Despite the Lack of Complaints, the Reorganization of Hibiya Park Quietly Progresses Amidst the Postponement of Jingu Gaien Redevelopment | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Despite the Lack of Complaints, the Reorganization of Hibiya Park Quietly Progresses Amidst the Postponement of Jingu Gaien Redevelopment

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE

The famous “Second Flower Bed” in Hibiya Park, where 240 roses were once in full bloom, has disappeared without a trace.

Currently, it seems that the highly criticized redevelopment of the Meiji Jingu Gaien area has been temporarily halted and postponed. Meanwhile, in Chiyoda Ward, the gingko trees along Kanda Police Street are being forcibly cut down, and tree felling is steadily progressing in Yoyogi Park and Kasai Rinkai Park as well.

Amidst the ongoing tree felling all over Tokyo, the destruction of Hibiya Park is actually surprisingly little known.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is advancing the reorganization of Hibiya Park. The photo shows the Governor speaking at the opening ceremony of the event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Yaon (Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall) held in June 2023 (PHOTO: Kyodo News).

Hibiya Park, opened in 1903, was Japan’s first modern Western-style urban park, and together with the Rokumeikan and the Imperial Hotel, which once stood across the street, it is a symbol of Japan’s westernization and modernization.

How will this change due to the Hibiya Park reorganization plan? When we inquired with the “Society for the Deep Love of the History and Culture of Hibiya Park,” Michiko Ai, representative of the “Society for the Protection of Street Trees” and a lecturer at Kyoritsu Women’s University, responded to our interview.

We arranged to meet at the “Hibiya Gate” opposite the Imperial Hotel. The area near the gate was cordoned off with traffic cones and surrounded by imposing fences, with construction actively underway inside. Ai explained as follows.

“This used to be the rose garden that represented Hibiya Park. It was a splendid ‘Second Flower Bed’ with 240 rose bushes planted over an area of 400 square meters. Now, major construction has begun to completely transform the entire park over the next ten years, including the large fountain and the small bandstand.

Considering the large-scale modifications to such an important park, we repeatedly requested that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government hold explanatory meetings about the construction, but they completely ignored us. Instead, they held a three-day open house last August right before the construction began, merely setting up tents and displaying posters. About 100 people came to see the display, and roughly half of them were likely related to the project.

Even after that, we submitted a petition to the Governor of Tokyo right up until just before the construction started, insisting that Hibiya Park is a valuable historical and cultural heritage site that should not be destroyed and that the project was not sufficiently publicized. Just two days after submitting our petition, on August 26, the so-called response was the ‘Star Wars Bon Odori’ event held at Hibiya Park.

Present at the event were Governor Yuriko Koike, Chiyoda Ward Mayor Takaaki Higuchi, and Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member Keisho Taira, who is based in Chiyoda Ward and is one of Koike’s protégés. They all declared loudly they will proceed with the reorganization and renovation of Hibiya Park which was very shocking,” said Michiko Ai.

The rose beds that represent Hibiya Park.
The roses were pruned short and transplanted in a dense state. Some of the dead plants.

The Star Wars event at Hibiya Park felt completely out of place and abrupt, but in any case, right after that, the Second Flower Bed was destroyed. The roses, which had been planted in an area approximately 40 meters east-west by 50 meters north-south, were transplanted in response to criticism. However, they were moved to a narrow planting strip of about 90 square meters next to the tennis courts. No one would now consider this a rose garden.

Furthermore, the large trees that surrounded the Second Flower Bed were spared from being cut down, but they were moved to the side without any preparatory root work (usually done one to two years in advance for transplantation).

“The large fountain, created in 1961 as a symbol of peace marking the end of post-war reconstruction, was originally planned to be destroyed and replaced with a smaller one. If the large fountain disappears, it would no longer be Hibiya Park.

As we continued to make inquiries to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and petitions to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, their explanation changed to, ‘We won’t change the external appearance; it will be almost unnoticeable.’ But we still don’t know what will actually happen.

Another notable feature of Hibiya Park is the Memory Benches. These were funded by public donations, with each bench costing around 150,000 to 200,000 yen. A plaque with the donor’s message is embedded in the backrest. These benches are scattered throughout the park, but all the benches around the Second Flower Bed have been destroyed.

