To demolish or design: Japan split on 2020 stadium

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In this Sunday, May 25, 2014 photo, flame is lit on the Olympic cauldron before a rugby match between Japan and Hong Kong at National Stadium which was used as the main stadium in the 1964 Olympics, in Tokyo. As Tokyo prepares to demolish the half-century old stadium that hosted the first Olympics in Asia, debate is raging over whether the colossal, futuristic replacement planned for the 2020 Games will help revitalize or indelibly mar Japan’s famous capital. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

In this Sunday, May 25, 2014 photo, flame is lit on the Olympic cauldron before a rugby match between Japan and Hong Kong at National Stadium which was used as the main stadium in the 1964 Olympics, in Tokyo. As Tokyo prepares to demolish the half-century old stadium that hosted the first Olympics in Asia, debate is raging over whether the colossal, futuristic replacement planned for the 2020 Games will help revitalize or indelibly mar Japan’s famous capital. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

This Sunday, May 25, 2014 photo, shows the Olympic cauldron before a rugby match between Japan and Hong Kong during an event at National Stadium which was used as the main stadium in the 1964 Olympics, in Tokyo. Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. As Tokyo prepares to demolish the half-century old stadium that hosted the first Olympics in Asia, debate is raging over whether the colossal, futuristic replacement planned for the 2020 Games will help revitalize or indelibly mar Japan’s famous capital. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

In this Sunday, May 25, 2014 photo, volunteers form the words “Tokyo 2020″ to promote the 2020 Olympic Games which will be hosted in Tokyo during an event at National Stadium which was used as the main stadium in the 1964 Olympics. As Tokyo prepares to demolish the half-century old stadium that hosted the first Olympics in Asia, debate is raging over whether the colossal, futuristic replacement planned for the 2020 Games will help revitalize or indelibly mar Japan’s famous capital. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

In this Sunday, May 25, 2014 photo, fans cheer to support their team before a rugby match between Japan and Hong Kong at National Stadium which was used as the main stadium in the 1964 Olympics. Tokyo, the frenetic center of a mega-metropolitan area of 35 million people, is planning an ambitious reboot on a par with its last big reincarnation, for the Olympics in 1964. Those games were the catalyst for a far-reaching makeover of Tokyo and marked Japan’s reemergence as an Asian power following its defeat in World War II. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

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TOKYO (AP) — As Tokyo prepares to demolish the half-century old stadium that hosted the first Olympics in Asia, debate is raging over whether the colossal, futuristic replacement planned for the 2020 Games will help revitalize or indelibly mar Japan’s famous capital.

Tokyo, the frenetic center of a mega-metropolitan area of 36 million people, is planning an ambitious reboot on a par with its last big reincarnation, for the Olympics in 1964. Those games were the catalyst for a far-reaching makeover of Tokyo and marked Japan’s reemergence as an Asian power following its defeat in World War II.

Today, Japan faces altered circumstances. Its population is aging and shrinking. The economy, overtaken in size by China, has stagnated for two decades. National debt has reached epic proportions.

The Olympics building spree could be a welcome boon for the economy. But there are doubts over the costs and scale of some of the proposed projects, especially an 80,000-seat stadium designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid that was the centerpiece of Tokyo’s 2020 bid. Detractors of the new stadium, a whopping 70 meters (230 feet) tall, say it clashes with Tokyo’s urban planning and represents a “bigger is better” mentality that doesn’t fit Japan’s 21st century limitations.

Even Tokyo’s governor, Yoichi Masuzoe, who is among the biggest boosters of the Olympics, has seemed noncommittal. The plan requires cooperation between the Japan Sports Council, an arm of the central government that owns the existing stadium, the Tokyo government which owns the land the bigger stadium will occupy and Tokyo Olympics organizers.

Prominent architects and other opponents are petitioning the government to upgrade the existing stadium. Built in 1958, it hosted an Olympics remembered as the first to be televised internationally by satellite, but now is showing its age.

An online poll by the Nikkei financial newspaper found more than 60 percent opposed to building the new stadium. The self-selecting survey might overstate opposition.

Apart from cost, critics are unhappy with Hadid’s signature sweeping curves design, which many say resembles a bicycle helmet, and the stadium’s size. It will have about four times the floor space of the current stadium and dominate the surrounding area of parks and other sports facilities.

“This is not just about the stadium but about Japan’s entire culture,” said Shinichi Nakazawa, an anthropologist and popular social commentator. “We have a responsibility for the legacy we leave behind.”

The sports council has already scaled back the original proposal to spend 300 billion yen ($3 billion) on a 75-meter-tall stadium to a still hefty 169 billion yen ($1.7 billion). Hakubun Shimomura, a cabinet minister, deemed the first plan “too massive.”

That step back, however, is not giving hope to the retrofitting campaign, which admits its efforts might already be quixotic.

The sports council has scheduled demolition to begin in July. Even before the final “sayonara” concerts last week, workers were leveling parking spaces for construction equipment and had removed boulders and other landscaping from the fringes of the park next to the stadium. Ichiro Kono, a top official at the council, has insisted the basic design plan “will not change.”

“We don’t have much time,” said Nakazawa. “This is a very bad situation. We are right at the limit.”

Nakazawa, scores of other architects and critics of Hadid’s design say upgrading the national stadium to increase its capacity from 54,000

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