--- Japanese Local Politics in the Aichi-Nagoya
Area, the Home of Toyota and Site of the 2005 World's Fair ---
By Hiroko T. McDermott
If Wildlife Can Escape Our Government's Abuse, Why Can't We Citizens and Taxpayers?
--- Japanese Local Politics in the Aichi-Nagoya Area,
the Home of Toyota and Site of the 2005 World's Fair ---
In the spring of 1996 the residents of the city of Nagoya learned, from a brief article in a local newspaper, that their city government had announced the initial budget for the construction expenses of the last 5.6 kilometres of its No.4 Subway line. This news came as a great surprise to many residents along the planned line. A few recalled that some thirty-five years earlier there had been talk of a subway coming through their area. But since then, no one had been informed of any details of the planned route, and certainly no government office had sought out the views of the Nagoya citizenry.
Most affected by this decision were those who lived along the southern end of the proposed route between two stations of this line. What troubled them first was the report that the 1 kilometer stretch between these stations would run straight under their private residential area, when, only 100 meters away, there remained untouched a large park with rugby and soccer stadiums, all owned by the city and with activities immune to subway noise and vibration. The news worsened when they learned that the subway's tunnel would be, as is typical in Nagoya, merely 10 to16 meters under their houses (that is, less than half the depth in London, or nowadays in New York and Tokyo). Also, the city offered minimal compensation, and only to 70 to 80 households for the land they own directly above the 10.8m-wide double-tracked tunnel; not a penny was offered to those who live immediately adjacent to the tunnel, even though they too will certainly suffer from train noise and vibration.
An explanation meeting was then held by the city's Transportation Office. Despite its time -- a workday afternoon -- some 170 residents showed up, anxious to know the details of the plan. Only those with land above the tunnel were allowed into the meeting, until public anger and pressure forced the head of the Transportation Office to open it to all interested parties. In the end, the meeting proved to be merely an occasion for the city to ask for its "good citizens' understanding and co-operation."
Having collected signatures of over 1,000 supporters, the residents then presented to the city a proposal to redirect the route under the adjacent river and the city-owned Mizuho Soccer stadium, a change which posed no environmental problems. This alternative route was perfectly feasible, if a little more expensive, thanks to the construction technology that Japan is so proud of having developed. But the city virtually ignored this proposal.
Then, instead of responding to the residents' demand for more meetings and public hearings, the city filed, in spring 2000, for prefectural approval of its application of the Land Expropriation Law, a trump card used by government authorities to exploit private property for public works. To some frustrated residents, the bullheaded refusal of their city government recalled that of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping when he bulldozed public opposition in Tian'an Men Square. "Their arrogant, contemptuous view of us ordinary citizens is of the same nature," an old lady said, "To them, we are just like worms in a small hole. They think nobody else will learn of their abuse of us." Accordingly, and predictably for the Japanese bureaucracy, Aichi Prefecture, acting as the higher authority, soon approved the City's request, ignoring the residents' argument that the proposed No.4 Line was unnecessarily destructive and had no legal basis.
This issue of legitimacy is not rhetorical. The city has always justified its construction plan by pointing to a 1961 City Planning decision. Yet, an examination of the relevant public sources raises serious doubts about the legality of this decision, since the 1960-61 plan for Nagoya's 5 major subway lines, including the No.4 Line, was never presented to the Prefectural Council for City Planning for discussion and assessment. Instead, the Prefectural Governor, but not the City Mayor, brought the plan directly up to the central government level to win approval for it in advance from the Prime Minister, and the Transportation and the Construction Ministers. In the end, it was decided, by short-circuiting the normal administrative procedures, in ways legally allowed only for approval of minor, not major, changes.
The actual story begins not in 1961, but in 1950, when a 50 kilometer subway plan for the post-war transportation network of Nagoya was approved by the Construction Minister. By 1960, a new, and much grander, plan was proposed, with 5 lines totalling 75 kilometers, seemingly with a 50% increase of their routes. However, almost three-quarters of this total length, that is 55 kilometers in all, was devoted for totally new courses, since only 20 kilometers of the 1950 route were kept unchanged in the new plan and all the rest were discarded. In fact, the route of the No.4 Line (in red in the map) -- like the No.3 and No.5 Lines (in green and pink) -- was completely new. Thus, this 1960 transportation network plan, approved in early 1961, was based upon a radically new concept of the city's future transportation. Even under the then City Planning Law, such a new plan had to undergo a full course of legal and administrative reviews before being approved. These reviews never took place.
