Miniature reproductions of World Heritage sites reside under the eaves of Susumu Hara’s house in Maebashi. (Cho Tsuin)

MAEBASHI--When Susumu Hara, a 75-year-old security guard, returns home in the evening after work, he goes around the house hitting buttons.

But instead of routine things like the TV set or stove flicking on, the 17 miniature reproductions of World Cultural Heritage sites and other landmarks under the eaves of his home light up in the quiet residential area here.

Hara turns on the lights of his handmade miniatures of Kiyomizudera temple, a thatched-roof house from the Shirakawa-go district in Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture, and other world-famous sites, with a flow of water causing a water wheel to turn. Each piece measures about 1 meter tall and 1 meter wide.

“Each looks alive and makes me feel relaxed,” Hara said.

Standing in the Chiyodamachi district close to the Gunma prefectural government building, Hara’s house has become a gathering point for social interaction for his neighbors.

Hara started putting his miniatures on display in 2004 when he was 60. He had just relocated from Tamamura in the prefecture to start a new life here after his wife’s parents who had lived in the house passed away.

Hara’s life had taken many twists and turns. He started to work as an accountant after college, but had to switch jobs due to difficult business conditions.

When Hara became downtrodden, it occurred to him that he would end up living an unfulfilling life and that he had to enjoy his own life.

After he moved to the current house and landed a job as a security guard, Hara became fascinated with re-creating the Kinkakuji temple, or Golden Pavilion, in Kyoto he once visited and a water wheel from scrap materials and plastic foam. It took him several months to finish the miniatures, working two hours before and after work with no blueprint to follow.

Initially, Hara placed his works at his home on the ground under the eaves to show off his skills, only to receive no response. But when he came up with an idea to place the miniatures on a 1-meter-high platform, his neighbors started to stop by. A 91-year-old man gave Hara a bonsai plant, saying that it would look great placed with them.

He went on to make more miniature replicas of Himeji Castle and Byodoin temple’s Hoo-do (Phoenix Hall) although he never visited either.

On May 14, it was announced that a UNESCO advisory panel had recommended adding a cluster of "kofun" burial mounds in the Mozu and Furuichi areas of Osaka Prefecture to the World Cultural Heritage list.

“Kofun is also tempting, but there is no more space,” Hara said with a wry smile. “But I want to make more.”

After he visited Tobu World Square in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, last summer, which boasts numerous scale models of famous structures from around the globe, Hara created a miniature of the Todaiji temple based on photos he took at the theme park and put a figurine of Buddha inside it.

Someone has even been impressed by the awe-inspiring presence of the models and offered to make donations.

Hara has undergone repeated surgeries since 2017 since he suffered a heart attack. But now he is enthusiastic about visiting historical sites after taking a growing interest in history.

“After all these years, I’m discovering my new self,” Hara added.