Saturday, December 21, 2013

Aesthetics battle against Tokyo 2020 Olympics stadium  

Architect Fumihiko Maki against current project

When Olympics distort aesthetics and architecture, the battle promises to be fierce. It all started a few weeks ago when residents and architects rallied against the massive stadium construction planned for the 2020 Olympics, seen as too ugly, too big and too costly.

The new 70 metre high architectural stadium looks like a futuristic UFO or a bicycle helmet and its modernist shape has drawn criticism that it would dwarf all other nearby structures in the area, including the historic buildings, shrines and temples built since Meiji era which are assigned to a 15 metre height restriction.

Tokyo 2020 stadium project 

Architect Fumihiko Maki and other high-profile critics say no: “I don’t understand the requirements for the project, and what is the benefit for the people to have such stadium?” Maki asked during a lecture and discussion with domestic and international audience who gathered friday evening at the Meiji University, modern Nakano campus. “Why build such huge stadium on such a small place?” Maki added in front of the Meiji University crowd that the Beijing Olympics stadium had more space around for the spectators and residents to see the stadium well integrated and offered a proportional well balanced work.

From 3 billion yen, the Tokyo Olympics 2020 stadium designed by London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid could go down to 1.8 billion yen after complaints made by Tokyo residents, citizens and architects. All amazed by cost. Why a 80.000 spectators stadium used for the 48 days of 2020 summer olympics and for the 2019 Rugby World Cup should be so huge and mobilise such an impressive spending paid by tax payers at such a hard economic time with no guarantee that the financing is healthy, critics told me last night?

Maki's New World Trade Center complex in New York

Maki is an award-winning architect responsible for one of the new towers for the World Trade Center complex in New York. He also renovated a building near the site of the new Yoyogi stadium. The 1964 Olympics stadium was built in 1958 for the Asian Games and served as the main venue for the 1964 Summer Olympics. “It’s quite difficult to attract big international sporting events at the current venue,” according to Japan Sport Council.

The Iraqi-born Hadid won the prestigious Pritzker in 2004, designed the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 London Olympics and is required for the Qatar World cup stadium project. If the project carries on, this bike helmet alike stadium would be visible from all over the west part of Tokyo, including from the splendid National Shinjuku Gyoen Park and would look as a giant bug abandoned in the middle of the city.

Meiji University lectures

Lots of symposia like the Meiji University one are held nowadays to discuss possible revisions, five architectural organisations, including the Japan Institute of Architects and the Japan Federation of Architects & Building Engineers Associations, submitted a petition expecting that the well known Tokyo centre would not end being defigured by architects who never intend to live in Tokyo preserved historic Jingu Gaien area. Worst is that just a very few Japanese media covered the news. This one did. (TS)

 Japanese press report on the polemic

In the end the Japan Sport Council (JSC), which is in charge of running the current and future stadium, announced it would scale back the floor space by one-quarter to 220,000 square metres. And the final project could look like this one. It does not make Tokyo Jingu and Yoyogi areas’ residents happy and they aim at continuing their aesthetic battle in the city where Babylonian architectural and public work projects are often seen, critics say, as a well known source of income for politicians. Oh that's it only...?

An other stadium in the city

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Japan's perception of regional military threats drive to military buildup 

Report with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces

175 Billion Euro, 232 Billion US $, 24.700 Billion Yen for the 2014-2019 five years government plan of Japan military spending. The changing mood of Japan, under Shinzo Abe's administration, favours militarisation and their contractors and finds itself an enemy. Japan targets China. Heavies (Japanese military industry) and Abe's hawks rejoice. Added is that new military materials to be bought from the US and Europe. Institutional interests are guaranteed, politicians and military, defense contractors, trade, industry, politics. Are the Senkaku Diaoyu providing a decisive justification for this growth even at the expense of the population, the regional economy while the international community calls for arms reduction and place to fruitful enterprises? Defense new budget appropriation will be poorly judged by ordinary Japanese who see a lot of money syphoned by military contractors in the aftermath of 311 and the Lehman shock.

