Photo/IllutrationStanding signboards are famous around Kyoto University’s Yoshida campus in the city's Sakyo Ward. (Kosaku Adachi)

KYOTO--The signboard "culture" of prestigious Kyoto University is under attack for allegedly spoiling the landscape of Japan’s ancient capital.

The plethora of signs, unique in Japan, are placed in and around the university’s Yoshida campus in Sakyo Ward, which is home to the school’s headquarters.

The habit is a remnant of the era of college student riots in the 1960s and the 1970s, and they present a variety of political views and useful daily information.

However, The Asahi Shimbun has obtained a copy of a document that says the Kyoto city government has concluded the standing signboards are a kind of “outdoor advertisement,” which means they are displayed to the public outdoors permanently or for certain periods.

It's alleged the signboards constitute a violation of Kyoto city’s scenic preservation ordinance.

In response to the municipality’s administrative guidance, Kyoto University is considering restricting areas where such signboards, known as “tatekan,” can be installed and taking other countermeasures.

The Kyoto city government argues signboards set up along the wall around the campus and signs that are installed on the campus grounds but can be seen from outside the school are posing a problem.

As the campus faces a road connecting the Gion district and the northern part of the city on which buses run, 20 or so standing signboards are currently visible from streets surrounding the campus.

Tatekan has long been deemed as part of “Kyoto University’s culture.”

Although their number is said to have dropped since the heyday of student protests during the 1960s and the 1970s, many signboards still provide various types of information.

Recent examples include a political attack on military research at colleges, details of a forum themed on artificial intelligence and a gathering to discuss rights of sexual minorities, as well as a concert of a music circle.

The document points out that signboards are illegally set up along walls and public roads, constituting a violation of the municipality’s ordinance on outdoor advertisements.

Permission is not obtained from the city mayor either, according to the material.

The outdoor advertisement law details standards to install ads while local municipalities monitor whether advertisements are properly installed based on their own ordinances developed according to the criteria.

As Kyoto has introduced an ordinance to designate all parts of the city as no-ad or ad-restricted zones, those who want to set up signs need to obtain permission from the mayor after their size, color and other factors are examined.

Since the municipality released its new scenic policy to preserve the landscape of the ancient capital in 2007, the local government has been strictly administering the policy.

“We take seriously outdoor advertisements installed in violation of the ordinance, and our issuing guidance to Kyoto University is part of such efforts,” said an official of the city’s advertisement landscape improvement section. “We do not regard even Kyoto University as an exception.”

The municipality said it has received complaints from some residents living near the college that argue “the standing signboards are against the city’s scenic preservation policy.”

A Kyoto University insider said the school presented countermeasures in mid-November in response to the municipality’s guidance.

Under the university’s plan, only formally designated groups will be allowed to install tatekan, and mainly on the school grounds. Standards on their size or installation period will also be worked out.

Students and graduates of the college, as well as others who are well aware of what the university was once like, are embarrassed at the decision.

“A university without standing signboards will not be Kyoto University,” said one tweet, while another chipped in with, “The landscape around the university does not have a special historic significance itself (I think, rather, tatekan embody the history of Kyoto University).”

Seismologist Kazuo Oike, 77, president of Kyoto University of Art and Design, who was also a former president of Kyoto University, said he fears the latest move could lead to “the termination of one of the students' cultures at Kyoto University.”

Oike, who described “Kyoto University’s standing signboards as being the best among all colleges across Japan” when he was the school’s president, said, “The ordinance’s basic policy of preserving landscape is appropriate, but the scenery featuring signboards is a cultural sight.

“The tolerance of not only Kyoto University, which used to boast a liberal climate, but also society is now being questioned,” he added.