Background on the plans for construction in Takabatake-cho, Nara City (December 20th, 2016)
The 1st Explanation Session (March 3rd, 2016 at the Nara Kasugano International Forum)
A construction notice (Fig. 1) was distributed to attendees. This was the first time that residents in the area were informed that Nara Prefecture even had plans for construction. There were many questions from residents and most of them were concerns against the construction.
●Construction Notice: Resort Location
Summary of the main questions and answers from the session
Resident: Exactly how is it possible that construction of a resort is even possible in such a strictly regulated area with regards to cultural and environment protections?
Nara Prefectural Representative: During the expert planning meetings, we found there would be no problems if proper procedures were followed.
Resident: What kind of building are you planning? The description of the area designated for accommodations lists a one story building, but the photograph right next to the description clearly shows a two story building. Which is correct?
Nara Prefectural Representative: Because details have not yet been finalized we are unable to explain general information about the building. Those details will be decided advancing forwards.
Resident: It is said that development will be done with private investment. However, it’s rumored that the Hoshino Resort Company is already a candidate for development. Has the developer already been decided behind closed doors?
Nara Prefectural Representative: At this stage there have been no specific decisions for a developer.
Resident: If that is the case then why are there already rumors about this company?
Nara Prefectural Representative: With regards to the developer, we will be taking bids.
Resident: You are calling it a one story building and there are already rumors of a developer, your answers to these questions are unbelievable. I can’t help but be suspicious with the way the prefecture is proceeding with these plans. There is no specific information about the building and you aren’t even providing basic information about the building. How could we approve or agree to that? I want you to tell me more detailed information. Can you provide more detailed information at a later date? If an explanation session is held, I want you to set up a venue so it is easier for local residents to attend.
Nara Prefectural Representative: We will hold an explanation session at a venue where it will be easier for local residents to attend.
2nd Explanation Session (June 26th, 2016 at the Asuka Community Center)
Although another explanation meeting has held for local residents 3 months after the first meeting, no new information was provided and for the residents that did attend the meeting, no satisfactory answers were given when prefecture representatives were questioned.
Summary of the main questions and answers
Residents: It’s been explained that Nara Prefecture purchased this land from the national government and has incorporated it into Nara Park, but the informational materials have many pages that go into detail regarding the restoration of the old garden and concessions area. Comparatively there is little information about the accommodations area. This plan could be considered beneficial to the park and public under the premise of park restoration and improving facilities by building a rest area, however it is difficult to image how construction of a resort could be considered beneficial to the park and the public. Proceed with your plans without the resort.
Nara Prefectural Representative: The plan is based on the resort. The plan without the resort is unthinkable. Opinions of opposition will not be heard.
Residents: I cannot believe that is the official answer of the prefecture. What about "Hoshino Resort"?
Nara Prefectural Representative: We want you to forget the name, “Hoshino Resort.”
Residents: Will the public be able to freely access the restored park? Or will it be incorporated into the private land of the designated developer and not be usable by the public?
Nara Prefectural Representative: That has not yet been decided.
Residents: Since nothing has been decided, residents cannot agree to this unconditionally.
Nara Prefectural Representative: The earthen walls on this land are in disrepair and fallen trees on park grounds are affecting public safety. If we stop with these plans, then this area will become neglected and unmaintained. Is that your wish?
Residents: That has nothing to do with the construction of the resort. As long as the land is being managed by the prefecture, it is not the prefecture’s responsibility to maintain the land and manage it for the safety of the public?
Nara Prefectural Representative: This is a problem if there is opposition to this plan. We will reopen a study session regarding this matter.
Concern over the issue increased with neighboring residents and the Takabatake-cho Yamanoue Community Association held meetings. It was decided that the president of the Yamanoue Community Association would present an official opinion and official list of questions raised by the community to Governor Arai. Sent on August 8th, 2016, more than two months passed without a response as residents lived in unease.
Meanwhile, it was learned that the second review session (document 3) would be held on October 31st.
Furthermore, it was discovered that the committee members were not told about the concerns from community or that there was opposition to the construction. Having learned this, we immediately sent to the committee members, copies of the opinion and list of questions originally sent to Governor Arai. On the day of the meeting, copies of the opinion and the list of questions were physically handed over to the committee members (document 4). After more than a year of not meeting, the 12 member committee convened and deliberated with 5 members absent. The committee briefly conducted the meeting and then adjourned. The committee announced that this would be the last review session. Residents called the Nara Prefectural Representative directly asking, "How do you plan on going forward? If you intend to continue with the plan and ignoring the opinions of the community with such high-handedness, we will consult a lawyer and start an official opposition. Is that what you want? The prefectural representative coldly replied, "Do as you please."
