Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike reneges on Tsukiji promises

Published on
March 6, 2019

Without apology or explanation – or even acknowledgement – Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has reversed her promise to redevelop the city’s famed Tsukiji fish market as a food-related theme park. She now backs a plan to build an international conference and exhibition hall complex at the site, which will include a luxury hotel, waterfront open space, restaurants, and docks.

Critics are demanding Koike explain her reversal to the former tenants, who were promised the right to move back into the old market if they wished. Newspaper editorials and television commentators have lambasted Koike’s action and her refusal to admit she changed her mind on the decision.

Vendors strongly opposed the high-profile closure of Tsukiji and their forced move to the new Toyosu marketing in October 2018. In addition to concerns over polluted soil at the new site, there was strong opposition from many who wanted to preserve the tradition and living history of the old site.

Just before the Tokyo governmental election, on 20 June, 2017, in order to gain acceptance from market tenants and resolve the thorny issue, Koike championed the phrase, “Protect Tsukiji, utilize Toyosu!” 

“I promise to help businesses when they decide to return to Tsukiji,” Koike said at the time.

Having two markets in such close proximity was, of course, redundant. A Nippon.com editorial by Daigo Kawamoto at the time said, “The governor’s message – to implement the move to the already-built market in Toyosu and also to give Tsukiji a new lease on life – has an appealing ring, but the policy she announced is a fudge aimed at conciliating both supporters and opponents of the move from the old market to Toyosu.”

But the promise did placate the strong opposition of some of the old market’s most vocal supporters. With this promise, she was re-elected and the new market was opened. 

Now, she does not admit that a firm promise was given. Recently, she said that a food-related theme park had been “just one of the options” for the old seafood market. And that option now appears to be dead. At a 15 January closed-door meeting of senior officials from the metropolitan government, the draft plan of the new exhibition hall was revealed, and it made virtually no mention of food. 

While the plan is expected to be finalized at the end of March, opponents are gearing up to do battle at upcoming public hearings on the plan. Koike has made no official retraction of her former promises, and it is for this apparent duplicity that she is taking heat. 

As for the new Toyosu market, it has gotten mixed reviews. It is more sanitary, being fully enclosed and temperature controlled. It is has greater compliance with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards than Tsukiji, an important factor for export customers.

But visitors have complained it does not have the charm of Tsukiji. Market-goers are physically segregated from the hubbub of the tuna auctions, relegated to viewpoints behind walls of glass (though this may be a plus for market participants who found the throngs of visitors an annoyance or a danger). And charges for parking and material handling are higher than at the old market.

Receiving less public attention, but perhaps a bigger issue, is that the project is also running a deficit of USD 83 million (EUR 73.4 million), a total that was originally supposed to be made up by eventually leasing out the old Tsukiji site. 

Photo courtesy Ana & Michal on Flickr

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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