[From August Issue 2014]
Due to the declining population, many schools in Japan have been merged or closed. In 2008, Yoshimoto Kogyo, a company known for its comedy shows, moved its Tokyo head office to abandoned school buildings in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Some of its original classroom desks and chairs are still being used. Thus, there are many ways to repurpose abandoned school buildings.
Arts Chiyoda 3331 (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo) has turned a former junior high school building into an arts center. With its galleries and café, the site is a focal point for cultural activities, including exhibitions and lectures. At lunch it’s bustling with people who work nearby and mothers pushing baby carriages. In the evening you can find children doing their homework there.
“Visitors appreciate events like bazaars and music festivals that are held in spaces which were formally a gymnasium and rooftop. There’s an organic garden on the rooftop. One of our defining features is that anyone, not just people interested in art, can easily use it (the center),” says TAMAOKI Makoto, head of public relations. There are plans to periodically invite foreign artists there in the future.
In the town of Minakami, Gunma Prefecture, the buildings of Sarugakyo Elementary School – abandoned in 2008 – were given a new lease of life in 2012 as a hostel called “Elementary School for Lodgers, Sarusho.” Surrounded by lush nature, guests are free to use the swimming pool, the playground and the kitchen. Among the lodgers are students attending sport camps, working adults attending company training sessions and many others there purely for leisure pursuits.
“Other abandoned school buildings are often remodeled for use as ryokan or minshuku (traditional Japanese-style lodging). At Sarusho, we wanted to repurpose them as accommodation, but to leave the school buildings as they were. It was hard to get the fire brigade, the Bureau of Public Works and the public health center to understand this idea,” says IIJIMA Kenji, the “principal” of Sarusho. He’s attempting to run the place with his own funds, without receiving any subsidies from local government.
ITO Masaaki, who has used Sarusho’s facilities with a small group, says, laughing, “We enjoyed playing fondly remembered games such as tag, long rope jumping, catch, and truth or dare. It was a novelty to drink alcohol in a classroom and run along the corridors.” An additional charm of this facility is the fact that you can make as much noise as you want, since it’s rented to just one group per day.
Depending on your creativity, there is no limit to the ways abandoned school buildings can be reused. They’ve been used as hospitals, libraries, welfare facilities and locations for film shoots. School buildings are solidly built. While it’s costly to demolish them, they can regenerate areas and create jobs when effectively repurposed.
Text: TSUCHIYA Emi