Fountain Restoration in Tokyo

New and Exciting Challenge

Project Successfully Completed with Surprises!

Arts Management Services LLC was asked to restore this Japanese fountain to its original 1929 look.

Sculpture restoration by AMS in Tokyo

The fountain is part of one of the most important properties in the history of U.S. diplomacy.

Built in 1929, it’s among the first residences specifically built as a U.S. ambassador’s home. More importantly, this is where, at the end of World War II, Emperor Hirohito met with General Douglas MacArthur and renounced his divinity, forever altering the influence of Japan’s imperial family on the world stage. Apart from historical significance, this quiet residence with its spacious garden sits in the heart of busy Tokyo.

The large circular fountain pool is lined with a distinctive pattern of colorful tile that shimmers in the shallow water. The central bronze urn is believed to have come from an ancient royal temple where large vessels, usually made of wood, catch and conserve rainwater. Its surface is beautifully aged with brilliant shades of orange and green oxidation.

Tokyo fountain repair

Now it needs some TLC.

The best part about this project is all the fascinating adventures and knowledge in store as I assemble a team of experts to tackle many challenges. I’ll be talking to Japanese artisans to create matching tile, engineers experienced with repairing concrete tunnels damaged by seismic events – Tokyo averages 6 tremors per year – and with plumbers about an unusual way to replace underground pipe by boring through the soil using water pressure.

Once all the estimates are gathered and final decisions made, we’ll assemble materials, people, and equipment for what looks to be a 2-3 week project scheduled for April or May.

While the project proceeds I’ll be stopping briefly along the way to create short videos of the special people involved and the unusual things they’re doing!

I’m writing from Starbucks in Narita Airport, Tokyo, about to head home after a 10-day whirlwind tour of embassies and ambassador residences in Manila, Baguio, and here. The State Department calls me whenever their sculpture or fountains need restoration. Great trip. I pinch myself that I get paid for this! Looking forward to returning soon.

Restoration Options

Several restoration options are on the table. One involves removing the entire existing surface of the tile and replacing it with a very hard 4″ thick ‘bowl’ of reinforced concrete so that when an earthquake occurs, the bowl doesn’t crack but rather moves on its foundation.
Another option is to leave the existing structure intact and just replace the cracked tile.
Yet another option if we can’t find tile replacements is to create concrete facsimiles from a silicone mold and paint them to blend in with existing and original tiles of soft green, blue, black, orange, and white.

The Office of Cultural Heritage

Now that I’ve seen the fountain and spoken with several knowledgeable and helpful embassy staff, it’s time to start researching the options and finding out what they’ll cost. Finally, I’ll submit recommendations and estimates to Jim Wenzel back in Washington, DC, whose team is known as the Office of Cultural Heritage (CH) of the Office of Buildings Overseas (OBO) of the US Department of State.
This small busy team overseas all the art, antiques, historic buildings, and gifts owned by our government. Jim will decide which option is best.
Which one do I prefer? At the moment I’m most intrigued by the idea of coming up with a way to just allow cracks to happen and replacing tiles as needed. The challenge is to find a simple way to do it that also stops water from leaking – fresh water is an expensive commodity in Tokyo and an increasingly important focus of conservation all over the world.
Once the decision is made I’ll assemble the team to carry out the work and join them in Tokyo, hopefully in time to see the cherry blossoms.

Update and Surprising Discovery

CH decided to go with the least expensive option and the one I favored, filling all the cracks and painting over them to match existing tile. It was a two-week project and completely successful.

Oh, and have a look at this brief video about a discovery we made involving the large bronze urn in the center of the fountain. It’s a tear-jerker!

The Fountain Urn in Tokyo

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