TOKYO -- Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has indicated that the troubled relocation of the landmark Tsukiji wholesale market will move forward, restarting progress on the capital's biggest political issue in advance of metropolitan assembly elections next month.
Koike has directed officials in the metropolitan government to prepare to move the public market to a new site in the capital's Toyosu district, multiple sources close to the matter said Monday. She has also told officials to consider ways of making use of the original site to capitalize on Tsukiji's fame.
The governor is expected to reveal her decision on the relocation before campaigning for the July 2 elections official begins June 23.
The new Toyosu facility's enclosed structure should help make it more hygienic than the old open-air market, but higher running costs at the new site are expected to drag operations into the red. Koike seeks ways to ensure medium- to long-term profitability, such as leasing the original site rather than selling it off. She will also seek to start work on the segment of a ring road set to pass through Tsukiji, which would be a major route for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Soil contamination problems have dogged the Toyosu site. An expert panel on that problem compiled Sunday a list of additional safety measures -- including laying down special sheeting in the space underneath the building -- that could cost from 4 billion yen to 9.5 billion yen ($36.4 million to $86.5 million) and take between eight and 22 months to complete. Koike appears to see additional precautions as a way to reassure the public on the new site's safety.
Separately, a task force appointed by Koike will present a report Tuesday on the possibility of rebuilding the Tsukiji market in its original location. Such a project probably would cost from 87.8 billion yen to 138.8 billion yen, and take around seven to 15 years. An attempt in the past to undertake construction while keeping the market open for business stalled. Several sources close to the governor said Monday that there was no longer a standalone option for rebuilding rather than relocating the market.
Koike announced in August that she was postponing the move to Toyosu, citing unfinished environmental assessments at the new site. Further problems later came to light, including that a proposed added layer of soil to trap ground contamination was never laid under part of the facilities. The revelations shed light on the sloppy policy-making process behind the relocation. But the delay has drawn criticism for its own consequences, such as growing business compensation costs.
The relocation stands as major issue for voters going into the metropolitan assembly elections. A Nikkei public opinion poll in late May found that 50% of respondents favored relocating the market to Toyosu, while 37% opposed the move. A proposal to move the market but retain the original site, as Koike is said to be considering, may be meant to appeal to voters on both sides of the issue.
The Komeito political party, which will cooperate with Koike's Tomin First no Kai party in the elections, supports the Toyosu move and is asking Koike to make a decision soon. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, which has clashed with Koike, also insists on the move and has sought to paint the governor as wishy-washy for the postponement.