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Redevelopment project in Tokyo's Akihabara sparks mixed reactions, distrust

A section of Tokyo's Akihabara district set for redevelopment amid mixed reactions is seen in the capital's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Shohei Kato)

TOKYO -- A plan to redevelop a section of Akihabara, a pop culture hotbed in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward and one of Asia's top electronics shop districts, has drawn mixed reactions, with some expressing concern that the process leading into the project has been "slapdash."

    The criticism comes as the Chiyoda Ward government revised its figures on the ratio of Akihabara landowners and leaseholders in favor of the redevelopment plan, from about 80% to 50%, sparking distrust among stakeholders.

    The project area is along the Kanda River on the west side of JR Akihabara Station, and is home to the flagship store of Onoden, Edion's Akihabara branch, and other household electronics retailers. Under the redevelopment project, the buildings will be demolished to make way for a 170-meter-tall office building complex and a hotel.

    According to Chiyoda Ward's community planning section, it is advancing the project to make the most of the local geographical features, with plans for a riverside space to attract visitors. Community planning section head Yoshihiro Kamihara said, "Over half of the buildings in the area covered by the plan have not fulfilled new earthquake resistance standards, and redevelopment is necessary in terms of safety as well."

    Onoden President Kazushi Ono, director of an association to prepare for the redevelopment, commented, "Overseas demand for home electronics is in decline. So, if the district doesn't get to work building an appealing community like surrounding areas embracing redevelopment have, Akihabara will not be able to win the regional competition struggle."

    The Chiyoda Ward Office and association intend to complete procedures for the redevelopment project's authorization within fiscal 2022, and set to start work soon after, but some landowners and leaseholders have been questioning the move.

    According to an anti-redevelopment plan group, there are stakeholders who worry that while they will get space in the new complex based on the value of the property they now own, they could be left without rental income if they can't attract tenants amid the recent decline in office demand.

    Ichiro Kakuta, 59, who manages a real estate business and owns land rights in the area, slammed the ward for "not clearly explaining the risks of the redevelopment project." A storeowner in his 40s who sells electronic parts in the redevelopment area said, "Doing business in a building is inconvenient for a business like ours that relies on physical store sales."

    In a Chiyoda Ward Assembly planning and general affairs committee session in May, the ward explained that up to some 80% of land rights owners approved of the redevelopment. However, after skeptics cast doubt on the high figure, the ward revised it down to about 50% in a September environment and community planning special committee session. The Chiyoda Ward Office explained, "In May, we presented the proportion of members affiliated with the association for redevelopment preparations as the proportion in favor of the project. But the ward's survey found around 50% were in support."

    The ward office has not suggested there was anything inappropriate about this, and Kakuta said he is worried the ward is "trying to forcibly push through development." He added, "I'd like the ward to determine how appropriate the redevelopment is while properly listening to the opinions of the area's land rights owners, tenants and residents."

    In response, community planning section chief Kamihara commented, "We believe that we have provided thorough explanations to land rights owners, but as public land included in the development area is the concern of all ward residents, we'd like to offer further explanations and carry on gathering opinions."

    (Japanese original by Shohei Kato, Tokyo Bureau)

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