150+ year old warehouse and shop in Bunkyo-ku at risk of demolition

Iseya Bunkyo

The owner of a historic shop in Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo announced plans to demolish the building and sell the land after having difficulty in maintaining the 150 year old property. Local residents have formed a group to oppose demolition and held a public symposium on December 17th to call for urgent action to protect the property.

The former Iseya Pawnshop, located alongside the Hongo-Kikuzaka slope, operated from 1860 to 1982. The property consists of three buildings including a 2-storey warehouse, shop and a 1-storey tatami room. The traditional warehouse dates from the Bakumatsu era, or the closing days of the Tokugawa shogunate (1850s ~ 1860s) and was relocated from Shikihama in Adachi-ku to its current location in 1887. The tatami room was built in 1890 and the shophouse was built in 1907.

Ichiyo Higuchi, a prominent author of the Meiji period who is featured on the 5,000 Yen banknote, mentioned the store in her writing as she lived in the neighbourhood for several years.

The store has been operated by generations of the same family for over 120 years. It survived the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 and even the land speculation boom in the 1980s.

In 2003, the warehouse was registered as a National Cultural Property. In recent years, the store has been opened up to the public each year on November 23 – the anniversary of Higuchi’s death. Over 9,000 people have visited the shop on its annual open day since 2002.

With ever increasing maintenance costs, property taxes and inheritance taxes, the current owner of the shop sought Bunkyo-ku’s assistance in finding a buyer for the property. The ward reached out to several universities but were unable to find an interested buyer. The owner has since made the difficult decision to demolish the buildings and sell the vacant land.

Yoshinobu Igo, an architect and lecturer from the Bunka Gakuen University, said the store, with its literary connections, was a symbol in the area and is a valuable example of the lifestyle and architecture of old Meiji-era merchant homes.

Location

About registered tangible cultural properties:

These properties must meet the following requirements to be registered:

  • Over 50 years old
  • Contribute to the historic scenery of the area
  • Provide a structural example
  • Not easily replicated

If the owner plans to alter more than 25% of the exterior of the property (eg. the shape, colour or materials), they must provide notice 30 days in advance to the Board of Education.

The following assistance is provided to owners of registered properties:

  • Up to 50% of the design supervision fees when restoring the property
  • A 30% reduction in inheritance taxes
  • A 50% reduction in the fixed asset taxes on the building and land

Maintenance and restoration costs, however, are the full responsibility of the owner.

Source: The Tokyo Shimbun, December 17, 2014.