The Defense Agency will begin a 12-day moving operation today from its headquarters in the Roppongi area of Tokyo’s Minato Ward to its new Ichigaya complex in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

The move will transplant some 7,000 Defense Agency staff and likely be one of the largest relocation projects ever carried out by government ministries and agencies.

If a stack were made of the papers that need to be moved, not including classified documents that will be dealt with separately, it would reach a height of 47 km, according to agency officials.

Contracting 8,600 work shifts and 2,300 trucks from a private firm, the bulk of the work will be done around the clock throughout the Golden Week holiday period and is scheduled to be completed May 7, said Defense Councilor Tetsuya Nishikawa.

Agency officials said the moving alone will cost about 600 million yen, including 236 million yen to cover payment to the moving company and waste disposal expenses.

Aside from the relocation, realignment of agency facilities in and around Tokyo, including construction of the new Ichigaya headquarters, has cost 481.9 billion yen, to be financed through a special state account for transactions concerning government real estate. The government plans to sell the agency’s site in Roppongi in order to cover the costs.

“At the time (when the relocation plan was made in the 1980s), we expected the sale price to exceed the relocation cost,” said Susumu Kawauchi of the Finance Ministry’s Kanto Finance Bureau.

However, construction at the new site dragged on as the value of the land at the old site dropped. This is likely to make it difficult to balance the accounts.

According to lists of benchmark land prices set by the National Land Agency, the average price per square meter of commercial land in Tokyo’s Minato Ward was 16.5 million yen in 1987 when the relocation project was approved. But the price dropped to 2.7 million yen last year.

As of early this year, the benchmark price of residential land behind the Defense Agency’s Roppongi site was 1.27 million yen per sq. meter, while that of commercial land near the agency, but not facing a major road, was 1.22 million yen. A tract of land on a corner of the Roppongi intersection was listed at 4.3 million yen per sq. meter — the highest price in the vicinity.

Even putting the average price of land at the Roppongi site at 3 million yen, the revenue from the sale of the entire agency plot would not reach half of the total relocation cost.

“Unlike the times of the asset-inflated bubble economy, I don’t think the market price will drastically exceed the listed benchmark prices,” said real estate appraiser Kazuhiko Miyanohara, based in the Roppongi area.

Although the agency’s large tract of land can be a positive factor in raising property value, a special provision likely to be included in the Roppongi site purchase deal to use some of the land to benefit the public could be a negative factor, he said.

The Finance Ministry plans to sell the land by the end of next year, said Kawauchi, adding that the ministry cannot predict any sales figure before a prospective tendering party surfaces.

As reasons for the relocation, Defense Agency officials cite traffic and security problems raised by commercialization in the Roppongi area, the absence of a heliport, and decrepit and cramped buildings which the agency claims are incapable of coping with new technologies.

Defense analyst Haruo Fujii, however, said the plan was made at the behest of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who was keen on defense matters, and the late Shin Kanemaru, a vice prime minister and prominent figure known for his strong influence over the construction business.

At the time the plan was approved in 1987, awareness of the Cold War was very high and Japan’s land prices were soaring. “They must have thought the plan would serve two ends,” said Fujii. Those ends being a profit from the property sale and moving the agency’s headquarters to a better location.

Fujii is critical of the new facilities from a strategic defense point of view because the agency’s new 19-story building houses core units of the ground, maritime and air forces, as well as the joint staff council. He describes such a concentration of important command centers in one place in this age of missiles as “foolish.”

Meanwhile, business owners in the Roppongi area are concerned about what will happen to their profits after the Defense Agency, whose staff of 7,000 were good customers, moves out.

The redevelopment of the area is under way in accordance with an urban program, which will be eventually approved by a council to the Tokyo governor. According to basic guidelines drafted by the Finance Ministry, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Shinjuku Ward Municipal Government, 2 hectares of the 7.8 hectares of land to the rear of the site will be made into a public open space along with a six-meter wide pedestrian walk.

The draft guidelines also include the development of residential complexes as well as business, commercial, and cultural activity.

The redevelopment of the area is a long way off. “No matter what may come, we need something that can help us make money,” said a Roppongi restaurant operator.