Beijing quickly condemned the Japanese plan saying that "Asian countries and the international community, including China, should remain alert" in dealing with Japan, said a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Affairs who denounced the "hollow calls for peace." The plan comes just weeks after Beijing sent an alarm to the Asian region by unilaterally expanding its Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea (ADIZ).

This is the second time since coming to power in December 2012 that Shinzo Abe announces increased military spending. Defense plan was described at Foreign press center Japan Tuesday December 17th. Lots of people attended and this is the opportunity to see how really concerned Japan is vis a vis the Chinese since the recent ADIZ announcement that started to ignite tension in the East China seas.

Japan military acquisitions plan:

Between 2014 and 2019, Japan plans to acquire 20 more ASDF fighters (including F-35A, total 280), 20 more MSDF combat aircrafts (total 170), three unmanned drones from the US, 17 Osprey aircraft and 6 naval destroyers (54), including two with Aegis anti-ballistic missile systems (total 8), and amphibious vehicles. 22 submarines, unchanged, and boost GSDF personnel  by 5000 (total 159000). Washington has negotiated since a long time for Japan to acquire F-35 fighters, one of the most expensive and controversial jet in recent history. But there are offers that Japan cannot refuse to their US ally, a French weapons salesman told me a while ago.

Press comments here:

"Japan yesterday approved a plan to boost defense spending with purchases of military hardware and further investment in anti-missile systems to better protect its territory at a time when China is flexing its military muscle. The move was "unquestionably directed against Beijing,” an editorial from China’s official Xinhua news agency said yesterday." (JT) EoQ

"Japan's security strategy makes the case for a carefully nurtured "love of country" to replace what conservatives, including Abe, have called the "historical masochism" of the postwar years. Beijing and Seoul have also voiced concern over Abe's plans to revise the constitution to allow Japanese troops to play a more active role overseas, including exercising the right to collective self-defence, and coming to the aid of an ally under attack. "Many people worry inside Japan and outside that maybe Abe hasn't really learned the lesson from the wartime history of Japan and that there's a danger that a greater role played by Japan actually means the rise of militarism in the long term," said Koichi Nakano, professor of international politics at Sophia University in Tokyo." (Guardian) EoQ

"Japan adopts new security strategy to counter assertive China" (Mainichi shimbun) Security concerns about China's activities in the region have stayed at the forefront under Abe, who is trying to redefine Japan's defense posture and revise the U.S.-drafted pacifist Constitution. The government is expected to make a decision possibly next year on whether to lift its self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense, or defending an ally under armed attack. The strategy cites as regional challenges China's assertive activities in the East and South China Seas, and warns that Beijing has been making claims that are "incompatible with international law" and could lead to a confrontation." EoQ

In responding to the ADIZ, the U.S. needs to consider carefully its position on China as a rising power…. Analysts have examined China’s motives, seeking to determine whether the ADIZ is defensive, meant to protect China’s sovereignty and security; offensive, meant to prepare for a land grab;  a reaction meant to indicate displeasure with Japan’s recent threat to shoot down unmanned aircraft in Japanese airspace; or meant to test U.S. resolve now that it has come to be viewed as having allowed other nations to cross one red line after another. (The Diplomat) EoQ

What will be China's answer? Will the Chinese send troops on the disputed territories?

To summarise Abe's defense new line, a US inspired policy, I like the comment made by AERA commentator Shunji TAOKA san who said last night on Japanese television: "It is an illusion (crazy dream) to set a containment net of China." Taoka san well known writer of Asahi Shimbun who specialises in military affair.

It is true that things are not that simple. And while Tokyo announced this 5% increase of military spending, John Kerry launched a diplomatic missile from Vietnam towards China, probably to push Beijing to avoid a tough answer to Abe’s plan, Kerry has especially warned Beijing against any attempt to extend China’s ADIZ. "This area should not be implemented, and China should refrain from taking unilateral measures similar elsewhere, particularly in the South China Sea."

