Turn back to the past, face the future: Kōtō-ku and the development of the coastal area


Out of the 14 Tōkyō 2020 Bay Zone Venues, 10 are located in Kōtō Ward:                                                                                              Ariake Arena, Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Ariake Urban Sports Park, Ariake Tennis Park, Sea Forest Cross-Country Course, Sea Forest Waterway, Yumenoshima Park Archery Field, Tōkyō Aquatics Centre, Tatsumi Water Polo Centre and Aomi Urban Sports Park. Whilst 12 disciplines will be carried out in the above 10 venues during the Olympic Games, 7 of them will host 8 disciplines at the Paralympics. 

江東区 (Kōtō-ku) is one of Tōkyō Metropolis’ 23 special wards, founded on March 15, 1947 by the fusion of Fukagawa and Jōtō.  江東区, a composite of 江 (river / gulf), 東 (east) and 区 (ward) can be translated by “East River Ward”. Located in the capital’s south-east, Kōtō-ku is surrounded by Sumida River and Arakawa River. It comprises a traditional northern - and a relatively new and modern southern part in the coastal area. The ward counts 518’479 residents and its surface is around 40.16 km2. Its elevation is very low, attending 3-5 metres to below sea level in some areas. From Showa year 50 (1975) to Heisei 31 (2019), its population has raised from 350’437 inhabitants to 518’479 as of January each year; respectively from 346’841 to 518’479, as until July 9, 2012, non-Japanese residents were not included in the same calculations. Indeed, in February 2009, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced the revision of the Basic Resident Register Law and abolished the Alien Registration. As from entering into force, the new law prescribed that both, residents with Japanese and non-Japanese citizenship are to be recorded in one unified system.

The ward’s demographic evolution correlates not only with Tōkyō’s global tendency, but also with the ambition to extend the city to its waterfront. In the 1980s there were already attempts to develop the artificial islands in the bay, though the result was rather inefficient, leading to the under-utilisation of facilities and emptiness of urban space. 

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are seen as an opportunity to animate street life through the implementation of facilities and the organisation of various event-related activities.Thus, four of the Tōkyō 2020 sites in Kōtō-ku are New Permanent Venues: The Ariake Arena, with a seating capacity of 15’000 spectators, will after the Games’ Volleyball and Wheelchair Basketball competitions be used for hosting national and international sports tournaments as well as cultural events. The Tōkyō Aquatics Centre, in construction since 2017, will give seat to 15’000 people. It will subsequently hold major domestic and international water sports competitions. The Yumenoshima Park Archery Field, also called Dream Island Archery Field shall be used for a wide range of activities after the Games. The Sea Forest Waterway may welcome around 12’800 to 16’000 spectators at the Olympics and is meant to become one of the premier locations in Asia for water sports, hosting international rowing and canoe competitions. The four venues are under the responsibility of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG). Two of them, the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field and the Sea Forest Waterway have been delivered in spring 2019. The Ariake Arena has been completed in December 2019 and is being inaugurated today, February 2, 2020. The Tōkyō Aquatics Centre should be finished this month, with an official opening date scheduled in March 2020. 

Whereas two of the other six venues located in Kōtō-ku, Ariake Tennis Park and Tatsumi Water Polo Centre have been preexisting, the remaining four are so-called temporary venues that only serve during the Games. Nevertheless, the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, although being a temporary site, has a scheduled 10 years post-Games lifespan. Due to high expected maintenance costs, the venue shall following be reconverted into a multi-purpose arena. 

Various initiatives are undertaken in the run-up to the Games and so, the Kōtō Ward Olympic and Paralympic Games Preparation Plan and the Kōtō Ward Olympic and Paralympic Community Development Basic Plan have been established in cooperation with the TMG. Furthermore, the ward has launched an Olympic and Paralympic Education Promotion Project targeting municipal kindergartens, elementary schools and junior high schools; Cultural Basic Guidelines have been formulated and a Ward PR strategy has been developed. Events such as elementary school flag relays, sports festivals for disabled and art exhibitions have taken place and many more are scheduled for the upcoming months. The ambition to ban utility poles around venues and to reduce the number of “Traditional Japanese Toilets” (a form of squat toilet that is a big contrast to the nowadays internationally known hyper-modern Japanese toilets) has furthermore been pronounced. 

Alike other parts of the capital, one of Kōtō-ku’s main preoccupation is currently the influx of people and probable traffic congestion, added by concerns about summer heat and the difficulty to access the Bay Zone’s outlying venues. 

In order to handle an expected unusual high number of people, a Revised Special Measures Act has been passed in order to reschedule some national holidays in year 2020. Therefore, Marine Day has been moved from July 20 to July 23, the day before the Olympics opening ceremony, Health and Sports Day (former memorial day that was until year 2000 on October 10 – day of the Tōkyō 1964 opening ceremony) has been shifted from October to July 24, the day of the this years’ opening ceremony, and Mountain Day will be a day early, on August 10, the day after the Olympics closing ceremony. Together with the TMG, the Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee has formulated a Transportation Operation Plan that assigns routes and train stops in involved wards to people depending on roles and positions. 

In addition to the 80’000 Games and 30’000 City Volunteers, Kōtō-ku has launched a Ward Volunteer Programme on April 22, 2019 and counts currently about 1’000 registered individuals. These volunteers are to give directions at major stations, sightseeing spots, help with cleaning activities, assure safety and security and give operational support for tournament-related events. 

On July 22, the Olympic torch will arrive in Kōtō Ward, before moving to Ōta Ward and Shinagawa Ward, then being handled to Meguro Ward, Shibuya Ward and Minato Ward on July 23 and reach its final destination, Shinjuku Ward on July 24. On the occasion of the torch relay, various festivities are foreseen and school children will accompany the ceremony with concerts in situ. Except the day of the opening and the closing ceremony, the Olympic torch will not be figuring at the National Stadium, but will be placed in the Tōkyō Bay Zone, on the Olympic Promenade near the Tōkyō Big Sight. Amongst many decisions that are to be taken until this summer, counts the precise location of the torch that will depend on its (for the ward still uncertain) size and shape. Although it may be placed just next to Minato-ku, at the boarder of two wards, it is for sure that the flame will be burning on Kōtō-ku’s territory. 

This report, a rather brief introduction, shall be followed by several detailed chapters about changes and challenges that the ward progressively faces in future. 

Sketch: Kōtō-ku’s location within Tōkyō Metropolis

Sketch: Kōtō-ku’s location within Tōkyō Metropolis

Sketch: Olympic and Paralympic Venues in Kōtō-ku

Tōkyō Bay Area 1919, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 1947, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 1978, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 1999, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 2019, scan of copy, NDL

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