Desire for historically faithful reconstruction clashes with accessibility for wheelchair users.

As is the case in many cities in Japan, Nagoya Castle is a modern, concrete reconstruction. Originally, Japan’s castles were made out of wood, which meant they frequently ended up ravaged by flames when invaded by hostile samurai forces or when lightning fell from the sky during thunderstorms. Add in a post-feudal era decree that each region of the country could retain only one castle, plus some of the remaining castles becoming targets during World War II when they were used as Imperial Japanese Army garrisons and administration buildings (the latter being Nagoya Castle’s role during the war), and today few wooden castles remain.

But while concrete reconstructions can look beautiful from the outside, historical purists argue that walking inside the structure to find it outfitted like a modern museum mars the experience. And so last spring Nagoya announced that it will be tearing down its castle’s five-story keep and rebuilding it with a wooden one that more closely mirrors its original design. However, that commitment to maintaining historical accuracy has drawn complaints from the Aichi Disability Forum, an organization operating in the prefecture of which Nagoya is the capital.

On November 21, the Nagoya Castle General Office, which oversees management of the building and its grounds, said that it does not intend to install an elevator in the new, wooden keep (the current concrete keep, which was erected in 1959, does have an elevator). “We want to restore the keep very, very faithfully. We are restoring it to how it was in the Edo Period [1603-1868], and want to avoid additional elements to the extent possible,” said Nagoya Castle General Office head Katsuyuki Nakano.

Instead, the plan is to install chair-like apparatuses that would transport mobility-challenged visitors up and down the staircases connecting the levels of the keep, from the basement to the fifth, uppermost floor. However, the potential lack of an elevator drew concern from Aichi Disability Forum Executive Director Naoya Tsuji. In speaking with Nagoya Castle General Office representative Shinichi Nishino, Tsuji pressed the castle management on the issue, expressing doubt that the stairway apparatuses are a viable alternative. “Have you looked into whether or not all wheelchair users will be able to use them?” he asked, following up with his assertion that the machines are not universally usable and adding “You knew there would be people who would be opposed to this, didn’t you?”

Demolition of the current keep is not expected to begin until the fall of 2019 at the earliest, and so the debate comes at seemingly an early enough point for modifications to be made to the elevator-less plans. The Aichi Disability Forum has asked the Nagoya Castle General Office to reconsider its stance, and Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura has expressed his intention to work with private enterprises and educational research institutions in developing a way for disabled visitors to navigate the stairs comfortable and with ease.

Source: CBC News via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/名古屋太郎

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