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Land of the Rising Mickey
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by Marc Borrelli (archives)
June 4, 2001
In this latest installment of Land of the Rising Mickey, Marc Borrelli again delves deep into the history of Tokyo Disneyland with part one of the sobering and inebriated story of Urayasu's fishermen and why it was all important that Oriental Land Company win their cooperation.

The Fishermen

For thousands of years, the exceptionally clear, blue, and shallow water off the coast of what is now called Urayasu City (the location of the Tokyo Disney Resort) was inhabited by a wide variety of fish, crustaceans, and sea vegetation. For hundreds of years, the people of the fishing villages that eventually joined to become Urayasu City lived an existence based on that fertile part of Tokyo Bay.

Then, in 1958, the clear blue water of Urayasu turned black.

Everything changed for the fishermen... and their response changed Japan.

A company named Honshu Paper had opened a paper mill on the Edogawa River. The Edogawa River empties into Tokyo Bay. Waste from the mill lingered and settled in the relatively calm shallow water at Urayasu. It's effects were drastic and rapid. It quickly wiped out the majority of the area's ecosystem. The extent of the pollution was so great that it turned the water at Urayasu a murky black.

The fishermen desperately appealed to Honshu Paper, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (the prefecture in which the factory was located), and the National Diet. At first it seemed that Honshu Paper was going to cooperate with them, but in reality they had no intention of doing anything about their toxic outflow.

In response to petitions by the fishermen, The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Diet ordered Honshu Paper to cease operation of its Edogawa plant. There was still a small part of the Urayasu habitat that had yet to be destroyed. The order was ignored.

It had been only thirteen years since the end of World War 2 and only six years since Japan had regained its autonomy. The Diet and Tokyo Metropolitan Government were weak and so completely pro-business that Honshu Paper was safe in ignoring them. But Honshu Paper and the government didn't anticipate the fishermen...

They organized a group of 800 men, traveled to Tokyo, and demonstrated outside the National Diet and Tokyo Metropolitan Building. After loudly making their point they picked up copies of the government documents ordering Honshu Paper to cease operation and continued on to Honshu Paper's factory in Tokyo. It wasn't the plant that had polluted their fishing grounds, but it would do.

Upon their arrival the group's leaders attempted to present the government orders to company officials, but were not allowed into the building. Not content to simply stand outside, the 800 fishermen forcibly marched into the building and occupied it. In response to Honshu Paper's call, a large force of riot gear equipped police arrived at the scene. The decision was made to forcibly remove the fishermen from the building. What resulted was a violent clash which lead to 105 injuries and the arrest of eight fishermen.

The destruction of the environment at Urayasu had received little attention in the national media, but the violent clash at Honshu Paper's Tokyo factory received extensive coverage throughout the country.

When the reason for the fisherman's protest became widely known, public opinion fell solidly in their favor. The Diet was sent scrambling. They were inundated by angry citizens who wanted to know how they could let such an injustice occur.

The incident exposed the extent of the Diet's weakness and its unbridled kowtowing to industry to the detriment of the citizens' health. The wave of public outrage pushed the Diet to very quickly ratify the (what translates to) "Law for the Preservation of Water Quality in Public Water Areas". It was the first water quality control legislation in Japanese history.

Unfortunately, it was too late for Urayasu. But, after witnessing the change which the Urayasu fishermen where able to bring about, other citizens' movements emerged to challenge the government on its environmental policy. Opposition political parties, the courts, and local and prefectural governments soon followed suit.

To this day Japan's environmental movement doesn't consist of the large organizations that are such entrenched political forces in the U.S. and Europe. Japan's is rooted in smaller regional groups, groups that can look to the fishermen of Urayasu as one of the earliest and most influential pioneers in the creation of the country's grass roots based environmental movement.

• • •

1961 - only three years after the Honshu Paper factory incident - enter Oriental Land Company. They had to convince these fishermen who had been through so much that it was a good idea to let OLC take the area that had once been their fertile fishing ground, then a shallow sand bank know as Dai-sankaku, and bury it under millions of tons of dirt.

That unenviable job would ultimately fall into the unsuspecting lap of "The Father of Tokyo Disneyland" - Takahashi Masatomo, but not before someone I'll call "The Crazy Uncle of Tokyo Disneyland" gave it a shot first. His name was Fujio.

"Fujio was a jerk"
- Takahashi Masatomo

Read why Fujio was a jerk and why Takahashi's sake fueled negotiations with the fishermen are the first reason (of many) why he deserves his "Father of Tokyo Disneyland" title, when the story continues on Monday, June 11th.

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-- Marc Borrelli

Marc Borrelli has been visiting Disneyland in California for over thirty years and has had the opportunity to observe many of the Park's onstage and backstage workings. He is an entrepreneur who alternates between working obsessively and having way too much time on his hands. In the past few years he's spent much of that time exploring his hobby of trying to figure out just what it is that makes the people who design, build, operate, and go to Disney theme parks tick. He is now living in Tokyo, Japan and has turned his attention to the Tokyo Disney Resort and the unique culture in which it exists. He also created and maintains his Tokyo DisneySea Preview website.

Land of the Rising Mickey is normally posted on the first Monday of each month.

The opinions expressed by Marc Borrelli, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.

© Marc Borrelli and LaughingPlace.com. All rights reserved

-- Posted June 4, 2001.