Historic district that inspired ‘Ponyo’ set for special listing

Source : www.asahi.com

The Tomocho district's traditional townscape features a night light, a sort of beacon to guide travelers, which is lit after sunset. (Koichi Ueda)

FUKUYAMA, Hiroshima Prefecture--The charming harbor town of Tomocho was a quiet place of historic interest until anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki decided to use it as his fictional backdrop in his 2008 blockbuster film “Ponyo.”

Since then, anime fans have descended on the town in droves, eager to spot locales from the movie.

Facing the Seto Inland Sea, Tomocho is known for its steep alleys, narrow streets and well-preserved Edo Period (1603-1867) architecture, which led it to be designated as a Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings.

Traditional buildings give a period feel to the Tomocho district. (Koichi Ueda)

Now, the Council for Cultural Affairs has recommended a more lofty listing as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings.

Referred to as Tomonoura bay in “Manyoshu,” the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry, Tomocho is among two recommendations by the council in an Oct. 20 report to the culture minister. The other one is the Kitadai Minamidai district in Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture.

Tomocho's last brush with fame was when Hiroshima prefectural authorities announced plans for a land reclamation project along coastal areas in the 1980s.

A proposal to build a bridge met fierce opposition from residents, causing the project to be scrapped last year.

The move to upgrade Tomocho's historic importance is expected to rekindle interest in efforts to preserve its heritage.

“It was acknowledged as a culturally valuable district," said Fukuyama Mayor Naoki Edahiro as he confided his hopes to reporters that Tomocho will now "attract national attention" that will revitalize the district.

The council designated a 8.6-hectare area surrounding the port.

Tomocho in bygone days was a flourishing maritime transportation hub. It still retains a traditional night light to guide travelers to the port as well as “machiya” townhouses, temples, shrines and other examples of Edo Period architecture, all in good condition.

Traditional buildings in the Tomocho district and port area. The photo was taken from an Asahi Shimbun helicopter in February. (Koichi Ueda)

But this has proved to be a doubled-edged sword as traffic often chokes the narrow streets running through the district's center.

After the prefectural government revealed its landfill project to build a bridge in 1983, civic groups protested on grounds of scenic preservation. They filed a lawsuit in 2007 and the Hiroshima District Court ruled in their favor.

In 2016, the legal battle was settled after the residents dropped the case and the prefectural government withdrew its request for a land reclamation license at the Hiroshima High Court.

(This article was compiled from reports by Yohei Goto, Koichi Hirotsu and Takeshi Amano.)

*The article was published on The Asahi Shimbun Digital on November 30, 2017 at 10:00 JST

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