To some observers such a history may represent merely a predictable outcome of the central government's encouragement of the "bulldozer" economic growth and land development of the 1960s. How many such city planning proposals escaped proper legal procedures throughout the country under the guise of "public works" has never been examined. Yet, one thing is still clear: such plans remain permanently on the books, since Japanese law sets no deadline for the implementation of any public works plans once approved. Under the present central government's policy of "stimulating" the economy through public construction works, many projects long ago planned and "approved" but never carried out are being revived for quick implementation.
The Nagoya City's subway construction is not a resurrected case, since it has over the years been gradually carried out. But the mentality behind this project is the same: the authorities, anxious about loosing face or perhaps simply out of arrogance, refuse any counter proposals, although they have in the recent past altered the route in other sections of the Line simply to suit their own convenience. In 1960, the initial plan was merely a single-line sketch, based upon the assumption that the city's population would increase to 3.5 million in 1985. Forty years ago, when the city announced this plan with a small drawing in its public-relations monthly newsletter, it claimed, "When it comes to this plan's future implementation, concrete proposals will be made and carried out in response to the situation at that time." Forty years later, the city has shown no wish to consider the present needs or the changed circumstances: that its population is only 2.1 million in 2000, and that other areas of the city are more in need of subway service due to their unexpected demographic growth. Moreover, the recent change of the River Law now encourages the use of sub-river space in big cities, for example, for public parking lots, and the construction of a subway tunnel for 300 meters under a small river no longer poses any serious difficulty for Japanese engineering skills. Nevertheless, the city has in this instance repeatedly responded to the residents' suggestions with the same mantra: the decision has been made, and can't be changed!!
If this problem existed in a small, destitute town of a poor country, one could understand the town's serious concern about the extra cost of rerouting this line. But, Nagoya, after Tokyo and Osaka, is Japan's third largest city. It is the center of Aichi Prefecture, the home base of Toyota and so one of the richest prefectures in Japan. As the major economic centre in the Middle Area District, however, Aichi-Nagoya is also widely reputed to be the most conservative and self-contained region of the country. Its principal policy has been to "catch up" with Tokyo and Osaka. Nicknamed by the rest of Japan as "a great city of country bumpkins," where face is of maximum importance, its tradition of conservative politics befits its long rule by a branch clan of the Tokugawa shogun up to 1868. Until two years ago its city government maintained the pre-war committee system whereby the legislative body functioned essentially as a "harmonious" unit dependent on the executive, with all the predictable abuses. Reluctant to open its public records, Nagoya has long been known as a city that frowns on public disagreement, that immediately hushes up any sensitive questions.
Recently, however, the city government has begun to face harsh criticism
from its own people and the rest of the world: it had intended, as a consequence
of its prolonged failure to establish a sensible garbage collection policy,
to build a huge garbage dump at Fujimae tidelands, an important resting
spot for migrating birds at the mouth of the Shonai River. Aichi Prefecture
has also been the recent target of both local and international criticism
for its dubious planning for the expected Aichi 2005 World's Fair: the site
chosen by the prefectural government was the woodland home of many threatened
species of wild life and a popular nature site. The supposed theme of the
Fair, Beyond Development: Nature, Culture and Technology, is a painful joke
in light of the Prefecture's real intention of using this fair to achieve
local development projects: a new airport, a new highway, and a new linear-car
railway, in addition to a huge housing scheme on the exhibition site after
the Fair's closure, all leading, it was hoped, to international fame.
With such a disgraceful start and equally questionable planning, this project lost both its momentum and popular support, and the woodland has largely been rescued. Even if opened eventually on a much reduced scale, the Fair will still end up with a great deficit, and so cause serious financial problems to the Prefecture, the City, and the major businesses of the area. Out of total construction expenses of 135 billion yen, the City of Nagoya is asked to pay 12 billion, while the Horse Racing Corporation, Toyota and other big companies are asked to pay altogether 45 billion yen for the construction of an exhibition facility that will be dismantled after the Fair. On top of this, running costs can be expected to soar beyond the budgeted 50 billion. After seeing the Hanover Fair recently close deeply in the red, most residents of Aichi Prefecture now wonder why they have to pay taxes for a Fair which would be little more than a symbol of their local government's incompetence and imprudence. Moreover, they ask, why must we support "public servants" who would put their own interest and vanity first?
"Upon completion, hopefully in time for the 2005 World's Fair, the No.4
Line will be the first circular subway service in Japan," the city proudly
claims. Wishing the Fair to be cancelled, some residents along the line
retort, "Instead of wasting a huge sum for a 6-month temporary facility,
why not use the money for an alternative subway route that will help many
citizens for centuries? Just 5 billion yen -- a mere 2% of the total 10
kilometer subway construction budget -- would pay for the extra cost! If
wildlife can escape our government's abuse, why can't we citizens and taxpayers?"
(By Hiroko T. McDermott; November. 2000)
MCD: subway4 (2000.11.19)