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Editorial: Ex-Tokyo Gov. Ishihara short on answers over Tsukiji market move

Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has failed to squarely answer questions about the planned relocation of the metropolitan government-run Tsukiji wholesale market in Chuo Ward to a new site in the Toyosu district of Koto Ward, where contaminated soil has been found.

Ishihara held a news conference at the Japan National Press Club on March 3. Last month, Ishihara had asked for an opportunity to provide an explanation about his involvement in the market transfer, stating, "I'm accused of escaping or hiding. I'd like to avenge such humiliation," and, "I'll say what I should say."

Ishihara apparently wanted to rebut current Gov. Yuriko Koike's contention that confusion over the Toyosu market stems from the former metropolitan administration led by Ishihara.

Ishihara acknowledged that he bore responsibility for approving the decision to relocate the Tsukiji market to Toyosu. However, he emphasized that Tokyo City Hall as a whole, including the metropolitan assembly, decided to relocate the market. When asked about his responses to details of the matter, the former governor repeated that he had not been briefed on such details. Criticism of him trying to evade his responsibility over the project is deserved.

Ishihara became Tokyo governor in 1999. At the time, a land lot in Toyosu where a Tokyo Gas Co. plant had stood was named as a candidate site for a new wholesale market to replace the Tsukiji market. Then Vice Gov. Takeo Hamauzu, who had long served as a secretary to Ishihara, was tasked in 2000 with negotiating with Tokyo Gas over the matter.

In January 2001, a massive amount of benzene 1,500 times the upper limit set under the government's environmental standards was detected from soil at the site. Nevertheless, the metropolitan government officially decided at the end of that year to relocate the Tsukiji market to the site.

Moreover, benzene about 43,000 times the upper limit set under different criteria was confirmed at the site in 2008. However, the metropolitan government went ahead and signed a contract to relocate the market to the site.

When asked why the metropolitan government decided to relocate the market to Toyosu despite the detection of such high density of benzene, Ishihara reiterated that "the relocation to Toyosu was already an established policy when I took up the post of governor."

Particularly close attention was paid at the news conference on the land deal and an agreement on the sharing of costs for measures to counter soil contamination at the Toyosu site, which the metropolitan government signed with Tokyo Gas in March 2011.

The agreement clearly stipulated that Tokyo Gas was supposed to foot only 7.8 billion yen out of costs totaling 58.6 billion yen, and had a clause on wavering liability for defects, which did not require Tokyo Gas to foot any further costs. The amounts of costs of countermeasures against soil contamination that the metropolitan government needed to shoulder thus snowballed to some 86 billion yen.

Ishihara told the news conference that he had left the costs of countermeasure against soil contamination up to Hamauzu, and not been notified of anything about the matter. He also said he had no recollection of making any specific decision not to lay soil foundations below the main structures at the Toyosu market.

He claimed that he respected judgments made by experts and the heads of metropolitan government divisions concerned with the project. However, one cannot help but wonder whether these are truly words uttered by Ishihara, who showed strong administrative leadership when he was governor.

Ishihara is scheduled to testify before the metropolitan assembly's special investigation committee, which has been set up under Article 100 of the Local Autonomy Act, on March 20. Hamauzu will also be summoned to the panel. It is indispensable for those involved in the process of deciding to relocate the market to Toyosu to sincerely testify before the committee to get to the bottom of the matter.

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