=> telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;?xml=/news/2003/03/15/wjapan15.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/03/15/ixworld.htmlThousands of Japanese have joined a campaign to stop the Empress Michiko's childhood home becoming the latest victim of the country's insatiable urge to demolish its architectural heritage. The ministry of finance took the house in southern Tokyo, which combines Japanese building techniques with a Tudor design, in lieu of inheritance taxes when her father, Hidesaburo Shoda, died four years ago. A wealthy merchant, Mr Shoda built the house in 1934. The empress lived there until her marriage to the then Crown Prince Akihito in 1959. In a city of eyesores, it stands out as a rare example of pre-war architecture. The finance ministry, though, decided that the building was not worth maintaining amid a continuing recession and growing public debt. Critics point out that Japan is spending vast sums on unnecessary dams and motorways to rural hinterlands. [...] More than 90,000 Japanese have signed petitions against the house's destruction. The ongoing demolition and rebuilding of Japan has robbed it of almost any visible sign of its history. [...]
The reason is political. In Japan, construction firms fund politicians' election campaigns in return for more contracts. Construction workers and their families, as much as a fifth of the population, vote accordingly. But there are now signs that endless demolition and rebuilding may be becoming a political liability. The mayor of Toyosato in western Japan was voted out of office this week in a referendum after he attempted to tear down the small town's historic primary school. The school, which Japanese say is among the most remarkable in Asia, is an art deco classic built in 1937 by the American architect William Merrel Vories. The elegant, high-ceilinged building stands in sharp contrast to the nondescript educational establishments all across Japan. The mayor, Wasaburo Ono, said that the school could not withstand a major earthquake and announced plans to replace it with a new building at a cost of ﾂ｣10 million. However, professors and architects argued that the old building is a masterpiece that requires relatively little work to reinforce. Residents won a court order to prevent the demolition in December. In an almost unbelievable scene for law-abiding Japan, the mayor ignored the injunction and ordered work to proceed. Local people blocked contractors from reaching the building but the workers began to smash windows by throwing bricks. Teachers inside were forced to flee. An editorial in the national Mainichi newspaper called the sacking of the mayor a victory for democracy over pro-construction policies. But the American writer Alex Kerr, whose book Dogs and Demons describes Japan's construction frenzy, argues that it may be too late.