Battleground Japan: crows, N. Korea and corporate rents

TV Tokyo’s weekly financial documentary series, “The Dawn of Gaia,” moves from Sunday to Tuesday this week with a special program about “The 2003 Problem” (May 20, 10 p.m.).

Recently, a number of large commercial property projects have been or will be completed in Tokyo, including the new Marunouchi Building near Tokyo Station, the huge Roppongi Hills complex and the Shiodome project near Shinbashi. These buildings were planned many years ago, at a time when it was believed that Tokyo would need more office space. By the end of this year, the amount of commercial floor area in Tokyo, both owned and rented, will be twice as much as what it was during the bubble period.

The projected need for more offices was based on an idea called the “third phase shift,” which foresaw many companies moving their operations to Tokyo. However, during the ongoing recession, the expected information technology boom has not materialized, and many foreign companies have actually moved out. In addition, there has been a great deal of consolidation among financial institutions.

The result has been a significant drop in demand for office space, resulting in higher vacancy rates and a concurrent drop in rental fees (currently at about 55 percent of the peak, 1991 rate). The special program focuses on owners of commercial buildings who must now compete with these shiny new office complexes for a dwindling pool of potential tenants.

In Nihonbashi there is one owner who is opposed to the current trend of “scrap and build.” He has organized an association of owners of older, smaller buildings who are trying to come up ways to satisfy tenants. The program will also look at a 30-year-old, five-story office building in Nishi Shinbashi that is offering a unique rental plan that does not charge a security deposit, key money or maintenance fees.

During the latter half of the 20th century, the people of Japan lived under the impression that the country would never again suffer the horrors of war. Recent events in the world, however, especially with regard to North Korea, have once more raised the possibility of war, with the consequence being that the government is about to pass a series of security bills — originally drafted during the Cold War — detailing provisions should Japan be invaded.

This week, TV Asahi’s all-purpose variety show, “Suisupe” (Wed., 7 p.m.) will actually ponder the unthinkable: war on Japanese soil. Based on the assertion that “X-Day [i.e., the day of invasion] is closer than you think,” the program will explain just what will happen when “Japan becomes a battleground.”

The latest high-tech weaponry will be described in detail, as well as the latest in battle gear and light armor. Military budgets throughout the world will be compared, and the invasion of Iraq will be cited as an example of what happens during an attack. Japanese mercenaries will be profiled and, of course, the threats posed by terrorism and by North Korea will be an important topic.

For people who would like to think that cooler heads might prevail, the same night at 9:15 p.m., NHK-G will present a profile of Takao Saito, who on Feb. 2, 1940, gave a speech in the Diet that criticized the country’s handling of its incursions into China. In his speech, which will be played during the program, Saito complained about the government’s curtailment of freedom of speech, as well as the military’s control over the public functions of the government. In the background can be heard shouts of protest from other members of the Diet, but Saito continued to rail against the direction the country was taking. Needless to say, his political career was effectively over — as was the notion of parliamentary politics in Japan.

A battle that is already raging is the one between Tokyo residents and the estimated 100,000 crows who also live in the metropolis. Though many ideas for controlling the birds have been proposed over the years, nothing has worked, and the crow population grows, bringing with it more mess, more noise and more attacks on people, especially at this time of year, when crows are raising their chicks.

This Thursday, on NHK’s problem-solving show “Gokinjo no Sokojikara” (Neighborhood Power; NHK-G, 9:15 p.m.), average people get together and brainstorm solutions to the crow problem. As part of their discussions, they look at how a town in Nagano Prefecture solved its own crow crisis. The birds became so numerous and clever that normal crow-proof netting could not prevent them from getting at garbage. The town came up with a new type of net, as well as a method of fighting the birds that used their own strength against them.