Japan from the inside out

South, west…over there somewhere

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 6, 2011

ABOUT a century ago, G.K. Chesterton wrote that “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.” If Chesterton were writing today, he’d have to amend his observation to read “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ when the deceased was actually Lord Smith”, and then botching the pertinent facts about both of them.

That would be followed by a codicil to the effect that English-language journalism about Japan is even worse.

Here’s an article — for lack of a better word — in The Independent of Great Britain written — for lack of another better word — by Enjoli Liston. We’re off!

Japan to build new city as back-up to quake risk Tokyo
New metropolis south of the capital will house 50,000 people and boast world’s tallest structure
Developers in Japan have unveiled plans to build a “back-up” capital city in case Tokyo is hit by a devastating natural disaster.

A prosecuting attorney could rest his case right there. The first sentence declares the city will be built. But later we find out:

The proposed city remains in the planning stages, though the developers behind it already claim to have the support of more than 100 politicians.


In addition to government buildings and sprawling office complexes, it would boast hotel resorts, urban parkland, casinos and a 652-metre-high skyscraper, which would become the tallest building in the world.

In other words, what we really have is a big money infrastructure/pork barrel wet dream floated by some construction companies, developers, and the politicians to whom they financially contribute, rather than a concrete plan passed by the Diet.

Two pols are prominently cited as backers of the scheme:

…the developers behind it already claim to have the support of more than 100 politicians, including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Shizuka Kamei, a leading member of Japan’s opposition People’s New Party.

Kan Naoto, he of the teen-level approval rating, the nightmarish hangover from which the nation has recovered, will have as much influence in getting this project approved as Lindsay Lohan.

Note also the description of Kamei Shizuka. It’s accurate to say he’s a leading member of the PNP. It would be even more accurate to say he’s the head of the PNP. But it’s not at all accurate to say that the PNP is an opposition party. They’re still part of the governing coalition. Easy to forget, I know, but a fact is a fact.

Then again, it’s not as if anyone outside the PNP takes seriously their position as junior coalition partner. The only reason they even exist as a political party was to roll back the Koizumi privatization of Japan Post. More than two years and three prime ministers later, the DPJ still hasn’t gotten around to submitting that legislation.

As for the party’s influence, its backing in national surveys of party support is always in the single digits, assuming “0.X%” (and sometimes too low to register) is a single digit. Let’s go with “fractional” instead.

Where’s New Town going to be?

The city, which has been given the functional name IRTBBC (Integrated Resort, Tourism, Business and Backup City), would span approximately five square kilometres and would potentially replace Japan’s Itami International Airport located near Osaka, around 300 miles west of Tokyo.

Hold on…just a few paragraphs ago they were saying it was “south”. Now it’s “west”. Yes, technically, both are true, but Japanese consider Osaka to be more west of Tokyo than south. So do all the maps.

South…west…you know, over there somewhere.

That gives us some insight into the reason the paper’s called The Independent. Their reporting is independent of the facts, the sentences in a given article are factually independent of each other…

Then there’s the idea that IRTBBC would replace Itami Airport. As you can see from its website, Itami still has hundreds of takeoffs and landings a day. To build the New City on that site would first require that Itami be shut down after another new airport for mostly domestic flights was built in Osaka (which, to be sure, some Osakans want).

Calling this a new city, by the way, would only be of administrative significance. The Osaka metro district is huge, and Itami is well within it. (You can see how close it is to the city from the photos at the website.) What they’re really talking about is just urban redevelopment with special branding created by somebody’s PR department. As was the “Integrated Resort, Tourism, Business and Backup City” name.

Far from being a ghost city during less turbulent times, the developers behind the plans have proposed that the city would have a resident population of around 50,000 people. They also expect the state-of-the-art offices to attract around 200,000 workers from nearby Osaka.

Meanwhile, the percentage of vacant offices in Osaka at the end of March was 8.9%, the highest ever recorded. This plan sounds like something a politician could get behind.

Here’s my favorite part:

Tokyo escaped the disaster relatively unscathed, as most of the city’s buildings were constructed to withstand tremors, unlike more traditional buildings in rural areas.

Yes, out in the inaka, especially down here in Kyushu (south of Tokyo, west of Tokyo?), all the government buildings and downtown commercial structures are built of wood with thatched roofs and have sliding paper doors.

The reason roughly 20,000 people died in the Tohoku region was not the earthquake, as intense as it was. It was the once-in-a-millennium tsunami.


Planners have asked the government for 14 million yen (£115,000) to research the feasibility of the proposed developments. It is thought the full cost of building the city would mostly be met by private investors.

Does that mean all the facilities to be part of the “back-up capital city” and “the stand-by base for parliament” will be donated to the government out of a sense of civic virtue?

And see what I mean about the need to update Chesterton? The first sentence of the piece says it’s a done deal. Four sentences from the bottom, Enjoli Liston is telling us they’re asking the government to fund a feasibility study.

One more time!

If your knowledge of Japan is derived from the English-language media, then everything you know about Japan is wrong.

Who knows? Maybe Dreams Come True for Osaka Lovers.

I always liked Yoshida Miwa.

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3 Responses to “South, west…over there somewhere”

  1. M-Bone said

    This “Tokyo Backup Plan” has existed in various forms since at least 1972 and was discussed far more vigorously in the early 1990s than anything that I’ve heard recently.

    Like the 10,000 free flights to Japan (had to break the hearts of about 75 students on that one), this is something that is being talked over that gets reported as carved in stone. I guess that US mission to Pluto is departing any day now.

  2. Jane said

    Thanks for a very clear analysis of what is wrong (with a fairly simple, in this case) just one article in translation of a Japanese “news” article. I find this daily – being able to read the Japanese press – and am constantly astounded – but can’t take the time to refute (by checking for facts and original articles) all the errors. Reading the English press makes me feel like Alice in Wonderland most days.

  3. Tony said

    Nice entry!

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