Crumbling 'children's palace' in Aoyama occupies some of Tokyo's most valuable real estate


If Omotesando can be described as Tokyo's answer to Paris' Champs-Elysees, then surely Aoyama Dori, which intersects with Omotesando at its eastern extremity, must be analogous to New York's Madison Avenue. Along it can be found Tokyo's branch of Brooks Brothers; chic boutiques for designer brand goods; upscale restaurants; and the United Nations University.

Also situated there, directly across the street from the campus of Aoyama Gakuin University, is a sprawling facility named "Kodomo no Shiro" (Children's Castle). In the castle's foreground stands a large impressionist sculpture by renowned artist Taro Okamoto titled "The Children's Tree." Today the tree is fenced off by a barrier of steel bars. And the juvenile welfare facility behind it was, alas, shut down in February 2015.

Today, it stands forlorn amid the rest of the area's capitalistic glitter.

Clearly wishing to generate controversy, Friday (Feb 23) describes the building as haikyo -- a term normally reserved for crumbling and abandoned sites such as the coal mine at Gunkan-jima in Nagasaki Prefecture.

"We have appealed to the Tokyo metropolitan government to revive the Children's Castle," says Yoshimi Ariizumi, a joint director of a group campaigning for reinstatement of the facility. "At the rate of about once a month, we've been circulating a petition. I believe this place has strong merits both as a place for children to play and as a cultural nexis. The reason it has begun to deteriorate is due to its closing, but except for the electrical wiring, restoration won't be a problem.

"Besides, it's crazy not to put a building like this to good use."

The Children's Castle first opened in 1985 as a public welfare organization funded and operated under the auspices of the former Ministry of Labor. During the tenure of previous Tokyo Governor Yoichi Matsuzoe, plans had been developed to relocate the aging Tokyo Metropolitan Hiroo Hospital, currently situated in Ebisu 2-chome, Shibuya Ward, to the space occupied by the castle. To this effect, the city was preparing to purchase the land from the national government.

But in August 2016, after Tokyo's present Gov Yuriko Koike took office, plans for relocating the hospital were scrapped.

"Along with opposition to the hospital move by the doctors' association, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has had its hands full over such problems as relocation of the Tsukiji Fish Market and cost overruns for the 2020 Olympics and so on, and time hasn't permitted the matter to be discussed," a source with ties to the assembly tells Friday. "What's more, since the land still belongs to the national government, the whole project has been put on ice."

A spokesperson for the Tokyo government nevertheless told a skeptical reporter that the "government is making progress toward a possible solution."

The land, by the way, has a book value estimated at nearly 60 billion yen. (As we said, Aoyama Dori is an upscale neighborhood.) Whether a children's castle or a hospital, we are talking about enormous outlays of money.

Attorney Satoru Niimi, who serves as an ombudsman for a national citizen's group, remarked: "It's already been sitting empty for three years. You can't say this is putting a valuable national asset to effective use. If the city isn't going to use it as a hospital, then it should have at least initiated a development plan. It owes the people an explanation."

If Koike has enough time to go around promoting herself by using the panda cub in Ueno Zoo, Friday concludes, she should also devote some time to dealing with this white elephant.

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Like many people I have very happy memories of going to Kodomo no Shiro with my family. It's sad to read this article and see how far the place has fallen in the past few years. Doubtless it'll now be sold off to some developer who will tear it down and build yet another bland office building or shopping centre with the same old stores in it.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Yeah, I walked past that place just a couple of days again on the way to Shibuya Station, and was thinking the same thing. Likewise for the UN University just next door, which I understand has something like 200 students. If it were a private college they would squeeze in 10 or 20 times that figure and put it on a paying basis. No, take that back: if it were a private college they would move the campus to Hachioji or some other distant suburb where the students could see trees outside their classroom windows, and where they would not be so close to the distractions and temptations of the Golden Gai.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Sorry, I meant Center Gai.

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A children's playground/welfare facility situated on a prime real estate, is that really necessary? A place like Kodomonoshiro would be better off in a more family oriented modest neighborhood instead of a very upscale business/fashion district like aoyama?

I think only a private developer could find the most appropriate way to develop the prime real estate (unlock its potential value).

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Follow the money, who will win if this is destroyed and the land sold to construction companies? You can bet you can find some corrupt official blocking the repair works until it is too late...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Does no one in city planning here have any clue? It looks like a huge site that the current building is not utilizing to its full potential. If the land is to be sold, sell it with a stipulation that a certain amount of space in the new tower block must be used for community services for children.

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