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.© Japan Today