[China declared on November 22nd an Air Defense Identification Zone. The ADIZ is an airspace over land or water in which the identification, location, and control of civil aircraft is required and here covers a large part of the East China Sea which straddles the Japanese archipelago and especially includes the islets of the Senkaku Diaoyu.]

Watching China, Korea and Japan for years, I noticed how this policy of tension follows a step by step regular rhythm. In spite of economical development, nations here have not shown any political maturity to build a comprehensive community with trust and reciprocal respect but remained dependent on policies established by what some call a Chinese fossilised political system or by guidelines (Japan, ROK) decided elsewhere (in Washington) under the guarantee that all is built on a serious land of respect of democracy and sovereignty... Cold war is over but a tenacious flavour persists and a demonised DPRK adds to the picture of an impression of "Deja Vu," then allows potential belligerents to formulate their battle plan to the displeasure of many hundreds of millions of Asians who aspire to more benevolent foreign policies. Have they elected (when they can) the correct representatives?

Indeed, after benefiting from the US protection since WWII, Japan's recent military buildup and its defiance of the post-war order strike "a discordant note at a time when the world is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Cairo Declaration, writes Zhang Junshe in China Daily. For a glimpse into Abe's militarist streak, he says, one just has to recall a scene from earlier this year when he [Abe] put on military uniform and posed inside a training jet numbered 731, a reminder of the notorious Unit 731 that undertook lethal human experimentation before and during World War II.  This is shocking, more so because Japan's gaffe-prone Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso has said that Japan could learn from Nazi Germany to revise its pacifist constitution on another occasion. Such militarist rhetoric and posture should set the alarm bells ringing in the region and beyond. And Japan's national security strategy, although seemingly targeted at China, should be viewed by one and all as a threat to world peace." EoQ.

Cooperation, competition, or simply say a boost to defence industry where nationalists of both nations, China and Japan, are played like chess pieces by higher hands. Today, Tokyo believes that the danger comes primarily from China and from a nuclear North Korea, and thus the number of the Japanese three armies should be redeployed to the south seas, with a projection force on remote Japanese islands. "These new guidelines clearly emphasise the priority chosen to defend the islands in the East China Sea. And they demonstrate Japan's determination if China’s bluff was to turn into a real military action," commented Hideshi Takesada of the Takushoku University of Tokyo.

Of course we remember the history of conflicts in Asia that were staged because of need of territory expansion due to history disagreements, claims about empires, national defense and trade conflicts. We have in North East Asia the ingredients of a serious conflict with the Diaoyu-Senkaku and Takeshima Dokdo between Japan and China and Korea, and other territorial conflicts set with Vietnam and the Philippines. But after all, these territorial disagreements might just be seen as a case of the tail wagging the dog. The bigger picture is in the implementation of a regional policy, and Japan already started a very significant institutional dialogue with Asean favoured by a huge economical aid policy to Asean. Talking about strategical partnership this is one. But here again Japan and China choose to confront instead of joining hands. No regional vision shared by major players. Is it here Abe's fault seen by some of his "patriots" as too close to Americans?" Time will tell.

Talking with a friend, a veteran western businessman born in Japan in the 30's, his comments about the current path of events remind him a lot of what happened in his youth. "I see the Japanese changing more and more nowadays, they abandon their pacifism and look more like the ones I have seen during war time here. It's worrying somehow."

In fact, it's all rhetorical. At yesterday briefing, the Japanese Defense ministry officials requested that their name be withdrawn and that no pictures of vdo of their presentation be used by journalists! This is the new Defense ministry policy. Fear to be recognised, irresponsibility? This bureaucratic imposition describes better that ever that Japanese defense system is not yet ready for a regional power play nor transparency. No bluff here!

On the arms race here is what I wrote October 21, 2010 in "Hysterical Arms Race in East Asia"

and report for RTL France "With the Japanese navy, in the Pacific Ocean on board destroyer JS Yudachi DD 103"

Report with the Japan Ground Self Defense Forces