Pasts of the Present

Iconicity and Authentication at Two Reconstructed Heritage Sites in Japan


  • Jens Sejrup University of Copenhagen



cultural heritage, historical reconstruction, Nagasaki, Nara, place branding, urban development


In light of today’s global boom in landmark architecture, urban megaprojects and reconstructions of cultural heritage buildings, this paper analyses two large-scale reconstruction projects at iconic historical locations in Japan: the Heijō Palace in Nara and Dejima in Nagasaki. Since the 1990s, the two projects have recreated long-lost built environments, gradually transforming the sites, turning them into museums and exhibition spaces and giving rise to thorough reform of the surrounding urban fabric. In this paper I trace the involved agents’ motivations to engage in historical reconstruction from early-phase experimental efforts to legitimise the sites’ protected status to present-day politico-economic mobilisations of important historical locations to boost city attraction values. In this way, I link these two unfolding projects in Nara and Nagasaki to issues of urban boosterism, heritage production and the facilitation and commodification of tourist experiences of past realities. Approaching the reconstructions as contemporary heritage in traditional guise, the paper argues that both sites revolve materially, spatially and thematically around the master-metaphors of flow, growth and intercultural connectivity that characterise the present age. Elucidating processes of authentication and intersections of ideological and economic interests in and around the two sites, the paper asks in what ways Japanese cities exploit lost iconic localities and reconstructed heritage under post-industrial conditions marked by globalisation and intense cultural-economic competition.

Author Biography

Jens Sejrup, University of Copenhagen

JENS SEJRUP is Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Copenhagen, dually appointed by the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research interests include contemporary Japanese museum exhibitions and architecture, cultural heritage and present-day instrumentalisations of the historical past.


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