Tokyo divided over its proposed Olympic stadium
Old facility is due for demolition this summer but there is plenty of opposition to its planned replacement
As Tokyo prepares to demolish the half-century old stadium that hosted the first Olympics in Asia, debate is raging over whether the colossal, futuristic replacement planned for the 2020 Games will help revitalise or indelibly mar Japan's famous capital.
Tokyo, the frenetic centre of a mega-metropolitan area of 36 million people, is planning an ambitious reboot on a par with its last big reincarnation, for the Olympics in 1964. Those Games were the catalyst for a far-reaching makeover of Tokyo and marked Japan's reemergence as an Asian power following its defeat in the second world war.
Today, Japan faces altered circumstances. Its population is ageing and shrinking. The economy, overtaken in size by China, has stagnated for two decades. National debt has reached epic proportions.
The Olympics building spree could be a welcome boon for the economy. But there are doubts over the costs and scale of some of the proposed projects, especially an 80,000-seat stadium designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid that was the centrepiece of Tokyo's 2020 bid. Detractors of the new stadium, a whopping 70 metres tall, say it clashes with Tokyo's urban planning and represents a "bigger is better" mentality that doesn't fit Japan's 21st century limitations.
Even Tokyo's governor, Yoichi Masuzoe, who is among the biggest backers of the Olympics, has seemed noncommittal. The plan requires cooperation between the Japan Sports Council, an arm of the central government that owns the existing stadium, the Tokyo government which owns the land the bigger stadium will occupy and Tokyo Olympics organisers.
Prominent architects and other opponents are petitioning the government to upgrade the existing stadium. Built in 1958, it hosted an Olympics remembered as the first to be televised internationally by satellite, but now is showing its age.
An online poll by the Nikkei financial newspaper found more than 60 per cent opposed to building the new stadium. The self-selecting survey might overstate opposition, however.
Apart from cost, critics are unhappy with Hadid's signature sweeping curves design, which many say resembles a bicycle helmet, and the stadium's size. It will have about four times the floor space of the current stadium and dominate the surrounding parks and sports facilities.
"This is not just about the stadium but about Japan's entire culture," said Shinichi Nakazawa, an anthropologist and popular social commentator. "We have a responsibility for the legacy we leave behind."
The sports council has scheduled demolition to begin in July. Masuzoe, though, is looking at a decision in 12 months.