Developers Threaten Tokyo’s Historic Jingu Baseball Park, UNESCO Panel Says

REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
The UNESCO logo is seen during the opening of the 39th session of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at their headquarters in Paris, France, October 30, 2017.

TOKYO, Sept 8 (Reuters) – A UNESCO panel has issued a “heritage alert” calling for the preservation of Jingu Park, the site of a historic ballpark in the Japanese capital, and of about 3,000 trees set to be cut down to make way for a skyscraper project.

The redevelopment, due to start this month, threatens a field on which baseball legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played on a tour in 1934 that helped introduce the sport to Japan.

The U.N. cultural agency’s panel, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), urged the government to review the plan.

The program would lead to the “complete destruction of the urban forest formed and nurtured over the past 100 years,” the ICOMOS said in a letter on Thursday.

ICOMOS and its national panel for Japan also called on the main developer, Mitsui Fudosan, and other partners involved in the project to withdraw from it immediately.

A spokesperson for Mitsui Fudosan said it was aware of the letter and was collecting information before it could offer a response to it.

Rallies and petition drives have also voiced opposition to the plan, which includes the demolition and replacement of the Meiji Jingu Stadium, built in 1926, and now home to the Yakult Swallows team.

Celebrated composer Ryuichi Sakamoto called for a halt to the project just before he died in March, while best-selling author Haruki Murakami has also spoken out against it.

In a letter to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and other officials, ICOMOS criticized the plan that will relocate baseball and rugby facilities and eliminate 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) of park area to make room for mixed-use skyscrapers.

Ruth, Gehrig and five other baseball Hall of Fame inductees were part of an All American team that played at Meiji Jingu Stadium during their barnstorming Japanese tour.

In June, the Mitsui Fudosan-led group of developers launched a website for queries from the public, aiming to build “understanding and empathy” for the project.