10 April 2015

Dilapidation and Destruction

An old-fashioned building catches the eye of people walking up the slope to the Nagasaki Prefecture Office.  The insignia above the main door identifies it as the Nagasaki Prefecture Office No.3 Annex.  A stone monument with the inscription “Former Landing Place for Portuguese Ships” stands outside with an explanatory signboard to the side, but the history of the building itself is not mentioned.  Only after some research will the interested few come to realize that it is the former Nagasaki Police Station erected in 1923 and the only pre-World War Two building remaining in the neighborhood.

The two-story building is located at the bottom of the slope known to Nagasaki residents as kenchōzaka, a spot marking the original shoreline of Nagasaki Harbor where Portuguese and Chinese trading ships anchored in the 16th century.  A series of land reclamations conducted from the Edo Period to recent years has placed it some two hundred meters inland from the present-day Ohato waterfront. 

The Nagasaki Prefecture Assembly recently passed a resolution to move the seat of government to the site of the former Nagasaki Fish Market, near JR Nagasaki Station, and to demolish the No.3 Annex along with the main office buildings.  Proponents of the move trot out the oft-used term rōkyūka (dilapidation) to justify the destruction, but the decision to move the prefectural office is deeply rooted in a plan, decades-old, to bring the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagasaki and to radically redevelop the area around JR Nagasaki Station.  

The view that the No.3 Annex is unworthy of preservation is based on the opinion of experts that 1) the building is not architecturally significant enough to qualify as a heritage site and that 2) it bears no scars from the atomic bombing.  Both opinions, I think, are questionable.  The former Nagasaki Police Station is portrayed in numerous prewar picture postcards, indicating that it cut a prominent figure in the Nagasaki townscape and that it captured the interest of foreign visitors (for whom most of the early picture postcards were printed).  

Moreover, it was virtually the only building that survived the conflagration that rampaged through the neighborhood after the atomic bombing, gutting the old Nagasaki Prefecture Office and the Nagasaki District Court and leaving few other buildings intact.  A film taken by the American Occupation forces in the autumn of 1945 shows it standing unscathed amid a wasteland of rubble and charred debris. 

A picture postcard published circa 1930 shows the Nagasaki Police Station (present-day Nagasaki Prefecture Office No.3 Annex) to the right.  Constructed in 1912, the Western-style Nagasaki Prefecture Office in the background (colored red) would be destroyed in the fires that broke out after the atomic bombing. 
Used until 1968 as the Nagasaki Police Station, the iconic building is currently an extension of the Nagasaki Prefecture Office.  It retains its original features, including the gothic stone entrance portal and the bars on the windows of the former basement jail.   
If the Nagasaki Prefecture Office No.3 Annex is indeed "dilapidated," its dilapidated condition is due to the failure of Nagasaki Prefecture to conduct necessary upkeep and repairs over the years.

Although it may reflect a rather conservative European sentiment, I think that the word "dilapidated" should be used, not as an excuse to tear the building down, but rather as a call to preserve it as a precious witness to almost a century of Nagasaki history and, properly restored, as a venue for a new career as a museum or information center.  

Confucius seemed to agree when he said: "Study the past if you want to define the future." (温故知新) 

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