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Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010

Meet tackles culture, city preservation

Staff writer

NARA — One way of preserving Nara's culture and history is by riding bicycles to tourist areas instead of boarding smoke-belching tour buses. The city's traditional industrial culture can also be maintained by logging less onto Twitter and Facebook and writing more letters and postcards using sumi ink and calligraphy brushes, two local industries in severe decline.

These were just two of the ideas for preserving history and culture suggested by participants at the three-day World Conference of Historical Cities meeting, which opened Tuesday in Nara.

Nearly 250 people from 55 cities around the world, many of which contain UNESCO World Heritage sites, gathered to discuss issues ranging from proper disaster measures in old city centers to how to integrate the preservation of historic monuments in modern urban planning.

Koichiro Matsuura, former director general of UNESCO, which administers the World Heritage Committee, noted in his keynote address that while the panel remains strict in its requirements for designating city monuments, there is more flexibility than in the past.

"Proposed candidates must be connected to a very important event that happened in that country, and there are strict requirements on the site itself as well as a buffer zone around the site, lest the view and atmosphere of the site be spoiled," Matsuura said.

"However, UNESCO used to criticize any change, however small, to a building. That is easier to do for stone buildings than wood, of which there are many in Japan. Now there is more of an emphasis on preserving a building's authenticity," he said.

In addition to the preservation of historic structures, participants discussed the importance of preserving a city's traditional atmosphere. At a youth symposium Tuesday afternoon, students from Japan, the United States, China and South Korea presented their ideas on how to preserve and protect local history and culture for a city's inhabitants as well as for tourists.

Chinami Saito and Nozomi Murata, two high school students in Nara, presented delegates their idea for a series of biking trails in and around the city and extending to other cities within the prefecture.

"The city of Nara has a problem with traffic congestion and exhaust fumes due to clogged streets and large tour buses. A prefecture-wide system of cycling roads, with rest stops along the way selling local food and crafts, would help solve this problem," Murata said.

Yoshiko Fujiwara and Akari Horiuchi, students at a high school in Nara Prefecture, said historic cities also needed to think about how to preserve and protect their traditional industries.

"Sumi and 'fude' (calligraphy brush) production are two of Nara's most famous traditional industries. But both are in rapid decline. If people were encouraged to use both when they write letters and postcards, this might revive interest," Fujiwara said.

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The Japan Times

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