TOKYO — From the shrines of Nikko and the temples of Kyoto to the castles of Matsumoto and Himeji, the Japanese are fiercely happy with the nation’s centuries-old monuments of cultural heritage.
Not so for a 113-year-old carousel in the nation’s capital. Despite a celebrated historical past that features roots in Germany, a go to by Theodore Roosevelt, a stint in Coney Island in Brooklyn, and practically half a century entertaining guests to the Toshimaen Amusement Park in Tokyo, the El Dorado now sits in storage, its destiny unknown.
The merry-go-round, and the light time capsule of a park that housed it, are making manner for a Harry Potter theme park — a acquainted story in a very outdated nation that tends to discard the merely considerably outdated for the brand new.
With the carousel’s final whirls got here a remaining flicker of nostalgia, as a whole lot rushed to trip its hand-carved horses and ornate wooden chariots earlier than the park shut down in late August.
Four days earlier than the closing, Keiko Aizawa, 42, stood in line in the wilting warmth together with her 2-year-old son. “It is one of the most cherished memories from when I was young,” Ms. Aizawa mentioned. “We would always come in the summer.”
Yet these visits ended some 30 years in the past. It was solely the information that the Art Nouveau carousel could be carted away that had her feeling sentimental. “I really want them to find a place for it,” she mentioned.
Nostalgia, although, is fleeting. Historic preservationists concern that the Japanese public won’t rally to save lots of the merry-go-round, as teams in the United States and Europe have accomplished for different carousels and amusement park rides.
After World War II, the Japanese authorities handed a regulation beneath which constructions constructed after the 17th century may very well be designated as cultural heritage properties. “Prior to that, people thought ‘Oh, it’s too new; it’s not an important cultural property,’” mentioned Michiru Kanade, an architectural historian and conservationist who lectures on the Tokyo University of the Arts.
But even now, she mentioned, public understanding of tips on how to mount historic preservation campaigns “is something that is not so widely known.”
Japan’s view of what makes a cultural treasure could in half be a perform of necessity. After the air raids that flattened many cities throughout World War II, steady city renewal has turn out to be a characteristic of the nation. And with the ever-present menace of earthquakes, constructions are sometimes razed and rebuilt to improve security requirements.
More basically, the mountainous island nation has solely a lot house for its 126 million inhabitants. “People say the land is so precious that we can’t keep old buildings the way they are,” mentioned Natsuko Akagawa, a senior lecturer in the humanities on the University of Queensland in Australia who specializes in cultural heritage and museum research.
But if the carousel is “going to deteriorate in a storeroom,” she mentioned, “that’s the saddest ending.”
Patrick Wentzel, president of the National Carousel Association, an American conservation group, mentioned the El Dorado was in all probability certainly one of simply a dozen such set items in the world. Leaving a jewel prefer it locked up and out of use poses dangers of its personal, he mentioned.
“In several cases, things sat in storage and things seemed to disappear,” Mr. Wentzel mentioned.
Even if the El Dorado will not be but considered sufficiently old to warrant a historic designation in Japan, he added, “this will be 500 years old in 400 years.”
For now, the Seibu Railway Company, the proprietor of the land the place the carousel stood, has not mentioned the place it’s saved or whether or not it’ll reopen in a new spot. At a closing ceremony for the park, the top of Toshimaen, Tatsuya Yoda, proclaimed that the El Dorado would “continue shining forever,” nevertheless it was not clear whether or not he meant merely in reminiscence or in one other location.
The El Dorado took a circuitous path to Tokyo. Designed in 1907 by Hugo Haase, a German mechanical engineer, it may seat 154 riders and featured 4,200 mirrored items and work of goddesses and Cupids on the underside of the cover.
After Emperor Wilhelm II invited Roosevelt to Germany to see the carousel in 1910, Mr. Haase proposed that or not it’s moved to the United States. A 12 months later, the homeowners of the Steeplechase Amusement Park in Coney Island imported the carousel to Brooklyn.
Local lore has it that guests together with Al Capone and Marilyn Monroe rode the El Dorado earlier than the Steeplechase Park closed in 1964 and the merry-go-round was moved to storage for the primary time. One of three stone lions that had pulled a chariot on prime of a pavilion that housed the carousel is displayed in the Brooklyn Museum.
The homeowners of Toshimaen, which featured Japan’s first lazy river pool and several other different German-made rides, heard of the El Dorado and bid on it, sight unseen. The disassembled carousel traveled by sea to Tokyo in 1969, the place the elements arrived in critical disrepair, layers of garish paint peeling from the picket horses and pigs. Refurbishment took two years.
More than 20 years later, when Japan’s go-go property-based bubble burst, individuals thrown out of labor may now not afford visits to an amusement park, and Toshimaen’s visitorship plunged. Then, because the financial system slowly recovered, different amusement parks like Disneyland Tokyo, Hello Kitty World and Universal Studios Japan opened, siphoning off Toshimaen’s clients.
The park did little to replace its points of interest: When it closed, a trip of spinning automobiles nonetheless featured likenesses of Tina Turner circa “Private Dancer” and Prince of “Purple Rain.”
In the times earlier than Toshimaen’s demise, some standing in line for a final go-round on the carousel mentioned they have been wanting ahead to the park’s substitute.
“It is sad that it is going away, because of the memories,” Suzu Homi, 37, mentioned as she and her 4-year-old twin sons waited their flip. “But when it becomes a new Harry Potter park, people who have not come here before may visit. People who come to Toshimaen are just coming out of nostalgia.”
For others, although, the carousel was dearer to their hearts. Late final month, Hiroshi Uchida, a 40-year veteran of the park and a connoisseur of the carousel, spoke to a group of practically 100 guests at a small museum chronicling its historical past.
Mr. Uchida’s fervent hope, he mentioned, was to see the carousel — which he estimated had been ridden by 56 million individuals over its years in Tokyo — function once more in a fourth location.
“I think there is a lot of discussion about where to put it,” mentioned Mr. Uchida, who labored as an engineer on the park and was so passionate in regards to the El Dorado that he married a park colleague in entrance of it. “It could be three or four years before it opens again.”
As he spoke, a girl filming his discuss on her cellphone wiped away tears. On a wall in the museum, a whole lot of holiday makers had caught brightly coloured Post-it notes with wistful messages. “I cried while taking a spin around the El Dorado one last time. Thank you,” learn one.
In an interview after his discuss, Mr. Uchida mentioned that maybe Seibu, the park’s proprietor, may re-erect the carousel behind certainly one of its lodges. Or possibly one other park, and even a village, may accommodate it, as he had seen different carousels in city facilities in Europe.
Ultimately, he mentioned, he hoped the carousel may keep in Tokyo.
“If the El Dorado has a spirit, I think it would feel very unsettling to move again,” Mr. Uchida mentioned. “It thought it had a permanent home in Germany and then it got moved to New York. And then Japan. Now it has been here for 50 years.”
“You can’t put a price on that,” he mentioned.