Tue, Dec 3, 2019
Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs
Wandering around after visiting Nagoya Castle, you might spot another castle roof down the street. No, there are not two Nagoya Castles. The roof actually belongs to the main building of the Aichi Prefectural Government.
The Aichi Prefectural Government Main Building remains functional as offices of the prefectural government. It is actually my workplace, and when I first started working there, I was struck by the imposing presence of the building and its distinctive architectural features. The roof is intentionally designed to look like the castle’s, but sits on top of a staunch and western-style building, in what is called the “imperial crown style.” The bulk of the building is divided into three layers: the bottom layer is granite, the middle layer light brown terracotta tile, and the top layer white ceramic tile. I also took a moment, during one of my first few visits, to read the sign positioned outside the main entrance and learn that the building was built in 1938 and, of course, that it is an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
Since then, every morning I have climbed the front steps and found myself in the grand marble-walled entrance hall. A granite staircase snaking up from the right takes me to the building’s upper stories, which along with offices hold a collection of historic rooms, including the Ceremonial Hall and the Prefectural Reception Room. I occasionally have the opportunity to visit these rooms in my work, and they leave a strong impression, but there is more to them than their looks.
Unlike many of Japan’s cultural properties, which are meticulously preserved in their original state, the Aichi Prefectural Government Main Building has constantly adapted along with the times. That being said, things got off to a rocky start. Nagoya was heavily firebombed in World War II, and in 1945, the building was spared in bombings that destroyed Nagoya Castle.
In the direct aftermath of the war, the building experienced perhaps its most historically significant period. In 1946, Emperor Showa stayed in its Prefectural Reception Room, a lavishly decorated room on the fifth floor of the building, with a ceiling decorated with a phoenix and foliage design and a marble fireplace. It is part of a suite that also contains a bathroom and two anterooms, one on either side of the reception room, one for guests and one for staff. When the Emperor stayed there, the necessary furniture and even a bath were installed exclusively for the occasion.
In the following years, the building was used as an office of the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces, and the same Prefectural Reception Room was repurposed into a briefing room for the United States military. Nowadays, the Governor and Vice-Governors use the room when they meet with important guests.
The building’s other historic room, the Ceremonial Hall, is located on the sixth floor. A large room with an arched ceiling, it has an alcove at one end that was once a shrine holding the official photo portrait of Emperor Showa (until around the time of his visit in 1946). At the time of its construction it was used for its intended purpose, as a place to hold ceremonies and official events. Starting in 1965, though, it was used as office space and as a conference room, and for 10 years in the early 2000s, it was even used as a disaster information and prevention center. It was returned to more formal use in 2015, and now official guests sit in this room and appreciate the original ornate ceiling, clock, and wall decorations.
We can only speculate about what is next for this resilient and storied structure, but I hope that when you spot that mysterious roof down the street from the castle, you check in on the building and regale your friends with tales of its past.
(Photos courtesy of Aichi Prefectural Government)
(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)
Leah lives in Nagoya and is the Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) for the Aichi Prefectural Government. She is originally from New York City in the United States. She first visited Japan with her family when she was in high school and keeps coming back.
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