at some point in the future.

“Thanks to everyone, tiles that were destined to be destroyed are being taken into the light. I’ll be happy if they’re preserved,” said Toyo Kogyo President Akiko Sugie, 52.