By Yoshihisa Watanabe / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterNAGOYA — I make it a rule to jog when traveling. It helps me get a grasp of the area and its layout before I start going places. And if I get lost in the backstreets, I can get an idea of how people there live. Discovering something unexpected is most enjoyable.
A lyric from a folk song of the region says, “Owari Nagoya owes its prosperity to the castle” (Owari is an ancient name for part of Aichi Prefecture). I suppose people in general would be reminded of Nagoya Castle when they hear the name “Nagoya.”
It was the castle that I was jogging around when I noticed another charm of the city.
“What’s that?” I asked myself when I encountered the main office building of the Aichi prefectural government. Standing near the castle, the Western-style building has a roof in the style of a Japanese castle.
Don’t the locals feel unsettled seeing such inconsistency within the structure of one building?
I asked Wakayuki Kato, 47, an official of the prefectural government’s property management division about it. But his response was, “I’ve been seeing this since childhood. I’ve always thought it’s what a prefectural office looks like.”
The building was completed in 1938, making it 80 years old this year. It was designated an important cultural property by the central government in 2014.
The exterior walls below the second floor windows are made of whitish granite. From there to below the sixth floor windows they are covered with yellowish brown tiles. The sixth-floor walls are tiled in white, reminiscent of the white walls of Japanese castles.
Such an architectural style — with features like roofs tiled in copper plates, emphasizing Japanese taste — is called the Imperial Crown style.
Jin Watanabe, an architect who designed the main building of the former Tokyo Imperial Household Museum — now the Tokyo National Museum, which is also designated a national important cultural property — and others designed the prefectural government building.
The choice of style has much to do with history. Japan was in the midst of expanding its battlefronts after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War; the country was trying to enhance its national prestige during the early years of the Showa period (1926-1989).
Nagoya city hall, the main building of the Nagoya city government, neighbors the prefectural government building. It was completed in 1933. The hall was also designated a national important cultural property in 2014.
Atop the roof of the city hall’s turret clock, which is nearly 55 meters tall, is a set of statues facing in four directions that depict shachi, a creature of legend that is part fish. They are called the “Shiho Nirami no Shachi” (Shachi glaring in four directions).
The building’s architectural design is also in the Imperial Crown style. Among the 559 designs submitted, Kingo Hirabayashi, an architect originally from the prefecture, won the gold prize. His design was remarked on as being “excellent and extremely interesting, having a high tower in the center, taking Nagoya Castle’s keep as the model.”
“Strangely enough, the clock wasn’t included in the tower in Hirabayashi’s design,” said Akira Fumiyama, 49, an official of the city office’s general affairs division. “Nobody knows when, or by whom, it was added to the blueprint.”
The former Nagoya Court of Appeals building, located east of the city hall, is another national important cultural property. Originally constructed in 1922, it is now the Nagoya City Archives. Its basic design is in the Neo-Baroque style, with the red bricks and white granite blocks creating a beautiful contrast. Its appearance reminded me of Tokyo Station.
The pillars and the central staircase’s balustrade, which greet you when you enter the building, are made of marble. Opposite the entrance there is a stained-glass window featuring an image of scales. It symbolizes that the punishment should fit the crime. You can tell the building was formerly a courthouse where criminal cases were tried.
Akiyo Shimizu, 43, an official of the archives, told me that visitors usually say “Wow!” when they encounter the sight because it has such an awe-inspiring atmosphere. It is a popular spot for people to take photos.
There was a case in January 1937 of somebody stealing 50 scales from the golden figures of the shachi on Nagoya Castle. The group of thieves was arrested and the summary court sentenced the main culprit to 10 years in prison.
A hammer, used at the crime scene and later confiscated as evidence, is exhibited in the archives, together with a copy of the court ruling.
Locations for TV dramas, movies
The office buildings of Aichi Prefecture and Nagoya city referred to here are the only two cases of national important cultural properties that are still used as government offices, according to the Cultural Affairs Agency.
The Nagoya City Archives, formerly a complex of three prewar courthouses, is open to the public. To some visitors, the building is a pilgrimage destination, since it has been a favorite location for shooting TV dramas and films.
About 1 hour and 40 minutes on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo Station to Nagoya Station. About 10 minutes by subway from Nagoya Station on the Meijo Line via the Sakura-dori Line to reach Shiyakusho Station.
052-954-6057 Property Management Division of the Aichi prefectural government
052-972-2106 Nagoya city government’s general affairs division
052-953-0051 Nagoya City Archives
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