A group of protesters prevented laborers dispatched by the Finance Ministry from starting demolition work Wednesday on the former home of Empress Michiko in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward.

The Finance Ministry had taken possession of the property in lieu of an inheritance tax payment.

Workers began checking in at the site around 6:30 a.m. Around 50 people — local residents and others calling for the building’s preservation — soon gathered at the front gate, however, and launched a vigorous vocal protest against the work. They also stopped a wrecking truck from entering the premises shortly after 11 a.m.

A nearby resident pressed a Hinomaru flag against the windshield of the truck and yelled, “Go home!” A female protester then sang “Kimigayo” when the truck, following a 10-minute standoff, retreated from the site.

Many local residents oppose the ministry’s plans to tear down the 70-year-old, Western-style wooden building. Opponents of the project feel the property is a precious cultural asset.

The issue was seemingly settled in early November, however, when the Imperial Household Agency quoted the Empress as saying that she did not want her former home to be preserved.

The ministry later agreed to sell the land to Shinagawa Ward in line with a plan to build a park there.

The property was turned over to the ministry in 1999 after the death of the Empress’ father, Hidesaburo Shoda.

The Empress was born in October 1934 as Michiko Shoda. The Shoda family founded Nisshin Flour Milling Co., now Nisshin Seifun Group Inc., in 1907.

The Empress lived in the house until she was married to then Crown Prince Akihito, now the Emperor, in 1959.

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