New National Stadium
not as bad as claimed

Posted By on May 27, 2014 in Columns |

Governor Masuzoe & the New National Stadium:
In safe hands… probably.


I thought you might be interested in my recent experience of seeing the new governor of Tokyo, Yoichi Masuzoe in action at a press conference – especially given he will be in charge of the Olympic preparations, of which more below.


I was impressed. He is razor slim and looks very fit ,as befits a Judo black belt. He also gave a speech in English and then engaged with the foreign and Japanese press in good English. This puts him in the small category of elected officials who can do this.


He was direct and excited about the topic he was discussing, which made a welcome contrast to the stuffy and robotic delivery of most public servants in Japan. The gist of his speech was his plan to optimize Tokyo as a special economic area. Strongly supported by the trade union Rengo, he is not in favour of rapid liberalization. Thus, he spoke against introducing foreign nannies to Japan, as SE Asians would undercut local prices. Instead, he wants to redevelop Toranomon and Hibiya as Tokyo’s ‘Champs Elysees’ and make Tokyo a centre for drug development and ageing technologies.


Frankly, none of this sounded very radical or even interesting unless you are a real estate or pharma company. It even sounds a bit strange as the ‘Champs Elysees’ name is already linked to Omotesando.

For most people, the most immediate and interesting aspect of his talk were his brief comments about the controversial new National Stadium.


Several journalists I spoke to are skeptical about this bike-helmet shaped stadium, which will replace the current structure built in 1964. The architect is British, and she reportedly did not visit Japan before submitting her proposal. Several of Japan’s most prominent architects are strongly critical of the design.


I used to live close by the Meiji Shrine so I was alarmed at the thought of the magnificent park surrounding Meiji Shrine being turned into concrete. However, I decided to examine some maps, and I’m glad to say I’m greatly reassured.


The awesome and beautiful area around Meiji Shrine will not be touched at all. And although the new stadium will be in the area known slightly confusingly as ‘Meiji Jingu Gaien’, it is about 2km away from the actual Meiji Shrine.

Meiji Jingu Gaien comprises two baseball stadia, the national stadium (which is used as a football stadium), and a rugby stadium, along with a couple of smallish parks. The stadia are very close to each other, around a green oval area (the heart of it, with the Meiji Picture Gallery) which is used as a very pleasant running and cycling track at the weekend.



Now it’s true the giant new 80,000 person speaker will be plonked right over the old stadium, and will be 1.6x as large. But the stadium is an architectural marvel as it will get 6x as much floor-space on a site which is less than twice as large as the existing site. It will however be 70 metres high. The other stadia are also high (all stadia are high!) but this is a great deal higher. One can only hope it does not blot the sky.


The extra floor space will be used to house many extra facilities, including shops, a library, restaurants, etc. The area slated for the extension will be south of the national stadium (well away from the green oval mentioned above), and includes the mid-sized Meiji Park.


However, I know from living there that this spot will not be missed. The term ‘park’ is is a misnomer, and it’s more like a disused parking space. Nor is the huge, red-brick Seinenkan hotel, similarly slated for demolition, an architectural gem.


I think it’s worth sharing this story partly because I’m happily relieved, but also because it shows how misleading and pessimistic the most powerful narrative you are exposed to may be. Not everything the Japanese government touches turns to ashes…