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Traditional Japanese Mountain City Faces Development Pressures With PM-Changing Tokyo.

September 28, 1990

KANAZAWA, Japan (AP) _ High in the city’s center, surrounded by waterways that once fed the gardens of feudal lords, the stout walls of Kanazawa Castle stand ready against attack.

War, however, hasn’t come to Kanazawa in 400 years. Instead, nearly 6 million tourists annually invade this Hakusan Mountain city on the Japan Sea that is largely unknown to the West.

Almost all the modern-day invaders are Japanese nostalgic for a glimpse of what their country was like before it acquired its Westernized, concrete-and- glass exterior.

More recently, though, realty and construction companies have begun to lay siege to Kanazawa.

Historic buildings still stand because the city escaped bombing during World War II. Today, next to the boutiques of nouveau riche Japan, craftsmen in 100-year-old wood shops fabricate shamisen and koto, Japanese stringed instruments, and the region’s richly colored Kutani pottery. Samurai houses of yesteryear are still inhabited.

In and around Kanazawa, which means ″marsh of gold,″ small factories produce 98 percent of Japan’s gold leaf, pounding tiny nuggets into feather- light sheets as big as 18-square-foot tatami mats.

Those who want to find the old Japan here, however, had better hurry.

The inexorable influence of Tokyo, 185 miles southeast, is again changing Kanazawa’s face.

Ironically, it was pressure from the capital 350 years ago that prompted Kanazawa’s ruling Maeda clan to begin investing heavily in the traditional arts. As lords of Japan’s richest fiefdom, they wanted to allay fears they were building an army against the Tokyo-based shogunate.

Today, Tokyo’s giant real estate companies are helping reverse that centuries-old focus on tradition. Having run out of room in the Tokyo region, corporations are swiftly developing land in and around Kanazawa and elsewhere on the main island of Honshu, said Yoichi Nakanishi, governor of Ishikawa prefecture, which includes Kanazawa.

The cramped wooden houses and shops of an earlier era, virtually worthless except for historical value, are being bulldozed under and replaced by new structures, he said.

″It’s a pity, isn’t it?″ said the 72-year-old governor. ″Kanazawa is a place where people can live like human beings.″

Nakanishi says he uses his nose to measure the changes in his beloved city.

Too quickly, he laments, the aroma of crowded fish and vegetable shops is giving way to the smell of fresh concrete. Office buildings and condominiums in midst of construction are visible nearly everywhere.

According to a recent prefectural study, only 7 percent of the total pre- war homes remain in this city of 450,000 people.

Kanazawa, however, is working to preserve what’s left. Under a 10-year-old government program funded by tourism revenue - which totaled $240 million in 1989 - the city pays owners of traditional houses up to 90 percent of the cost of restoring the delicate lattice-wood exteriors, said Sadao Kunizawa of Kanazawa’s tourism division.

Even so, negotiations with residents are sometimes difficult.

″People like to look at the old houses but they don’t like to live in them. They’re inconvenient,″ said Yaeko Ikuno, a housewife who lives in the city’s famed geisha district, where preservation efforts are focused. ″They would disappear without the government’s help.″

Many residents nonetheless remain proud of their city’s tradition. Most still finish their houses with Kanazawa’s distinctive black roof tiles, which shimmer in the sunlight.

Locals point out that Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, went into decline during the Edo (Tokyo) period, the 250 years of national isolation that preceded Japan’s opening to the West in the mid-19th century.

But Kanazawa was born and flourished during that period, when many of modern Japan’s social structures were developed, and still-popular arts such as Noh theater and tea ceremonies were refined.

As a result, residents say, in Kyoto the ″traditional″ part of the city is set apart as a kind of museum piece. In Kanazawa, however, the historical culture is still a part of everyday life.

″Japanese have a strong attachment to the Edo period,″ said Sonoko Matsuda, head of the Society to Introduce Kanazawa to the World, a residents’ committee. ″And they can find it in Kanazawa.″

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