Japan: Park privatisation opposed

September 25, 2010
Protest to save Miyashita Park, in downtown Tokyo. Photo: Alexander Brown

A long running struggle to save a public park in the central Tokyo ward of Shibuya from private development by sporting goods company Nike intensified on September 15.

The Shibuya ward authorities sealed off the park and deployed police and private security guards to stop activists and homeless people who live in the park from re-entering. Activists had been occupying the park since March.

Situated in the centre of downtown Tokyo, Miyashita Park has long been an oasis of trees amid the high-rise buildings and expensive retail outlets of Shibuya.

The park is home to a large community of homeless people, who live in temporary structures made from blue tarpaulins. It has long been a central rallying point for political protests in the Shibuya area.

Plans by Shibuya ward authorities to hand control of the management and naming rights to Nike came to light in 2008. Nike plans to convert the park into a user-pays sports facility.

Nike will also gain the right to rename the park “Miyashita Nike Park”, thus obtaining prime advertising in a central location at minimal cost.

The Coalition to Protect Miyashita Park (CPMP) from Becoming Nike Park was formed to oppose these plans. The CPMP opposes the privatisation of public space.

It also regards the planned conversion as an attack on freedom of expression, because of the park’s use by citizens’ groups as a rallying point. The CPMP also opposes the secretive and authoritarian manner in which ward authorities devised the plan without consultation with either the ward council or park users.

There have been rallies outside Nike and ward offices, protest marches, festivals, musical performances and art installations. An “Artists in Residence” program was established in the park to oppose the planned commencement of construction.

The occupied park was turned into a cultural space involving art installations, film screenings, music, conversation and political discussion. By creating a vibrant cultural space in the park, activists have demonstrated in practice an alternative to the privatisation agenda.

Although the ward had originally planned to commence work in April, ongoing protest actions have delayed construction. The September 15 sealing of the park involved 120 police officers, guards and Shibuya ward park officials.

Riot squad vehicles and plain-clothes public safety officers were stationed nearby.

Although the closure has been carried out under the pretext of maintenance, activists are certain the ward intends to proceed directly with construction of the Nike facility.

In the course of sealing off the park, officials have made it impossible for homeless residents and activists to collect their property. Activists are pursuing legal action to recover the property held within the park.

The campaign to save Miyashita Park has helped establish solidarity networks between homeless people and activists in Japan and around the world.

The struggle to save Miyashita Park is continuing. Further protests are planned with the aim of forcing Shibuya ward and Nike to abandon their plans and return the park to the people.

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