Apparently, they plan to either return the plaques or display them somewhere. Some plaques bear messages about wartime experiences or memories of working in Hibiya, conveying the donors’ deep sentiments and historical context. These benches truly represent the value of Hibiya Park, and destroying them first is heartbreaking and makes one question the purpose of this reorganization.”

Material provided by Ms. Ai (obtained from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government website)
The “Memory Bench,” which contains the thoughts and feelings of the donors

They’re destroying this and that, only to replace it all with endless grass, grass, and more grass.

By the way, what was revealed through a disclosure request made by the “Association for the Love of Hibiya Park” in May of last year and disclosed in July were the following contents:

  • The park’s layout will be maintained but each zone will undergo significant changes.
  • The “Large Fountain” will be removed and replaced with a smaller fountain.
  • The “Small Music Hall” will be demolished and replaced with a smaller structure at the same height as the fountain plaza.
  • The area occupied by the “Tennis Courts” and “Exhibition Area” will be demolished and removed to create a “Ball Game Plaza.”
  • The park will be divided into seven zones, and implementation design and construction will proceed gradually.

In this plan, the “Grass Field Plaza” will become the “Large Lawn Plaza,” and both the tennis courts and the small hill “Mount Mikasa” will be completely removed, replaced by the “Grass Hill Plaza.” The “Second Flower Bed” will indeed become the “Grass Garden Plaza.” Trees and vegetation will be cut down, this and that demolished, all to be replaced with nothing but endless grass.

When asked about the possibility of reconsidering the redevelopment due to criticism from the public regarding such extensive changes, Ms. Ai responded:

“We don’t know either. They say they’ll take ten years to complete the construction, aiming for the 130th anniversary of the opening of Hibiya Park in 2033. However, they’ve only been releasing schedules for different areas gradually, without revealing the full picture of the construction all at once. No matter how much we ask the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for explanations, they say it’s not yet finalized.”

The Second Flower Bed is already gone, and construction around the Large Fountain and Small Music Hall” is planned for this year to next year, followed by work on the “Large Bandstand,” “Yurakucho-side Deck,” and “Public Hall” next year, but the details for all of these are still unclear.

“Hibiya Park features a beautiful vista that strongly emphasizes the vast space and directionality from the front of the Public Hall to the Small Bandstand, reminiscent of European gardens.

However, it seems that the construction aims to eliminate steps and make the park more accessible for everyone. In doing so, it’s likely that old stone steps and the traditional water fountains will all be destroyed. The Small Music Hall used to be a place where various music bands, including the Self-Defense Forces band, often performed, offering a sense of democracy where anyone could enjoy music for free. But that might also disappear.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government explains that the park’s update aims to make it more accessible to a wider range of people. However, when asked about specific complaints or grievances regarding the current situation, there are no concrete answers.”

On the Mitsui Fudosan website, there’s an explanation that could be interpreted as if Hibiya Park is their property.

Furthermore, what the “Association for the Love of Hibiya Park” and others are suspicious of is the history behind the plans for two decks connecting Hibiya Park to Tokyo Midtown Hibiya and a building under construction next to the main Imperial Hotel building.

“In July 2021, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government formulated the Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya Park Regeneration Plan, and prior to that, construction took place at the Nire-noki Square located between the Public Hall and the Second Flower Bed.

In just two weeks, over twenty nire trees disappeared, and the area was paved over with asphalt. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government posted notices saying the trees would be transplanted, but in reality, only one tree was transplanted.

The stated purpose was to use the area as a material storage site for the seismic retrofitting of the Public Hall, but construction has not yet begun. This area is meant to be the landing point for a deck from the Central Tower currently under construction next to the main Imperial Hotel building.”

Furthermore, the area within Hibiya Park in front of Tokyo Midtown is currently an enclosed vacant lot. It is said to be the landing point for a deck from Tokyo Midtown.

Tokyo Midtown Hibiya viewed from the Grand Fountain
The deck connecting Hibiya Park and Tokyo Midtown Hibiya as written in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s plan.

“When I asked the construction office in charge of road management, they said they hadn’t heard anything about the deck yet, even though we’re at a stage where construction is set to begin next year or the year after. It seems like information is not being shared because it’s funded by private entities, and things are progressing without proper communication.”

