What to do with an obsolete airport

Itami Airport

The media is reporting that Osaka governor Toru Hashimoto is thinking of demolishing Itami Airport and building an international academic village on the property where everybody speaks English. People are already raising hell about this idea over at Debito’s blog. I think it’s a silly idea (as presented, anyway) and will never make it out of committee, but the issue of what to do with Itami is still pertinent, as Osaka really doesn’t need three airports.

What can you do with an airport you don’t need any more? Here are five possibly pertinent examples:

  1. Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
    Kai Tak has many parallels to Itami. It was mostly built by the Japanese military (during their wartime occupation of Hong Kong), and it occupied a prime central location in huge city that grew increasingly dense over the years. As a result of the latter, the airport was cramped, overcrowded and hair-raisingly difficult to get into: aircraft landing in one direction had to approach the runway at a right angle, then make a hairpin turn just above the ground to touch down (video). Kai Tak was replaced by a somewhat Kansai-like airport, the current Hong Kong International Airport, in 1998, and was promptly closed. Since then, the site has been more or less empty despite constantly-shifting plans to build hotels, cruise piers and a giant stadium there.
  2. Stapleton Airport, Denver
    In its heyday, Stapleton was one of the busiest airports in the world, serving as a cross-country hub for Continental Airlines and United Airlines. Like Itami, though, it was in the middle of a mostly residential area, which limited its growth potential and caused friction with residents over noise. In the early 90s, the federal government threw millions of dollars into an enormous new airport on the outskirts of the city, Denver International Airport, which is now the second-largest airport in the world. Stapleton was then closed down, and the site converted into a “new town” of 30,000 people.
    (Aside: I visited Denver last November, and the airport strikes me as totally ridiculous–you pass the sign that says “WELCOME TO DIA,” and the next sign says “TERMINALS – 15 MILES.” The largest airport in the world is in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and is larger than the entire country of Bahrain.)
  3. Hoover Field, Washington
    Hoover Field was the first airport in the capital of the United States, back in the earliest days of commercial aviation. It was built across the river from the city in Arlington, Virginia on the other side of the 14th Street Bridge. The site was incredibly cramped, though–most notably, there was a road running through the middle of the main runway, requiring railway crossing gates to be lowered whenever a plane took off or landed. The field was shut down around the start of World War II, when National Airport opened nearby, and the site was then used to build the Pentagon.
  4. Meigs Field, Chicago
    Meigs was a small airport on an artificial peninsula right on the lakefront of Chicago–essentially a miniature 1930’s version of Kansai Airport. It was most famous in its heyday for being the default starting location in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Mayor Richard Daley started campaigning in the early 90’s to convert the site into a giant park, and after a decade of bureaucratic stalling by Congress and the FAA, he took matters in his own hands and ordered the runway bulldozed into uselessness overnight. The site is now a lakefront park and was briefly being sold as a potential venue for the 2016 Olympics.
  5. Old Kitakyushu Airport, Kitakyushu
    This is probably the closest parallel in Japan to a potential Itami closing scenario. The old Kitakyushu Airport was a relatively small facility, with one runway and a handful of daily flights to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, using relatively small YS-11 prop planes, later replaced by faster but still small MD-80 jets. The airport was clearly a bit of joke even in the mid-70s, and so the local government commissioned a new, larger offshore airport nearby, which opened in 2006 (and, surprisingly enough, is still not all that popular). The site was initially envisioned as a new urban project, but there were no takers; economics finally came out victorious, and the site is now zoned for industrial use, housing a hospital and a couple of industrial production sites.

There is one fate which Osaka undoubtedly wants to avoid–the fate of Montreal. Montreal spent something like a billion dollars to build and expand a giant airport on the outskirts, Mirabel Airport, which would have been the largest in the world were it ever completed. Just like Osaka, Montreal projected that their old downtown airport, Dorval, would quickly become too small for demand, and they tried to lock international carriers into the more distant Mirabel in order to artificially boost its popularity despite stagnating overall demand. The result was that Montreal lost relevance as an air hub, since nobody wanted to connect between the airports, and the city was getting less internationally relevant anyway. Montreal eventually gave up on Mirabel and moved everything back to Dorval in the nineties, leaving their gleaming new airport as a gleaming white elephant plied only by a few cargo planes.

So what could Osaka do with Itami Airport’s site? As a former Itami resident (I had a host family there back during my first stay in Japan), I have some ideas of my own.

First of all, it would be great as a replacement for the rail freight yard in Umeda, which is a pretty wasteful use of downtown space. ITM is right next to a JR trunk line and could be connected fairly easily — it also isn’t far from the Sanyo Shinkansen, which could theoretically be used for some freight traffic in the future once everything goes maglev. Then the downtown space occupied by the current yard could be fully converted into residential or commercial buildings. (UR has actually already started this process on one side of the yard.) This would also fit in fairly well with the light industrial character of the immediately surrounding real estate.

