Architecture in Japan has for hundreds of years represented Japan’s innovation and cultural uniqueness. Today renovation of historic Japanese homes is attracting new foreign investors to Japan. Restoration of old homes has been yielding up to 80 percent investment returns. As one American architect, Jacob Reiner who has a firm based in Japan mentioned, “There is a huge innate value in the homes that are just being overlooked by the locals.” Can foreign investors help drive cultural preservation of Japanese homes? Or are the more modern houses that are emerging just a new wave of innovation?
The restoration business is a large business that both the private sector and the government are deeply involved in and which also benefits the tourist industry. Approximately 200 homes are restored in Japan every year that were built during the Edo era of 1603-1868. The cost of renovation can cost up to $20 million yen ($238,000 US dollars) but can double the value of the home. One home in Shojiko which is 150 years old was recently renovated and purchased for 5 million yen. The cost to restore the property was $5 million yen and it sold for $15 million yen.
There is a large variety of styles of historic homes representative of different architectural periods in Japan. Japanese elite for example in the eleventh century built homes in a style called shinden-zukuri. This style house has a traditional garden in the center with rooms connected by long hallways. Another style house emerged in the Meiji era between 1868 to 1912. There were many elements to these homes that represented traditions and rituals of these periods inside the home such as screen doors and hibachi fireboxes.
However, in Tokyo historic houses that are even older than 40 years old have become difficult to find. In other cities in Japan traditional houses are still common such as in Kyoto and Kamakura. Two Japanese architects in Tokyo recently purchased three homes to create an exhibit around the architectural work of postwar Japanese architects and to raise awareness about importance of appreciating and preserving these older homes.
As for temples the government takes great strides to ensure that these historical sites are maintained. In Kyoto alone in Japan there are over 2,000 temples which are in need of restoration. The cost of just one restoration project carried out in 2011 of the Kanginn Shodenzan Temple cost $1.3 billion yen and was subsidized by the Cultural Affairs Agency and Decorative Arts and Crafts company based in Toyko. Restoration can be even more complex than the original construction. This particular project involved some of Japan’s master craftspeople in carpentry, engraving, painting, as well as traditional artisans.
Surprisingly it is primarily foreigners buying historic properties and having Japanese homes restored as local residents tend to prefer more modern homes. Foreign appreciation and investment in the restoration of historic homes could create a shift to more Japanese buyers wanting to purchase these beautiful old homes. However, the more modern homes in Japan being built today just may be more representative of the culture of the country today. There may be new innovations in architecture emerging in Japan for the world to learn from and appreciate for years to come.