It was an unusually warm November morning at Meiji Jingu Gaien in Tokyo’s Aoyama neighborhood as crowds began to gather. The row of meticulously manicured gingko trees was resplendent with golden leaves, drawing Tokyoites and foreign tourists in search of some seasonal snapshots.

However, the Instagrammable spot has become the symbol of a growing dispute over if and how the park should be redeveloped. Activists, bureaucrats and businesspeople have been drawn into a wider battle about how public parks should be managed and for whose benefit.

A pair of environmental activists were at Jingu Gaien on that morning in November, raising awareness about the large-scale redevelopment plan, which involves the removal of nearly 1,000 trees, and gathering signatures against it. They were targeting foreign visitors, now returning to Japan thanks to the lifting of pandemic restrictions.