Photo/IllutrationFormer Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara attends a meeting of the special research committee of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly as a sworn witness on March 20. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

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Former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara on March 20 accepted responsibility for approving land for a new wholesale market but blamed subordinates and the current governor for the fiasco over toxins uncovered at the site.

Ishihara defended himself as a sworn witness at a meeting of a special research committee set up by the Tokyo metropolitan assembly to discuss issues related to the stalled relocation of the Tsukiji fish market to the new site in the Toyosu district.

He often responded, “I did not hear about it (from my subordinates)” and “I have no memory (of that).”

Ishihara was governor when the Tokyo metropolitan government in March 2011 concluded an agreement to buy the Toyosu land from Tokyo Gas Co., which had operated a plant on the site.

He said he entrusted the initial negotiations with Tokyo Gas to Takeo Hamauzu, who was a vice governor from 2000 to 2005.

“I did not receive reports (from Hamauzu about the negotiations). I was not in a position to ask him for details of the talks. I did not have the knowledge to do so, either,” Ishihara said.

The former governor was also asked why the metropolitan government in 2011 did not require Tokyo Gas to shoulder any additional financial burden for measures to clean up the contaminated land.

Ishihara said he only learned about that last year.

“I do not recall receiving reports (from my subordinates about that),” he said.

Regarding the decades-old Tsukiji fish market, Ishihara said, “It is the most unsuitable place to handle fresh food for the people of Tokyo.” He cited the possibility of asbestos used in the facilities spreading in all directions.

When he was governor, Ishihara said he would achieve a safety level at Toyosu that was higher than standards designated by laws.

When asked about his pledge on March 20, he said: “I made it very strict. The hurdle may have been too high.”

But he emphasized that the Toyosu site was still safe to use.

“Using today’s technologies, you can percolate (the contaminated groundwater), pump it out and discard it in the sea. The groundwater will not be used in the market,” he said.

Ishihara also criticized current Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who has postponed the market relocation that was originally scheduled for November last year.

“I cannot understand why she does not approve the relocation,” he said. “She is bearing responsibility for the failure to act.”