Dispute Centered around Redevelopment of Historic Tokyo Park, Stadiums

22 May 2023

Tokyo's governor is a major supporter of a building project that is raising concerns among sports fans, history fans and environmentalists.

Critics say the redevelopment plan for a public park, that also has sports stadiums, represents a conflict of interest between the parties pushing for it. Those involved include a major Tokyo builder, a religious organization and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

The dispute is the second involving Koike who also pushed big development projects for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Games were delayed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protester against the Meiji Jingu Gaien area redevelopment project in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building April 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Stephen Wade)
Protester against the Meiji Jingu Gaien area redevelopment project in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building April 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Stephen Wade)

This time, the project involves a famous baseball stadium and a nearby area for another sport, rugby, in a historic public park known as Jingu Gaien. The stadiums are to be torn down and new ones put up. The project also will make way for two 200-meter-tall buildings and an area for stores.

Conflict of interest

Opponents say the project shows the ties among the main actors: Koike, the developer Mitsui Fudosan, and Meiji Jingu. Meiji Jingu is a religious organization that owns much of the land to be redeveloped.

Like other Tokyo governors, Koike is a member of the Meiji Jingu group of trustees. Hiromichi Iwasa is the former leader of Mitsui Fudosan. He joined Meiji Jingu's group of directors after he took over the company in 2011. He remains a director of Mitsui Fudosan.

Koichi Nakano is a political scientist at Tokyo's Sophia University. He told The Associated Press (AP) that conflict of interest between businesses and policymakers rarely raises questions in Japan.

The issue has received little attention in Japan's major newspapers. AP sent an email to Koike's office for comment but received no answer.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is the 85-year-old former head of the Japan Rugby Football Union. He also was president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing group until he was forced to resign. Nakano and others said Mori was important to the deal.

Nakano said the redevelopment of the park is a public issue. He added, "At the same time, they (politicians) can claim that it is a private decision of a religious organization and the developers."

He said because Jingu Gaien is also a public park with a sports center, politicians get involved with decisions. "Which results in the cozy, probably collusive relationships among the insiders (who) are unaccountable to the public," Nakano added.

Opposition to the project

The long-term project will take more than 10 years to complete, but minor building has already begun. Local people say the project is quietly being pushed through. Activists have begun legal action to stop it.

The central questions being explored are who controls public space, and does the public have a say? Another question is: Have other plans been considered? Other issues include support for protecting the two existing stadiums and opposition to building close to a 66-hectare park area designed 100 years ago to honor the Meiji Emperor.

Opponents of the development project include sports fans, those who want to protect historical places, and environmentalists. They say Koike has the power to stop the project.

Former Japanese national team rugby player Tsuyoshi Hirao said those who love rugby do not want to destroy the environment in the name of sports.

Hirao heads one of several online petitions opposing the redevelopment. More than 250,000 people have signed it.

Hirao and others say the rugby and baseball stadiums could be renovated. And some people question the need for more tall buildings in Tokyo, especially since the pandemic has caused changes to work methods. The city has more than 50 buildings that are taller than 187 meters.

Some scientists say the project could have damaging effects. They worry about the effects of removing green areas in a dense, hot city like Tokyo.

Koike also pushed for development over objections from environmentalists and others before the 2020 Olympics. About 1,500 trees were cut down to build the $1.4 billion National Stadium for the Tokyo Olympics.

Almost two years after the Games ended, the stadium is largely unused. It does not have a major occupier and could cost taxpayers a reported $15 million to keep up every year. People involved in the development for the Tokyo Games have faced accusations of illegal payments and insider deals.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Stephen Wade reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

stadium n. a very large usually roofless building that has a large open area surrounded by many rows of seats and that is used for sports events or concerts

park –n. a public space that usually has trees and grass and activities for people to do in their free time

trustee –n. a person or member of a small group which has the responsibility of managing the property or money of others

insider n. a person who belongs to a group or organization and has special knowledge about it

cozyadj. suggesting or showing a closeness between two people, groups, or businesses

collude v. to work with others secretly especially in order to do something illegal or dishonest

petitionn. a written document that people sign to show that they want a person or organization to do or change something

renovate v. to make changes and repairs to (an old house, building, or room) so that it is back in good condition