In a city that thrives on progress and change, there still exists a historic ballpark that whispers tales of yesteryears. Jingu Park, located in the heart of the Japanese capital, has become the focal point of a contentious debate. At stake is the preservation of a site that has seen baseball legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play, and around 3,000 trees that have grown over the past century. However, looming over this piece of history is the shadow of redevelopment, aimed at replacing the green expanse with soaring skyscrapers.
This imminent threat has prompted an urgent call to action from a UNESCO panel. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a pivotal body under the U.N. cultural agency, recently issued a “heritage alert.” It has emphatically urged the Japanese government to reconsider the redevelopment plans scheduled to commence this month. In a strongly-worded letter, ICOMOS voiced concerns over the irrevocable loss of an “urban forest” nurtured over a century, should the project proceed.
The plea for preservation is not only based on environmental grounds but also the significant cultural and sports heritage attached to the ballpark. The field has been a witness to iconic moments, including a historic 1934 tour by baseball giants Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. This tour played a pivotal role in popularizing baseball in Japan.
Adding to the urgency is the appeal from ICOMOS and its national panel for Japan for the primary developer, Mitsui Fudosan, and other collaborators in the project, to reevaluate their involvement and possibly retract from the venture. The developer, having noted the contents of the letter, is currently in a phase of gathering more details before releasing an official statement.
The voice of preservation has grown louder and more diverse, with public rallies, petitions, and notable personalities joining the chorus. The plan, if executed, will result in the demolition of the Meiji Jingu Stadium, constructed in 1926, which currently hosts the Yakult Swallows team. Renowned figures like the late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and esteemed author Haruki Murakami have publicly expressed their concerns. Sakamoto, in one of his final appeals before his passing in March, and Murakami both have stressed the significance of preserving the park.
ICOMOS’s letter to Tokyo’s officials, including Governor Yuriko Koike, has brought to light the magnitude of the loss. The proposed project would shift the baseball and rugby facilities and obliterate 3.5 hectares (or 8.6 acres) of the park to make space for mixed-use high rises. The Meiji Jingu Stadium holds particular importance in baseball’s history, as it hosted the All American team, which included Ruth, Gehrig, and five other Hall of Fame inductees during their transformative Japanese tour.
To counteract the rising concerns, the consortium of developers, led by Mitsui Fudosan, unveiled a public query website in June. Their intention is to foster “understanding and empathy” for the proposed redevelopment.
While the future of Jingu Park hangs in the balance, the collective voice of history, nature, and culture hopes to influence a decision that respects the legacy and heritage of a nation’s love for baseball.