If you look at the business description of Mitsui Fudosan’s Urban Development on the Mitsui Fudosan website, which fully owns the Tokyo Midtown Management’ that manages Tokyo Midtown, it mentions a Park View Garden as part of ‘Creating Mitsui Fudosan’s Cities. It describes it as a terrace where you can feel a sense of unity with the magnificent greenery of Hibiya Park below, with lush plantings and water features. It also mentions the ability to host various events. This description makes it seem like Hibiya Park is Mitsui Fudosan’s property.

Ms. Ai further speculates.

“When considering why construction began by demolishing the Nire-noki Square, it’s likely because they intend to create a flow of people between the park and the commercial building by connecting Hibiya Park to Tokyo Midtown through two bridges from the Central Tower under construction next to the Imperial Hotel.

In doing so, they might want to turn Hibiya Park into an event space. It seems like they’re talking about clearing various areas to make way for this.”

Incidentally, it was announced on September 26th last year that the Imperial Hotel would sell approximately 35% of the land of its Tower Building to Mitsui Fudosan for about 62 billion yen. The Tower Building is set to cease operations by the end of June this year, and it has been announced that Mitsui Fudosan will jointly construct a new building after acquiring part of the land.

“So basically, it seems like Mitsui Fudosan is trying to connect its own building to Hibiya Park with a bridge and use the park as a sort of extension of its building’s garden. It’s clearly inappropriate for a municipal park, especially a historical one, to be connected to a specific company or privilege.

So when we investigated who planned this deck and when, we found that the concept of a deck first appeared in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s plans as far back as the Hibiya Park Grand Design in 2018.”

“Even though specific plans haven’t been disclosed, there’s already an entrance connecting Tokyo Midtown to the park.”

“The redevelopment plan for Hibiya Park started over a decade ago, but did Tokyo Midtown anticipate or unilaterally request the establishment of a deck connection to their building, based on a deck plan that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government hasn’t disclosed? Since the deck connects to a municipal park, it should require approval from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to be built.

Even when asked to explain this to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, neither the Urban Development Bureau nor the Construction Bureau has personnel who can provide explanations. What does this mean? I call it the Mystery of the Deck. Could it be that someone higher up in the administration decided on this without the knowledge of the relevant department?”

The connection point of the deck was installed in Tokyo Midtown Hibiya, which commenced construction in 2015. “Did Tokyo Midtown anticipate or unilaterally request the establishment of a deck connection to their building, based on a deck plan that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government hasn’t disclosed?”asked Ms. Ai.
“When it comes to reducing the heat of the city, we have no choice but to rely on the power of trees,” says Ms. Michiko Ai, representative of the General Incorporated Association for Protecting Street Trees.

The “New Hibiya Project” by Mitsui Fudosan, which was being promoted in Hibiya, received urban planning approval on December 6, 2013. It is speculated that Mitsui Fudosan’s projects, including Midtown, were initially proposed and then designated for urban planning by the government. There are speculations about connections between influential figures in the government and Mitsui Fudosan. This speculation arises from the fact that Mitsui Fudosan’s plans were initially proposed and then designated for urban planning by the government, with figures like Governor Koike and other top officials from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government potentially being involved.

Under the guise of “barrier-free” initiatives in Hibiya Park, many trees have been felled and transplanted, with only “lawn spaces” being created. The usage examples listed on the park’s notice board include “teleworking,” “markets,” “yoga events,” “food trucks,” “bistro lunches,” and “picnics.”

Is it truly necessary to cut down so many trees for this? Ms. Ai looked up at the densely wooded area above her and said the following.

“Tokyo is a city heavily affected by the urban heat island effect. To alleviate this and reduce the heat in the city, we have no choice but to harness the power of trees.

It’s a globally recognized fact that expanding the canopy of trees, which includes the upper parts, branches, and leaves of trees, is crucial. Yet, Japan stands alone in its rampant deforestation.

Parks are meant to be places where people can escape from the harsh urban environment and commercialism, places where they can peacefully relax and unwind. Is it really wise to destroy all of that and paint everything with a commercial brush?”

Click here for the website of the Hibiya Park History and Culture Lovers Association.

It is now common knowledge around the world that the tops of trees, branches, and leaves are important to reduce the heat in cities.
Benches lined up next to the “Second Flower Bed” (PHOTO: courtesy of Michiko Ai)
Star Wars Bon Dance” in Hibiya Park! (PHOTO: Courtesy of Yuichi Takahashi)
  • Interview and text by Wakako Tako PHOTO Mayumi Abe

Photo Gallery12 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles