Photo/Illutration Some of the trees in the Meiji Jingu Gaien district that stand in front of the National Stadium. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

More than 400 trees in the Meiji Jingu Gaien complex might be spared the ax under a redevelopment project that includes the construction of two high-rises, after the plan drew an objection from a UNESCO entity.

The Tokyo metropolitan government on Aug. 16 approved an environmental assessment report submitted by the developers.

The report included a new plan to reduce the number of trees to be felled in the district from 971 to 556.

When the initial plan was submitted, the Japan ICOMOS National Committee, an advisory body of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, called for an urgent overhaul of the project that would have felled about 70 percent of the trees in one of the few areas with greenery in the capital.

After the initial plan was made public, members of the metropolitan government’s environmental assessment council asked the developers to present an explanation for the number of trees to be cut down.

That was an unusual move that delayed the schedule of deliberations by the council.

The redevelopment plan includes tearing down in a phased manner Meiji Jingu Stadium and Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium and switching their current locations.

The development project is being led by the real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan Co. and includes other entities.

Developers explained that of the 415 trees no longer scheduled to get the ax, 311 were initially counted as those to be felled even though the trees will not be directly affected by the construction project. 

Those trees were thought likely to die off naturally over time. But under the new plan, the trees will remain in place or be transplanted elsewhere.

Of the remaining 104 trees, 85 were scheduled to be cut down because it was believed difficult to sufficiently preserve the root areas.

But upon closer inspection, arborists concluded that those trees could be transplanted as well.

As for 19 gingko trees to the east of the rugby stadium originally scheduled to be cut down, further consideration will be given to transplanting those trees after a more detailed study.

If the environmental assessment process concludes as it now stands, construction work would begin. Mitsui Fudosan officials said they were eyeing starting sometime in 2023.

The developers also said further study would be conducted on the famed gingko tree-lined avenue that stretches from Aoyama-dori Street to the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, which has often been used as a backdrop in movies.

Those trees are not scheduled to be cut down, but council members asked for an explanation about what would happen to the trees.

The developers said if a further study leads to possible negative effects to the healthy development of the trees from the reconstruction of the baseball stadium, other measures would be considered and implemented.

The Asahi Shimbun