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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

The Japanese National Government Park System - More Than Just Another Public Works Project?

11. Juli 2001 / 18.30

Nicole Altmeier

Discussions about parks in Japan are always confusing because there is a great variety of parks established and administered by different institutions. Widely known are National Parks (kokuritsu kōen), Quasi National Parks (kokutei kōen), Theme Parks (têmapâku), and Urban Parks and Green Spaces (toshi kōen ryokuchi). Nearly unknown is a subdivision of the Urban Parks, the kokuei kōen (quote;nationally administered parkquote;), officially translated as National Government Park (NGP). Although NGPs are under the jurisdiction of the Japanese Urban Park Law, they are established and maintained by the national government, a rather unusual situation for urban parks in developed countries. There are currently 16 NGPs, from Hokkaido to Okinawa (two of them still under construction). The institution of the NPG developed unsystematically beginning from the late 1960s; this might explain why the NPGs do not necessarily resemble each other. Today most of them are large-scale parks, built with a variety of purposes in mind, such as providing recreational facilities within comfortable reach of the big cities, promoting regional development and providing evacuation facilities in case of disaster. One might get the impression that the NGPs are mainly part of the Japanese government’s notorious habit of spending taxpayers‘ money for public works projects.
However five of the NPGs serve the purpose of commemorating historical events or protecting and providing public access to important quote;national cultural assets“. Since three out of five of the first NGPs were established either as memorial parks or to protect national historical assets, it seems there was political interest in establishing these parks from the beginning.

My thesis will deal in particular with those NGPs which contain reconstructions of historical sites, such as the Historical Parks of Asuka (Nara Prefecture), Yoshinogari (Saga Prefecture), and the Shuri Castle District in Okinawa Memorial Park.
These parks, which draw each between 1 to 2 million visitors per year, are important tourist destinations. The national government has, in the NGPs, a powerful instrument to form the public imagination about the origins of the Japanese, and the location and nature of the ancient Japanese states. But nationalism is not only a question of supply but also one of demand. Are government decisions to establish the above-mentioned parks not to some extent a reflection of the often-sensationalized discussions of archaeological finds? Why do people visit these three parks? Can the NPGs shed a light on the ongoing discussion about quote;consuming nationalism“? These are some of the questions which will be addressed in my presentation.