Haruki Murakami Pleads for Keeping Tokyo Park and Baseball Stadium that Inspired His Writing

AP file photo
Ginkgo trees are seen at an area known as Jingu Gaien in Tokyo, May 12, 2023.

TOKYO (AP) — Author Haruki Murakami says he’s strongly opposed to the redevelopment of a historic and beloved Tokyo park district that would remove his favorite jogging path and tear down the nearly century-old baseball stadium where he was inspired to become a novelist.

The plan approved earlier this year by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike to put skyscrapers and new stadiums in the heart of the Jingu Gaien green district has become increasingly controversial. Followers of baseball and rugby history are opposed to it, as well as conservationists and civil groups who say the project has advanced without transparency, adequate environmental assessment or explanation to the residents.

The ball park and a neighboring rugby stadium used for soccer during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics would be demolished under the plan, and hundreds of trees would be removed from what’s been a Tokyo park district for centuries. When finished, the new stadiums will be surrounded by nearly 200-meter (650-foot) tall office buildings in a commercial complex.

“I’m strongly opposed to the Jingu Gaien redevelopment plan,” Murakami said on his Sunday radio show. “Please leave that pleasant jogging course full of greenery and the lovely Jingu Stadium as it is. Once something is destroyed, it can never be restored.”

Murakami used to sit beyond the outfield fence, stretching out with a beer to watch the game on a grassy slope. He remembers the moment he decided to become a novelist: In the early afternoon on April 1, 1978, when then-perennial underdog Yakult Swallows’ unknown American Dave Hilton slammed a clean double into left field and “the satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium,” he wrote in his 2007 memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

On his way home, he bought a fountain pen and started writing. His first novel, “Hear the Wind Sing,” was finished about six months later.

Murakami said Gaien’s circular jogging course, which is just over 1-kilometer (1,093-yard) long and has a mark at every 100 meters (yards), is his favorite running area. During the radio show, he described “my secret, nice memory” of regularly passing another runner in the opposite direction, never speaking.

Earlier in the weekend, hundreds of people gathered outside the designated redevelopment area in Tokyo for a protest.

The Jingu Gaien dispute comes about two years after the Tokyo Olympics, which involved several newly constructed stadiums and have since been sullied by bribery scandals.

Koike said the metropolitan government has appropriately handled the environmental assessment and has urged the companies involved to share information with the public on the redevelopment.

The project will take 13 years to complete, but minor construction has begun.

The first court hearing on a lawsuit to suspend the work will be held later this week.