Takaido Kumin Center and the "Tokyo Garbage War"

A civic center: I recently participated in a short orientation program of the "Takaido Kumin Center" (Takaido Area Civic Center of Suginami Ward) and got a permission to use its training room, and started to use it regularly. It is neither big nor well equipped with expensive machines. But, its fee - 100 yen per hour - is extremely cheap compared with ordinary commercial gyms. Though the usage of the room is limited to eight persons at a time, there are at most only four or five and I can use it as if it were my personal gym.

There are numerous kinds of activities organized by the Center. For example, my daughter was eager to go to its Bon festival together with her friends, when she was a child. Recently there was a special program organized by the Senior Group of the Center. Two members of the group opened a small stall in front of the entrance and sharpened kitchen knives, which were brought by neighbors. One knife costs 300 yen and I brought four knives. While the experts were skillfully sharpening knives with different types of grindstones, I watched carefully how they sharpened knives and asked many questions, so that I could improve my skill of sharpening knives.

All these programs are made possible by the efforts of the people in Takaido in the 70s and 80s. We can now see a 150m high chimney of Takaido Waste Incineration Plant just beside the Civic Center. The Center was in reality a part of the agreement between the residents and the Tokyo local government on the construction of this plant after some eight years of fierce confrontations and difficult negotiations.

Tokyo Garbage War: It was in the 1966 when the Tokyo metropolitan government suddenly announced the building of an incineration plant in Takaido. It was the time when Japan enjoyed its economic miracle and together with high economic growth. The volume of waste and garbage also increased rapidly, so that their disposal off the Tokyo Bay coast reached its limit. It was also the time when numerous environmental scandals occurred and violent student movements were parts of daily life. In the same year the decision was made to build Tokyo International Airport in Narita and the protests against the building started - and the issue has not been completely solved even by 2008.

Facing the one-sided decision of the Metropolitan Government, the residents in Takaido organized their protest. There were several reasons. Firstly, an incineration might cause severe pollution in the surrounding residential area. Second, the project site is just in front of Takaido railway station and there are many public facilities such as elementary school in the neighborhood. Third, there was an official decision by the Tokyo government in 1939 to build an incinerator in Nishida district, as far as Suginami Ward was concerned, and this old decision should keep its validity.

The inhabitants of Koto Ward, where the garbage from Suginami Ward was disposed, were also involved in the affairs and they criticized the "egoistic" attitude of the citizens in Suginami, in particular in Takaido. The whole process was called "Tokyo Garbage War" by Professor Ryokichi Minobe, the then Governor of Tokyo.

After 8 years of confrontations, both sides wanted to reach a compromise, and the construction of an incineration plant was agreed upon, but the most strict emission control was imposed. Also the participation of residents in the planning and operation of the plant was agreed and a civic center for the benefit of the residents - including "athletic club facilities" - was agreed.

It is amazing that the protest activities were organized and managed only by the representatives of residents - mostly farmers in the area - and the activists of student movements could not intervene in the case. If they had mixed into the issue, it would not have been able to solve the problem for many decades, as we see it in an example of Narita.

Naito families in Takaido: Nearly twenty years ago, I lived in the vicinity of this high chimney and my daughter used to go to Takaido Kindergarten. A room of the kindergarten once served as secretariat of the protesters' group, because the kindergarten was owned by Naito Shouemon the 14th, the largest land owner in Takaido and the head of many Naito families resident in the neighborhood. He was also the largest owner of the land where the incineration plant was to be constructed. During the negotiations Mr. Naito was the chief representative of the landowners' group and made tremendous efforts to coordinate the different opinions among the residents and to negotiate with the government.

It was his son, Shouemon 15th, who had to sell the kindergarten. A few years later, he also sold his own residence. Now, there is a huge condominium soaring from the ground of the former residence of the Naito family. I feel slightly sentimental, when I think about the long tradition of this area and its sudden end in the recent years.

A new plant?: The incinerator plant was put into operation only 25 years ago. Nevertheless, I hear that there are already considerations to demolish the present plant and replace it by a new one. I wonder why we need a new plant, though the present plant works well and completely meets the strict environmental requirements, though the technology used there is not the latest one. The classification of garbage has extremely developed in Suginami Ward and we do not use up the capacity of the plant now. The daily incineration amount is nowadays on average about 520t, which is well below the 600t capacity limit of the plant. We must think about the financial and environmental costs incurred by the demolition and construction. As our public financing is suffering from huge deficit, we need sufficient explanations and discussions, if we ought to build a new plant.


Training room of the Takaido Kumin Center

Permission for the training room

Takaido Kumin Center (front) and the chimny of Suginami Incineration Plant

Takaido Kumin Center and the bicycles of its users