Tokyo Governor under pressure over contentious development plan

Meiji Jingu Stadium

Featured image credit: 江戸村のとくぞう/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has been called on to stop a controversial $2.45bn (£1.94bn/€2.26bn) project that will redevelop a historic site housing Meiji Jingu Stadium and Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government elected to press forward with the plans back in February 2023, but they have provoked strong opposition, both in relation to the historic nature of the stadia involved along with environmental concerns.

The project led by real estate giant Mitsui Fudosan, the city and the Shinto religious body foresees the demolition and rebuilding of the two stadia in order to accommodate a pair of 200-metre towers, as well as an 80-metre structure.

The Jingu Gaien city park district in which the stadia are housed is also renowned for its 100-year-old ginkgo trees, a species regarded by conservationists as a living fossil.

A group of 420 outside experts including architects, urban planners, environmentalists and economists demanded in an open letter that the project be suspended, staging a news conference yesterday (Tuesday).

They claim Koike is ignoring public opposition to instead favour the powerful construction industry. According to the Associated Press, the letter said Koike and her government did not “provide official answers to dozens of public questions.” It also called for an independent environmental assessment and said some of the ginkgo trees “are in a state of obvious decline” that could be exacerbated by construction.

“What she (Koike) is doing with this case is the simple destruction of nature when we need more trees,” said Kohei Saito, a political economist at Tokyo University. “We should have an open public discussion. This is not something that only politicians and private companies should decide.”

Meiji Jingu Stadium opened in 1926 and is one of the few remaining ballparks where New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth played. Meiji Jingu Stadium has a capacity of around 37,000 and currently serves as the home of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

The construction project, which would also incorporate hotels and wider development, would take 10 years to complete and has been subject to several lawsuits. Site preparation work has already begun with 325,000 people having signed petitions to scrap the plan.

Around 150 ginkgo trees are believed to be under threat, while a thousand others are expected to be felled as part of the project. Several thousand were also cut down to develop the neighbouring National Stadium as the centrepiece of Tokyo’s postponed Olympic Games, which was ultimately held in 2021.

Speaking to TV Asahi earlier this month, Takashi Ueda, president of Fudosan Group, argued that the baseball stadium was too old to be renovated.