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Naotake Odake, former managing director of the Japan Tourist Bureau (JTB) and once director of the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau, spent years of his professional life traveling to cities across the globe in order to promote Tokyo as a worthwhile tourist destination. In his travels, he noticed a trait shared by all the major cities: they each had a unique and well-recognized landmark embodying the history and culture of the land. According to Odake, a structure of this sort is vital to bolstering a spirit of pride in any given population. Unfortunately for Tokyo, he believes that this sort of historical landmark is something that Japan’s capital city severely lacks. What he has against Asakusa Temple, Tokyo Tower, or Tokyo Skytree, I’m really not sure. But, it is for this reason that Odake has taken the lead as the chairman of a non-profit organization which hopes to rebuild the Edo Castle’s innermost tower. “In order to present Tokyo as a proud tourist city, we need something like Edo Castle,” he says. But will the payoff really outweigh the costs?

When the Olympics come to Tokyo in 2020, it’s estimated that about 10 million people will visit Japan for the event. In order to make a lasting impression on this large influx of foreign travelers, the NPO that hopes to rebuild Edo Castle’s tower insists that a structure representative of Tokyo’s history and culture is necessary. It’s been said that having a castle is the pride of a person’s homeland, and Edo Castle’s central tower is touted as Japan’s most majestic piece of architecture, historically speaking.

The original Edo Castle fell victim to a number of major fires and now very little of the original structures remain. The castle tower in particular was destroyed in the great fire of 1657, leaving nothing behind but the pedestal. The shogunate at the time decided that for financial reasons, they would not rebuild the structure, and in time, the former site of the Edo Castle became the home of the Imperial Palace. The pedestal where the castle tower once stood now lies in the east sector of the Imperial Gardens, currently open to the public. If the tower is to be rebuilt, it will presumably be here, on its original site.

What’s raising the most criticism in regards to reconstruction at this point appears to be the cost. It’s estimated that restoration of the tower would cost somewhere between 40 and 50 billion yen (US$401.8 to 502.5 million)! Though, to be fair, 50 billion yen is about how much was spent to restore Tokyo Station just last year. And regardless, advocates in favor of the restoration of Edo Castle are calling out to private enterprises and individuals to cover the costs, implying that the financial burden would not fall to the taxpayers.

Now, speaking of government involvement in the project, there are a number of politicians invested in the idea of castle restoration. For example, Sadakazu Tanigaki, former president of the Liberal Democratic Party, attended a meeting by the NPO pushing for restoration of Edo Castle and expressed sound interest in the project. Also, Shigefumi Matsuzawa, member of the House of Councilors, included restoration of the landmark in his 2012 campaign for Tokyo Prefectural Governor.

Nevertheless, many of Japan’s everyday citizens remain skeptical of the restoration plan and its effective impact on the face and popularity of Tokyo as a tourist spot. Here’s a small sampling of their comments:

“Not necessary, dummy.”
“We don’t need a concrete castle.”
“Edo Castle would be younger than the Sky Tree. Pfft”
“If it can be made with donation money, I’m not opposed, but don’t go wasting my taxes!”
“I can see the value in a castle that’s made it through the ages, but what’s the point of fabricating a fake?”
“What a waste of money.”

Apparently, the majority of Japanese people voicing their opinions on the Internet believe in the value of historical landmarks, but can’t accept a structure that’s been rebuilt from scratch as equal to any that has withstood the test of time. They criticize the cost of building such a structure, as it is unsuited to our modern age. And, a few compare this obsession with castles to some manic love of miniatures and insist that the advocates for a new Edo Castle instead stick to making models.

What many people may not realize is that both Osaka Castle and Nagoya Castle, which were completely rebuilt in the 1900s, remain effective tourist attractions and welcomed approximately 1.5 million visitors each in 2012 alone. Regardless of the date on which the Edo Castle is restored, if the project does go through, it is expected to attract even larger crowds than that, given a little time. Of course, advocates of a new castle insist that the structure would embody more than just a tourist trap. They say that it would eventually become a true symbol of the Japanese spirit.

What do you think, readers? What value is there in the modern reconstruction of a centuries-old structure, and can we be certain that it will counteract the costs?

Source: dot. via Itai News (Japanese)
Image: Wikipedia