The construction of a mammoth aquarium in a much-loved public park in Kyoto is stirring up discord in the ancient “city of peace and tranquility.”
Umekoji Park was established 15 years ago in the heart of Japan’s old imperial capital for the benefit of local citizens. A stone’s throw from Kyoto Station, it includes woods, meadowland, a stream and a steam locomotive museum. On any given day, you will find joggers, dog walkers, families, sports clubs and pensioners enjoying the park. Some people come for a chat with their neighbors, others simply want to take in some fresh air and sun.
News that the city administration had given the go-ahead to build an aquarium here has been greeted with incredulity. How could they take away public land to build something so inappropriate? Yet despite strong public opposition, the plans have gone ahead. Construction of the aquarium began in July, and Orix, the corporation behind the scheme, is planning to open its doors in 2012.
The story is not over yet, though. An anti-aquarium network of local, environmental groups continues to meet, demonstrate and fight the city in the courts. And now concerned foreign residents have also decided to lend their support to the cause. Over the past few weeks, I have met with several other foreign residents in order to discuss the planned Kyoto Aquarium. We all agree that this controversial scheme has not received nearly enough attention in the foreign press. We believe strongly that the decision to give the aquarium the go-ahead was misguided and out of keeping with this city’s character.
Our arguments against the aquarium are as follows:
• The loss of public green space: City parks are essential for people's physical and mental well-being and Umekoji Park is very popular with the local public for sports and recreation. It is an oasis of natural beauty and also a precious resource; it cleans the air and helps to regulate the city’s temperature. Any loss of parkland here is a great loss to Kyoto.
• It is not suitable for Kyoto's local economy: A world-class aquarium, The Kaiyukan, exists only an hour away, in Osaka, and draws nearly 2.5 million visitors a year. Kyoto officials have claimed that the aquarium will bring in more tourists and revitalize the local economy but Kyoto is an inland city with no maritime associations. It makes more sense to support those businesses that take advantage of Kyoto’s existing assets: restoring "machiya," improving existing museums and educating people about Japan’s traditional arts.
• The plan is environmentally unsound and sends children the wrong message: The aquarium will release 5,400 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. A variety of marine wildlife will be captured and confined in a highly artificial environment. Dolphins will be kept for entertainment purposes in constricting conditions. The stress these creatures endure will undoubtedly shorten their life spans significantly.
• The decision was made behind closed doors between the city administration and private business: This is public land but public opinion has been ignored.
For these reasons, we stand with local residents in opposing the Kyoto Aquarium project. It is bad for the local environment, bad for Kyoto’s children, bad for the city’s public image and is highly unlikely to succeed in Kyoto’s economy. We demand that local government listen to public opinion and that construction be halted immediately. If you agree with us, then please sign our petition to “Stop the Kyoto Aquarium!” and let both Orix Corporation and Kyoto Mayor Kadokawa know that not only local, but world opinion is opposed to this aquarium. The English petition can be found at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/stop-the-kyoto-aquarium/ and the Japanese petition at http://www.shomei.tv/project-1612.html.
Michael Lambe is chief writer and editor at DeepKyoto.com.© Japan Today