If you want to get a bit more fantastic, how about a space elevator? Or perhaps a new central government location for some of those Tokyo-bound bureaucrats? (I already proposed a similar fate for KIX in comments to this post.) Perhaps the Defense Ministry could move out there and give up its nice space in Ichigaya, though I’m sure the more lefty locals wouldn’t like that plan.

Raelians in unexpected places

You may remember I posted a few months ago about the highly curious billboard by Nagoya’s central train station sponsored by the alien/free-love Raelian movement. They do pop up in odd places. I was looking through Wired magazine’s gallery of photos from Japan’s “Adult Treasure Expo” and noticed this somewhat curious photograph, accompanied by rather more curious text.

Clitoraid is an non-profit organization set up by the Raelian Movement to help women around the world who have suffered genital mutilation. The Raelians promote an “adopt a clitoris” campaign and claim to facilitate surgical clitoris reconstruction. The woman on the right of the photo is wearing a clitoris costume.

Genital mutilation doesn’t seem to be a big issue in Japan, and the Realians’ adoption of the issue is a mystery. There are several serious nonprofits around the world trying to stop genital mutilation. The Raelians are best known for claiming to have cloned the first human baby, without offering proof.

If you look at Clitoraid’s web site, you can find the following text:

 Following the announcement made by Dr Foldes, OBGYN in France, stating that women and children of all ages who have suffered the atrocities of clitoral excision, or female genital mutilation the equivalent of male castration in its barbarity, now have the possibility to regain sexual pleasure and be whole once again, thanks to medical advances and scientific progress. Rael, the spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement decided to help as many women as possible to regain their sense of pleasure and founded Clitoraid, a private non-profit organization with the aim to sponsor those women who want to have their clitoris rebuilt.

Considering the huge number of Burkinabe women who are candidates to be operated on and as Clitoraid received offer from a few doctors to travel to Bobo Dioulasso and help rebuild the clitoris of all the circumcised women, the Prophet Rael declared: “Instead of using Clitoraid’s collected money to operate on just a few women, we should create the first Raelian Hospital, the “Pleasure Hospital”, and operate on all African women, for free, with the help of Raelian or non-Raelian benevolent doctor”.

While offering medical aid to victims of genital mutilation is certainly a laudable goal, I am slightly disturbed that the motivation is because their space alien-inspired prophet told them to. Then again, how is this really different from any other religion?

The sneaky aliens

In 1922, a government permanent secretary was quoted in The Times of London calling grays “sneaking, thieving, fascinating little alien villains.”

UFO loveIn fact, the above quote refers to gray squirrels, in this rather amusing NYT Magazine story. But what it made me think of was the following sign, which is located near the central Nagoya train station, and which I saw out the shinkansen window as I passed by. I did not take this photo, and I believe the sign I saw had fancier graphics (the below photo is from August, 2004 and I saw the sign in May of 2007) but the text is the same:


In UFOs, there is love

As the URL, www.rael.org, confirms, this sign is the work of the Raelians, a bizarre cult based around UFO worship, founded by a French automobile journalist named Claude Vorilhon in 1975, and best known for their unconfirmed claim to have successfully clones a human being. They, like the more famous science fiction inspired religious group of Scientoloy, are classified as a cult in France (and other countries), and have been particularly singled out in South Korea, a country which is particularly sensitive to cloning related controversy following the Hwang Woo-suk fiasco.

While this massive billboard in central Nagoya indicates their presence in Japan and the Japanese Wikipedia article on them claims that of the 60,000 worldwide members they have scattered throughout 90 countries, Japan has the largest number, I have never heard anything else about their activities in Japan.

Based on this photo, they do seem to be active in South Korea though.

Unintended benefits

Joe’s post on the history of East/West flight routes led me to read the Wikipedia article on Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which was shot down by the USSR for entering Soviet airspace without authorization. The article then linked to this US State Department history of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which you may remember was built by the United States military, which contained the following fascinating bit of info.

In 1983, Soviet jet interceptors shot down a Korean Air civilian airliner carrying 269 passengers that had mistakenly entered Soviet airspace.

Because crew access to better navigational tools might have prevented the disaster, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive guaranteeing that GPS signals would be available at no charge to the world when the system became operational. The commercial market has grown steadily ever since.

So in short, if KAL007 had not accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace (their registered flight plan took them within 17 miles of the boundary) the US government might never have opened up the GPS network to unrestricted civilian use, and might even have restricted its use to military/government use, or perhaps only to large corporate customers in the private sector, or used the little-known GPS encryption capabilities (which are built into the network, and only supposed to be invoked for military reasons.) While GPS probably would have made its way into commercial aircraft like KAL007, it is unlikely that the unfettered, unencrypted, subscription-free access that allows us to our automobile navigators and GPS-equipped cell phones and digital cameras would have been granted. I’m not saying that every one of us who enjoys consumer GPS should be thanking the Soviet military for their Sept 1, 1983 massacre of civilians, but this is a good example of how so much progress is based on unexpected and unplanned connections.

