A 79-year-old woman sat up all night to protest against the felling of a ginkgo tree in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

A 79-year-old woman sat up all night to protest against the felling of a ginkgo tree in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

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Sachiko Sakai, 79, continues to “sit-in” in front of a ginkgo tree during this winter, when the temperature dropped below freezing.

In a corner of an office district in central Tokyo after dark, an elderly woman has set up a pipe chair under a roadside tree and has been sitting there throughout the night. Sachiko Sakai, 79, dressed in winter clothes, looks lovingly at the ginkgo tree and says, “I have been familiar with the ginkgo tree since I was a child.

I want to protect the ginkgo tree that I have known since I was a child. I want to preserve the ginkgo tree that I have known since I was a child, and I want my children to keep the thoughts and feelings of people from the past. On a personal note, this gingko has been here ever since I can remember, and people other than myself have come to work for this tree in this town that has been revitalized. In the past, town councils were centered around festivals, and especially after the war, development could not take place without town council units helping each other. Nowadays, I don’t think it can be helped that people have less awareness of town councils, but the decision to cut down the ginkgo trees was made without anyone’s knowledge, and I think the process is not right. So I don’t agree with the felling.”

Mr. Sakai’s sit-in, which began in late April of last year and has been interrupted for a year and two months, shows no sign of ending. Even this winter, when the temperature dropped below freezing, he continued his “sit-in” in front of the ginkgo tree. Sometimes, as many as 20 people, including Mr. Sakai, would gather to watch the ginkgo tree. Why is there such a standoff going on in the middle of Tokyo?

The reason is a dispute over whether ginkgo trees should be cut down for redevelopment along the 1.4-kilometer stretch of “Kanda Police Street” that runs from Kanda Station in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward to the front of Kyoritsu Women’s University near the Imperial Palace. The ward has announced a plan to cut down the ginkgo trees planted after the Great Kanto Earthquake in order to widen the sidewalks. Some residents opposed to the felling have been staging sit-ins throughout the night to stop the construction, and on April 11 they even got into a skirmish with security guards.

The incident dates back to 12 years ago. In 2011, Chiyoda Ward formulated the “Kanda Police Street Community Development Concept” as part of its redevelopment plan. The “Kanda Police Street Roadside Improvement Promotion Council” was established with the participation of neighborhood presidents and others, and held a series of discussions 20 times until 2010. As a result, it was decided to cut down 30 of the 32 existing ginkgo trees along a section of the road, transplant two to another location, and plant 39 new yokouzakura cherry trees. The district had decided to cut down the trees as of December 2008.

However, residents opposed to the decision to cut down the ginkgo trees, claiming that it was irrational, formed the “Kanda Police Street Tree Protection Association. Ikuko Takimoto, 73, the leader of the group, said, “I was involved in the Kanda Police Street Tree Preservation Committee in December of 2009.

I first heard about the felling plan from the head of the town council at a meeting of the neighborhood association in December 2009. I think it is better to proceed with the construction as soon as possible. However, the ginkgo trees we have now are wonderful enough as street trees, so there is no need to cut them down. Please don’t do such a wasteful thing.”

In December 2007, two years before Mr. Takimoto learned of the felling plan, Chiyoda Ward conducted a survey of residents living along the street; 4,704 questionnaires were distributed, but the response rate was 14.5%. It could not be said that this was a topic of much interest to residents at that time.

Eight months later, in August 2009, the district announced the logging policy on its website. The ward official stated, “We posted the information on our website, but we did not send out information through publicity or other media.

Nevertheless, about two months later, in October 2009, the council approved the construction contract proposal. When local residents learned that the ginkgo trees were to be cut down, they demanded an explanation from the district, and a residents’ briefing was held.’ In April 2010, a meeting was held between the proponents and opponents of the felling, but the discussion became parallel and was terminated. Subsequently, the “Protection Group” submitted a petition requesting the preservation of the roadside trees, but it was rejected, and the district began construction work. Although opposition residents began a sit-in, two ginkgo trees were cut down on the night of April 26.

Last April, a construction fence was erected and two ginkgo trees were cut down.
A ginkgo tree with flowers after it was cut down

The construction work was suspended for a while, but on February 6 of this year, four new trees were cut down, so the “Protection Group” set up pipe chairs under the ginkgo trees and resumed their sit-in action to “protect the trees. In the early morning of April 11, a skirmish broke out between the group and security guards, and an ambulance was dispatched to the scene.

The ward said, “We can’t find a point of agreement between the two sides.

The district officials said, “We were unable to find a point of agreement between the two sides, and there was also obstruction by some people who were opposed to the construction work, such as the ‘Protection Group,’ which made it impossible to proceed with the construction work. Later, some of those opposed to the construction work filed lawsuits for damages and resident lawsuits, and we decided that it would be difficult to proceed with the construction work in a way that both sides could come to a compromise.

He explained. What about the situation that led to the dispatch of ambulances?

Two people, a security guard and a ward employee, were knocked down and injured by violent obstruction, including physical assaults, by opponents of the construction project. The security guard will be seriously injured for 4 to 6 weeks, and the ward employee sustained minor injuries.

The guard was seriously injured for 4 to 6 weeks, while the ward employee sustained minor injuries,” he explained. A news article based on the ward’s announcement also appeared.

However, according to the “Association to Protect the Ward,” the ward’s explanation is untrue.

According to the “Committee to Protect,” however, the ward’s explanation is untrue: “No one physically assaulted the security guard. This is a complete fabrication. Rather, we were pushed by the guard, and two residents were injured.

While some people have strong feelings for the ginkgo trees, some of those in favor of cutting down the trees said the following.

I have lived here for more than 60 years, and if I may give my personal opinion, I find the ginkgo trees disturbing. A tremendous amount of leaves fall, and when it rains, the fallen leaves clog the drains and create puddles, making it slippery and dangerous for people and cars.

I don’t understand why something that was decided with a large number of commissioners would be suspended because of the opinions of a few.”

The entire redevelopment of Police Street will be divided into five sections (Phase I, II, III, IV, and V). The district manager explains the decision to move forward with the construction.

We have received requests from many people to make the narrow sidewalks safe and secure for everyone, including children, the elderly, people with disabilities, bicyclists, and baby strollers, as well as requests to replant the ginkgo trees. We have also received requests from residents of the district who are engaged in business to have the construction work completed as soon as possible.

We believe that we have discussed the issue thoroughly and have decided that we cannot delay the construction.

Delaying the work any longer would hinder the safety of pedestrians, increase costs, and cause significant delays in the construction of the Kanda Station area from Phase III onward.

The “Mamoru-kai” is seeking the ward’s correction of media reports and an apology for the April 11 skirmish between a security guard and a resident belonging to the Mamoru-kai, which is expected to be discussed at the Chiyoda Ward “Environment and Community Development Committee” meeting scheduled for July. How consensus-building in urban development should be done is a difficult question. Will the day ever come when Mr. Sakai will no longer have to sit under a ginkgo tree at night?

The moment the ginkgo tree was cut down last April 26

Women sitting in front of a ginkgo tree one night. Behind Ms. Sakai, there are also three women sitting in front of the ginkgo tree with chairs
In the early morning of April 11, a woman around 70 years old (black shoes), who was sitting in protest against the Chiyoda Ward side that was trying to cut down the ginkgo tree, was surrounded and restrained by four security guards the moment she lifted the no-entry bar. I wonder how long this standoff will last.

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