Land of the Rising Mickey
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Part 4 - Party Time
When we left off, Takahashi Masatomo had just prevented Fujio for selling O-sankaku (the submerged sand bank that would become Tokyo Disneyland) from under Oriental Land Company's nose.
But the fishermen were outraged. A group of their leaders burst unannounced into OLC president Kawasaki Chiharu's office and demanded the title be transferred back to Fujio.
They'd latched onto Fujio's talk of "the largest amusement park in Japan" and they didn't trust OLC's assurance that they would bring Disneyland to Urayasu. Perhaps it was with good reason... After Kawasaki's fruitless January 1961 visit to Walt Disney Productions, the park was still nothing more than a dream, and the real estate men involved were hungry to sell off the land a tiny piece at a time.
Kawasaki was stunned by the fisherman's sudden appearance, so stunned he was prepared to give up. Takahashi recalled his reaction -
"He (Kawasaki) said ' It's ok. We've done enough. Change the title back to Fujio'." But Takahashi successfully argued that he could still win the fishermen over... but first he had to keep them out of jail.
The Fujio bribery investigation was widening. Only one of leaders of the fishermen's cooperative associations - Okajima - had been arrested. Word circulated that more association leaders were going to face charges. That meant just one thing to OLC - no negotiations. They would stall for at least as long as the leaders were incarcerated.
Takahashi to the rescue again - He and OLC's lead attorney used a combination of well placed friends and legal maneuvering to encourage that charges against the fishermen not be pursued. They weren't.
It was certainly one way to start making friends with the fishermen... Finally, in June of 1961, Takahashi was in a position begin negotiating with them.
The roughly 1700 fishermen and their families were poor. Their livelihood had been destroyed by Honshu Paper. They knew they had to move on, and they knew the best way to do that was to create new land and encourage development on it. But the project would more than quadruple the size of their village... Should they trust OLC to be the ones to make such a massive change?
The fishermen and their families were genuinely excited about an amusement park. They were attracted by both the potential revenue and the idea of putting Urayasu on the map for a reason other than pollution.
But, of course, the other big question was money. Even if Takahashi could win their trust, the fishermen were due compensation for the transfer of their fishing rights. Takahashi's mission after winning their trust would be to will their support and even their friendship. With those things, he might be able to prevent OLC from being completely taken to the cleaners.
Takahashi began to frequent Urayasu's many dining bars, where the fishermen could always be found. He had a though road ahead of him... Japanese culture dictates there be complete consensus. There couldn't be a single dissenter among the fishermen of the many groups. To complicate things even more, the smaller groups were not allied with a single fishermen's cooperative association. There were two groups, and they were historically at odds with each other.
Takahashi's best course of action was to talk to the individual leaders of the smaller groups, convince them to trust him, and have them build consensus among the various group members. But first he had to figure out who many of the leaders were -
"In the beginning it was very difficult to find the boss of a group. I couldn't tell who they were for a while. I talked to many people and found out little by little", said Takahashi.
Recalling the sort of things he would say to the leaders, Takahashi said, "Tokyo Bay is dirty now, you can't live with fishery anymore. Just trust me. I will make a good Disneyland. Please cooperate with me. Persuade them."
The fishermen were an intimidating crowd, known for their hard drinking and short tempers. They'd lived hard lives and been through a lot. But Takahashi (also famous for holding his liquor) could speak their language.
"Then I got close to them. I was lucky. They understood me well and said, 'I understand, I will help you.' After that, it was easy."
Takahashi-san was being modest.
Kawasaki had this to say - "Takahashi is very good at talking to people and persuading them. Before he joined the company, we had talked to the fishermen. It didn't work though. But when Takahashi talked to them, it went very well. He is sociable, open-minded, and a big guy. He naturally makes friends with people like the angry fishermen. It's a great ability. Because of this negotiation he spent a lot of his own money too, but it was worth it."