|A letter from Dr. John M. Payne|
|With a permission of the writer, I am including
this letter in my web page.
I hope many people will read this, and also write to me about the preservation of old architecture.
Harumi Okochi, Ryokan Yoyokaku
About Dr. John M. Payne:
Dr. / Professor John M. Payne has used his legal training and academic background to become very active in historic preservation activities in the United States.
He serves as Vice-President and Director of Preservation New Jersey, a statewide affiliate of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as being a Director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, and he is the co-author of a legal casebook on American land use law, which includes a chapter on historic preservation.
He lectures from time to time on preservation topics.
Of perhaps greatest relevance to their visit to Karatsu, he is the Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission in Glen Ridge, which by an ordinance enforces design guidelines in their local Historic District.
The District comprises some 1700 properties and is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
He is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School.
May 22, 2000
Dear Mrs. Okochi:
I am writing to thank you for arranging for us to tour the Takatori House during our recent visit to Karatsu. As you will recall, Edith and I were traveling in Japan as members of an official delegation sent by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, to study and discuss the preservation of Mr. Wright's Japanese work. (We ourselves own a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, which is a suburb of New York City.)
The Conservancy is devoted to saving Frank Lloyd Wright buildings from destruction and we are proud to say that during our ten years of work, not a single one has been lost. With changing life styles and rising property values, this is no easy task, and we learned that the same is true in Japan (which has lost all but a tiny fragment of the Imperial Hotel, one of Wright's greatest works). Although it is perhaps understandable in a country where structures from the seventh and eighth centuries still stand, we were nonetheless surprised to be told that it is a relatively new idea in Japan to preserve "modern" buildings, such as those from the Meiji era. We were very glad to learn that ideas are changing.
It is no exaggeration to say that our completely unplanned visit to the Takatori House was a high point of our trip (and that includes many days spent among the great buildings of Kyoto and Nara, as well as visits to all the Frank Lloyd Wright sites). With respect to Meiji-era buildings (for which, as gai-jin, we have a particular fondness), Professor Maeno in Tokyo briefed us extensively on efforts to preserve Tokyo Eki from destruction, and we also visited both Meiji Mura near Nagoya and the preserved western settlement in Nagasaki. What distinguishes your site from all these other wonderful buildings is that the Takatori House perfectly captures the dramatic tension that was occurring in Japan late in the nineteenth century between looking forward and looking back. Most surviving Meiji-era buildings that we have seen are predominantly, almost defiantly, western in style, with more specific Japanese influences showing only in the details.
The Takatori House, by contrast, might have been the traditional home of any wealthy Japanese family except for its suite of western-style rooms, which are completely distinct inside and outside and speak an entirely different stylistic language. Such an architectural juxtaposition could only have been conceived at this particular moment in Japan's modern history, intended, as it seemed to us, to anchor the owner's forward-looking spirit within the deep tradition of Japanese culture and give some stability in a world of breathtaking change.
Even without any professional interpretation of the site for visitors, as one would find in a formal museum, we felt that we could almost imagine the Takatori family at home, offering tea in the Victorian Parlor by day, and entertainment in the Noh Theatre by night. How perfectly the house expresses the time in which it was built, and how rare it is for it to have survived into the twenty-first century with all of its western-style furnishings intact. (Elsewhere, we saw more than a few Meiji-era buildings, quite wonderful in themselves, that were either completely unfurnished or furnished with more modern pieces that did not belong to the house.) As the city's plans for the house progress, we certainly hope that it will include as much as possible about the people who lived there.
It is close to a miracle that the Takatori House remains virtually complete today, needing relatively little attention to preserve it and prepare it to receive visitors. We are convinced that people will come to Karatsu specifically to see the house, once the city finds some way to make it regularly accessible. Conversely, it would be a tragedy for the Takatori House to be lost, either through demolition or neglect. We hope that you will continue to show the house to visitors as often as possible, and that our voice will be one among many urging your government to wisely use this invaluable cultural resource.
In the United States, it is customary for people to show their support for worthy projects such as the preservation of the Takatori House by making modest donations. (Our tax laws encourage this, something that Japan might eventually consider doing as well.) When we finished our recent trip, we found that we had one very small ¥ travelers check remaining, and rather than reconvert it to dollars, we are sending it along as a humble token of our support, with a request that you put it to good use in working to save this most remarkable property.
Thank you again for the very great hospitality of Yoyokaku and for the consideration you and Okochi-san show us. It was a wonderful visit, which we hope to repeat as soon as possible. Perhaps by then Takatori House's preservation will have been assured.
John M. Payne
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