When I visited Japan in early 2009, I was new to the study of historic preservation. Having only wrapped up my first semester of grad school the month before, my eyes and ears were naturally hyper-aware of preservation efforts in the cities we visited. One of the most interesting challenges I learned about is the conflict between the Japanese worldview known as wabi-sabi and preservation. Wabi-sabi , the belief in the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things, is often practiced by systematically demolishing and rebuilding structures, like the Ise Grand Shrine. The Shinto shrine, originally constructed around 4 BC is taken apart and rebuilt every 20 years. It is currently on its 60th iteration, and one of the buildings, Naikū, is due to be rebuilt this year. Though the structures are rebuilt using traditional building methods and materials and in the same footprint, Wabi-sabi is antithetical to traditional preservation principles.
On the other hand, Japan was an early adopter of historic preservation legislation. It enacted its first preservation law in 1897. Only a handful of other countries had similar laws at the time! Since then, Japan has consistently added to and extended their preservation legislation, which brings me to the photo above. Himeji Castle (ca. 1333), became a National Treasure in 1933 under the National Treasures Preservation Law of 1929. It is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture from the feudal period. It is comprised of a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems and has earned the nickname White Heron thanks to its bright white exterior and its supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight. In 1993, it became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan (a designation denied Ise Grand Shrine due to its repeated reconstruction).
What do you think of the conflict between wabi-sabi and preservation? Should Ise Grand Shrine be a World Heritage Site?