Link clearage time

As often happens, I have a pile of interesting pieces that I meant to save, which have just been sitting in my open tabs, so time for a brief roundup.

  • Howard French of the New York Times has an article on how Tibetans protest Chinese commodification and colonization of their culture through nonviolent protest, such as lack of participation in PRC-sponsored festivals that are claimed by the Chinese MC to be “[their] very own Khampa Festiva,” and observance of the exiled Dalai Lama’s recent ban on the wearing of endangered animal skins.
  • Asahi reports that an announcer on North Korean state television may actually be a Japanese citizen abducted in 1988. I am unclear from the article whether he is announcing in that amusingly over the top militaristic enunciation that DPRK television announcers seem to be trained in.
  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has rescheduled the launch of their Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) for September 13, 10:35 JST, the largest Lunar exploration mission since Apollo. Although it is unfortunately not a manned mission, having three satellites in orbit around the moon bodes well for the future, as far as I’m concerned.
  • A recent survey (admittedly sponsored by Taiwanese interests) shows that Taiwanese are “model immigrants” to the USA. This follows on the heals of Taiwan’s entry to the shortlist of countries being considered for 2008 expansion of the USA visa waiver program based on such factors, determined by US government studies, extremely low rates of visa rejection and visa overstaying, which may bolster chances for Taiwanese (ROC) citizens to gain visa-free temporary entry into the US, much as they were recently given visa-free entry rights to Japan in September of 2005. 
  • In related news, Japan is expected to amend their traffic regulations to accept Taiwanese drivers licenses as valid in Japan, starting on September 19. This will add Taiwan to the short list of countries whose licenses are considered valid in Japan-a list which notably does NOT include the United States.
  • The NYT had a very interesting article (unfortunately it’s already entered the subscriber-only sections, so most readers may not have access) on July 31 on the past and future of language in East Timor. The gist of it is that Portuguese, formerly the official language of the country when it was a Portuguese colony but which was later banned by Indonesia after they annexed it in 1975, is now once more the official language of courts, schools and government. Although Tetum, the most common language, and Indonesian, the language of their larger neighbor which was also official in East Timor during the period of Indonesian rule, are both vastly more widely recognized than Portuguese, but Tetum is considered unsuitable for government business and modern education due to a lack of a sophisticated technical vocabulary, and Indonesian likewise considered unsuitable due to the general resentment of decolonization. Portuguese, despite itself being a former colonial language, is apparently fondly regarded by the older generation, and has also left a serious impact on the vocabulary of native languages, and presumably also left behind a large body of legal texts and other literature dating back to the period of Portuguese rule.

    I find this an interesting case for comparison with Taiwan, where the Japanese language forced upon the Taiwanese population during their 50-year span of colonization by Japan was also looked back with some degree of sentimentality-along with Japanese rule itself-following the island’s  subsequent “colonization” by the Chinese Nationalist government of the Republic of China. Although Japanese has never become an official language of ROC/Taiwan and has also never regained widespread usage, based on this article it does seem to occupy a psychic space similar to that of Portuguese in East Timor.

  • Very cool article, also originally from the NYT, but reposted on the Taipei Times website (thankfully avoiding the NYT’s lame archival process) on the prevalence of foreign languages and translation in the New York City public school system. Here’s the meat of the article:

    Forty-two percent of the parents of children in the school system, the country’s largest, are not native English speakers, and communicating with them about their children’s education is an immense challenge.

    That is especially the case at a time when the system is offering ever-increasing school choices, but is also requiring students to go through a complex admissions process for high school and certain programs.

    So, prodded by advocates for immigrants, schools chancellor Joel Klein created a unit three years ago to translate a never-ending flow of school documents, like news releases, report cards and parent surveys, into the eight languages most commonly spoken in New York, after English: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Bengali, Arabic, Urdu, Korean and Haitian Creole.

    It has since expanded to an office with 40 employees and a US$4.5 million budget, and is the largest of its kind in any school system in the US, said Kleber Palma, the unit’s director. In one respect, the office even surpasses the translation division at UN headquarters, which translates most documents into only five official languages other than English: Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

  • ESWN brings us more news on Harry Potter in China. University and Secondary Students Were The Main Forces in Citizen Translations of Harry Potter Book 7.
  • The NYT has also posted publisher’s summaries and a few brief excerpts of eight fake Harry Potter sequels published in China. They do have Harry Potter and the Big Funnel (better known as Harry Potter and The Filler of Big), but seem to have missed Harry Potter and Beaker and Burn. Amusingly, just before this was published I was contacted by a prominent American monthly magazine (who shall remain nameless), asking me for assistance in obtaining copies of the same Harry Potter books for a similar translation feature. I put in about three hours of effort before the NYT published this feature, and the magazine canceled their plans. But don’t worry, they’re still paying me for my time, and even sent me some entirely unrelated Japan-related research work.