Mito Tōbukan Reconstruction Works 水戸東武館移築建築工事

Tōbukan prior to relocation 東武館移動前

Tōbukan prior to relocation 東武館移動前

The Mito Tōbukan was written about previously on this site. Since then it underwent a more than year long relocation and reconstruction. Dismantling of the original structure took place from January 2014 to March 2014. Reconstruction then took until March 2015. The Tōbukan reopened its doors to keiko on 5 April 20151.

The contractor, Yoshida Kōmuten2 (吉田工務店) post blog entries of the works which can be seen here:

A video chronicling the works can be seen here:

A video of the re-opening of the dojo event can be seen here:

Among the many fascinating elements the video chronicle shows, at one point one can see earthenware jars under the original flooring. These are called kame (甕) and were for sound absorption in order to prevent reverberation of noise back into the hall. Such jars are a common feature of traditional nō-butai (能舞台 nō play stages) construction and as mentioned in this site’s previous description, the Tōbukan’s floor is constructed in such a manner. Sound absorption is an important consideration for dōjō design as reverberation can make noise levels very high in an enclosed space. Anyone who practices kendō will already know the ear splitting amount of shouting that takes place. Noise can be bled off if there are openings in the building through which the sound energy can escape but in modern times, being mindful of neighbors means this is not always possible. In a modern construction dōjō, the sound absorption is often provided by perforated wall panels, as commonly seen throughout Japan. Modern rubberized “sprung” floors also do not have the under floor gap necessitating sound absorption other than the rubber layers themselves.

On the contractor’s blog and in the video chronicle, there are photos of the Shintō cleansing ritual that takes place around the start of construction works in Japan. There are various names for this kind of ceremony:

anzen-kigansai (安全祈願祭 lit. wish for safety ritual)
tsuchi-matsuri (土祭り lit. earth/soil/ground ritual)
ji-matsuri (地祭り lit. earth/ground ritual)
ji-iwai (地祝い lit. earth/ground celebration)

Whichever term is used, the ritual is to pray for the safety of the workers and cleanse or harai (払い) the construction site of any bad spirits that may bring misfortune to the building site. It is the Japanese ground breaking ceremony that marks the start of construction works3.

New Site Layout
As mentioned on this site’s previous description, a busy road came up practically to the edge of the hall. In order to make way for widening of this road, the hall, outer boundary wall and main gate were dismantled and relocated further into the site.

I have not visited the Mito Tōbukan since the reconstruction but judging from photos on the contractor’s blog and the website for Mito Tōbukan, it seems that the rear extension building was kept in the same place it was before while the hall itself was moved from southwest of the extension to southeast of the extension (everything was orientated diagonal to the cardinal directions). The hall kept its orientation with the entrance facing southeast. Most likely the connection between the original main hall and the extension is reconfigured so that the passage is now through the northwest of the hall rather than through the northeast. The boundary wall now makes a tight circuit around the premise. While this makes the feeling of the site more compact, it also brings back a coherence that was lost when the part of the original larger estate between the main gate and entrance was made into a car park. The main gate is now sited along the new boundary wall alignment on the southeast slightly off-center to the north of the main hall’s genkan. Off-centered alignments are a characteristic of Japanese traditional architecture and landscape planning of the wabi-sabi (侘寂) aesthetic.

The title image of this page is a photo taken from a car park that was behind the main gate before the relocation works. It is not the the most scenic view of the Tōbukan but shows the relationship between the original main hall, the main gate and the service extension (just within the right edge).

Despite the impact of further modernization (the widening of a busy road in this case), thankfully the Tōbukan did not become another victim of the wrecking claw. Without knowing the details, it would not be a surprise if the authorities provided compensation for the encroachment, which helps to offset or completely covers the cost of reconstruction. The city counts this dōjō as an important part of its heritage as the city’s identity is closely tied to its once important role as the seat of one of the three main Tokugawa branches. Nevertheless, the sentiment of authorities can be fickle4 and subsequent generations of owners may or may not value their inheritance to the same degree.

1 Apologies to readers as I was aware of these works soon after they were complete but have not been able to keep up with posting on this site.

2 kōmuten (工務店 lit. construction business shop) is typically in the name for a contractor that undertakes construction of modest scale. A more general term for a construction company in Japan is kensetsu-kaisha (建設会社).

3 The dates on the video chronicle shows that in the case of Tōbukan the ritual took place after the dismantling works and before the main reconstruction works. It is normal practice in Japan for the ritual to take place after any demolition or dismantling works as the main focus is on the (re)construction itself, despite the fact that demolitions is fairly dangerous business. Also in practical terms, demolition companies or workers are often specialist that are either under a separate contract to the main works general contractor or under a subcontract.Therefore, there is often a natural break between the demolition/dismantling phase and the main (re)construction phase.

4 Japanese authorities do not have much power over private property anyway except items deemed to be important national treasures, a status rare for buildings normally only given to religious buildings like temples.

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