Formation of the Association for the Preservation of Nara Park and the Takabatake-cho Residents Association of Volunteers
In order to protect this area for future generations, a place that has already been protected both culturally and environmentally, we consulted with attorney Mr. Mikio Tanaka about what legal options we could take as a community. It was decided that the community association would entrust Mr. Tanaka with power of attorney by the President of the Takabatake-cho Yamanoue Community Association. Mr. Tanaka sent Governor Arai a copy of the list of questions we sent over 3 months ago via certified mail with a request for answers within one week. Two weeks later we still had not received any answers.
The prefecture silently proceeded with their plans and we received word that soon the prefecture would soon start accepting bids from developers. We needed to take immediate action. With widespread approval from the community, the Takabatake-cho Residents Association of Volunteers formed for the purpose of opposing the construction. At the same time, in order to highlight that this problem is not only a concern for the residents of Takabatake-cho, that protecting Nara Park is a concern for everyone in Japan, the Association for the Preservation of Nara Park was formed. Mr. Makoto Shiina, Mr. Takuya Noda, Mr. Tomoyuki Noda, Mr. Ichiro Watanabe, Mr. Yumebara, Mr. Fukashi Kazama, Ms. Reiko Amano, Mr. Reiko Amano, and resident of Takabatake-cho Mr. Isamu Tatsuno, agreed to express opposition and promote the cause. The Association for the Preservation of Nara Park was formed as a national organization and will cooperate with the Takabatake-cho Residents Association of Volunteers in opposition of the construction. On December 10th, a banner was set up on the site of Manyousou with the message “Against Resort Construction!!" facing the area of planned construction, and similar smaller banners were set up on the properties of neighborhood residences to show community solidarity.
The response letter (document 5) to the certified mail was received more than one week after the deadline on November 22nd. The response was very ambiguous and did not provide any clarification. In response, Mr. Tanaka sent a disclosure request (Document 6) on November 25th to receive information about the construction. We still did not receive the requested information by the December 2nd deadline and instead received a “Notice for Extension of Disclosure Deadline” (document 7) on December 8th, more than two weeks after the deadline. This means that the prefecture now has a 60 day extension before they have to disclose publicly the information that was requested. The reason given for the delay was stated as "Time is necessary to identity and review the administrative documents." It is hard to believe that 60 days are necessary to disclose public documents and only makes us suspicious that they are trying to hide something by preventing the documents from public scrutiny.
Nara Prefectural Assembly Meeting: Governor Arai Responds to Questions from Assembly Member Mrs. Sachiho Yamamura (December 12th, 12)
Summary of the main questions and answers
(Mrs. Yamamura): I have been told that there are no objections from residents so far, but it would seem that there are such objections from residents. (Points to a picture of the opposition banner)
(Governor Arai): I am aware there is opposition, but they are only a small minority and the majority is in favor.
(Mrs. Yamamura): So you ignore the opinions of the public if they are only a minority?
(Governor Arai): There is a majority in favor.
(Mrs. Yamamura): What is your position on protecting the environment?
(Governor Arai): If we build a luxury hotel, we can protect the environment.
This is an audacious statement. When the governor says a “minority,” what number consists of a minority?
This statement also reminds us of Governor Arai’s naïve position on the environment when he announced plans to build a monorail on Mt Wakakusa in Nara Park, considered a Special Natural Monument (at that time, the governor had to withdraw his plans for the monorail due to nationwide opposition). Even though there is a need for hotels in Nara due to a projected increase in inbound tourism for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, there is no need for the construction of a resort in Nara Park. It is contradiction to say they want to utilize this natural environment for tourism, because their actions to realize that goal will end up destroying the very same natural environment. When responding to questions from the Prefectural Assembly, the governor stated “they are only a small minority,” ignoring those opposing construction and proceeding with construction plans.
Nara Park is a treasure of Japan and registered as a World Heritage Site making it a treasure of the world. In order to preserve this place for our children and grandchildren, and show that we are not merely a “few voices of opposition,” we humbly ask for your signature.