Mediation for Urban Cnservation:
The Case of Imai-cho, Japan

Hari Srinivas
Case Study Series E-048. June 2015.


"Dentoteki Kenzobutsu Gun Hozon Chiki" or Preservation for Groups of Historic Building - Den Ken Chiki for short - is a regulation promulgated by the Japanese Government, under the Cultural Properties Protection Law, to preserve whole areas of historic neighbourhoods in Japan.

While the term 'preservation' may reflect a static view of governmental action on ancient buildings and historic areas, the DenKen Chiki is more dynamic in nature, with the conservation of historic areas encompassing its preservation, restoration, reconstruction and redevelopment, considering economic, socio-cultural, legal and administrative aspects.

The town of Imai-cho preserves the appearance of an 18th-century Japanese town. The outward appearance of the houses, with their lattice doors and earthen walls, and their inner furnishings, including spacious earthen-floored rooms and traditional kamado ovens, provides a glimpse of what life was like for the merchants of olden time.
    History of Imai-cho

The name 'Imai' was first used in the 1386 scriptures of Kofukuji temple, to depict a loose geographical area. The city was in fact founded sometime between 1532 and 1555. Building in the area was begum by Toyohisa Imaihyobukyo, a Buddhist priest of the Ikkoshu sect, who built the Shonenji Temple and surrounded it with a moat for protective purposes. After civil strifes in 1568 and 1575, ties with the cities of Osaka and Sakai flourished and by the Edo era (1597 - 1868), it had become an important commercial city of the south Yamato plains. A special self--government was later set up and Imai-cho came to be ruled by Governors.

Imai-cho was known as a temple town
based on Syonenji Temple.
More than 80% of the residential houses
still maintain an ambiance from the Edo era.

During the Edo era, the city extended 600m east-west and 310 m north-south, with an encircling moat and earthen buttress. Inside were some 1,200 houses and a population of 4,100. It was divided into six districts and accessed by stone bridges in nine locations. Narrow and twisting roads built to confuse the enemy testify to the defensive nature of the city plan, where rich merchants and property were protected from invaders.

Many of the houses in Imai-cho today, dating from the 1960s, reflect the old Japanese city built around a temple. Eight of the houses in Imai-cho have been designated as 'Important Cultural Properties' by the National Government. The uniqueness of the area lies in the fact that most of the old houses are still being inhabited by descendants of the families who originally built them, making it some of the best preserved houses of the Edo period.

    Preservation Process

The process of designating an historic area as a preservation zone begins by a survey research of the are to determine the measures to be taken for preservation, areas to be preserved, financial allocation, etc.

Conflicts that commonly develop during this period is mitigated through a series of consensus-building exercises. It is usually at this period that residents' associations and groups are formed to mediate between the interests of the land/house owners and the local government. Consensus formation is followed by the designation of the historic area as a 'DenKen Chiki'. Individual old buildings are simultaneously designated as 'Important Cultural Assets'. Financial assistance, relaxation of building regulations, conformation to historical styles during remodelling/reconstruction etc. are also considered during designation.

A Preservation Council is established to deal with various issues. This is formed by representatives of Ministry of Construction, Agency of Cultural Affairs, the local government as well as residents associations. The Preservation Plan proposed for the historic area first hears opinions from the Council, including the validity of the areas selected for preservation. After necessary modifications, it is thrown open to public hearings. Written reports of conflicts with the Plan are invited from the residents' associations. Their active participation is enlisted to ensure cooperation in implementation of the preservation plan.

    Mediation and Consensus-Building

Conflicts arise between residents of an historic area and the local government during the designation of DenKen Chiki. In the case of Imai-cho, some of the key conflicts concerned the contents of the preservation plan, and the implementation procedures. Conflicts regarding the contents of the Preservation Plan included building regulations, depreciation of land price, house rent controls, preservation techniques, fire security measures, out-migration of residents etc. Conflicts arising as a result of implementation procedure included method of declaring regulations, authority and legitimacy of questionnaires, behaviour of city officials in public hearings etc.

Taken together, there were two clear processes involved in concensus-building: an information dissemination process, and a dispute-settling process. During the first process, information on DenKenChiki designation, preservation pla etc. were disseminated to the residents. During the second process, a series of conferences, written reports, and public hearings were used to resolve conflicts between residents' interests and the local government.

Typical residences of Imai-cho

1971 Start of Residents' Organization (Imai-Cho o Hozon suru kai)
1972 Six historic/old houses in Imai-cho are designated as Important Cultural Assets.
1977 Enforcement of investigation for maintenance of historical environment by Agency of Cultural Affairs.
1983 Establishment of Preservation Council to select historic buildings. Assistance process commenced.
1989 Promulgation of regulation for DenKen Chiki. Maintenance of streets commenced.
1992 Residents take part in activities and deliberations of the Preservation Council.
1993 Imai-cho is designated as an Important Cultural Asset. Building and tax regulations are eased. Symposiums are held to discuss the preservation plan.
Chronology of important events

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