The Jingū Gaien park district is part of the outer district of Meiji Shrine. The Meiji Jingū Baseball Stadium (Japanese Meiji-jingū Yakyūjō), which is part of the park, was opened in 1926 and is the home stadium of the Tokyo professional baseball team Yakult Swallows. Next to the famous Kōshien in Nishinomiya (near Kobe), it is the second oldest baseball stadium in Japan and holds an important place in the hearts of many fans and residents.
As has been widely reported in Japanese media, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government approved a comprehensive modernization of the park district in February 2023, which also includes the demolition of the historic baseball stadium and the old rugby stadium. Instead, new, modern sports facilities should be built. The construction of a hotel and two 200 meter high skyscrapers are also planned. The developers have promised to preserve the heart of the green area, the 300-meter-long Gingko Alley. Nevertheless, the plan calls for a total of over 700 trees to be felled. Environmentalists also worry that the gingko trees along the avenue will no longer be adequately supplied with light and water in the future, as the foundation of the new baseball stadium is to be laid just 6 meters from the avenue. The work, which has been underway since March, is expected to be completed by 2036.
Around 150 gingko trees line the avenue in the park district. © みくばる / photo-ac.com
Project opponents receive prominent support
The project sparked outrage among many citizens, with over 229,000 signing a petition calling on the authorities to withdraw their support. Celebrities such as the musician Sakamoto Ryūichi († March 28, 2023) and the best-selling author Murakami Haruki also campaigned for the preservation of the trees and historic sports facilities.
In September, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) also responded with a so-called “heritage alert”. In it, he appeals to the companies involved, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the affected districts and the Japanese government to implement an alternative plan that provides for the protection of the trees. He warns of massive environmental destruction:
The planned construction of three high-rise buildings as well as the replacement and relocation of the existing baseball and rugby stadiums with new stadiums, will lead to the complete destruction of the urban forest that has been formed and nurtured over the past 100 years. (ICOMOS, press release from September 7, 2023)
The Jingū Gaien facilities under construction. © 野良九郎 / photo-ac.com
Protests are hardly heard
The real estate company Mitsui Fudōsan, which was involved in the project, responded to the council’s warning – but not with a promise to leave the trees standing. Instead, it plans to plant over 800 new trees to replace the old ones and provide “sustainability for the next 100 years.” However, this plan does not work because old trees store significantly more CO2 than very young ones. The Japanese architect Nishikawa Naoko, who is one of the opponents of the modernization measures, emphasized in an interview with CNN that, in view of global climate change, Japan should focus on sustainability and protect old trees and sports facilities.
The Jingū Gaien park district from a bird’s eye view. The Meiji Jingū baseball stadium can be seen at the top left, the rugby stadium in the middle left and the large national stadium in the center of the picture. © ヒロポンフォト / photo-ac.com
Many residents are particularly angry about the lack of dialogue with those responsible, who held information events but did not listen to questions or feedback. ICOMOS therefore also advocated setting up a forum that would give the various interest groups a space to exchange ideas. However, it is to be feared that people will continue to ignore the concerns of local residents and thus miss a great opportunity to become a role model for future generations and to set an example in the spirit of sustainability.
If the project continues as planned, this place, which was also a place of refuge and retreat in beautiful nature for many Tokyo residents, will not only lose a large part of its green charm, but also its valuable historical sports facilities. The Meiji Jingū Baseball Stadium is one of the world’s last four ballparks (including Kōshien) where American baseball icon Babe Ruth once played.
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