Watchdog demands outside assessment of Universal Studios site

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

OSAKA — Plans for the Universal Studios Japan theme park, set to open in Osaka’s Nanko district in 2001, are going forward despite calls for an independent environmental assessment of the site.

Earlier this week, Mihariban, a local watchdog group, submitted a letter to city officials calling for an outside environmental assessment of the 54-hectare site, including the 7.2-hectare area owned by Sumitomo Metal Industries, where 700,000 tons of industrial waste was buried.

The group’s demands follow a USJ report earlier this month that concluded there would be no harmful environmental effects to the theme park. That report was based upon tests carried out by the city of Osaka, which in cooperation with Sumitomo, has a 25 percent stake in the USJ project.

But Nao Watano, the former waste disposal worker who said he buried toxic waste under orders from Sumitomo, criticized the report as false and inaccurate, prompting members of Mihariban to draft their latest letter. “Watano’s statements about where he buried the waste were very detailed and contained maps and photographs. This information was given to city officials. But it was not mentioned in the environmental assessment,” said Yoneko Matsuura, a representative of Mihariban. “USJ is being financed partially with taxpayer money and will be used by the public. A neutral assessment is necessary to restore public trust in the environmental safety of the park,” she said.

While concern about the environmental problems are growing, plans for the theme park are moving forward rapidly. Over the next several months, more than 100 Americans from Universal Studios are expected to arrive in Osaka to begin preparations for construction, scheduled to get under way this fall.

Preparations are also being made locally to win contracts for a variety of hardware and software projects connected to the park. Nomura Research Institute’s Kansai branch recently drafted a proposal to build the park’s information system.

Although USJ officials say prices have not yet been officially set, the Nomura proposal assumes an entrance fee of 4,200 yen, which includes access to the park and all attractions. Other assumptions include each person spending 1,800 yen for food and beverages, and 3,000 yen for souvenirs. Based on these numbers, the proposal estimates revenue from admission fees, combined with expenditures on concessions, merchandise, and miscellaneous goods will generate 80.8 billion yen the first year.