Horse-Racing Crazy Master of the Togo Shrine and the Troubled Tower

A non-profit religious organization shook hands with questionable property developer to erect 115m high building. Residents are to plea for injunctive order.

May 20, 2016

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There are well-known “troublesome properties” in Tokyo that yakuzas and right wing thugs involved to join the sweet cuts, but the one in Jingu-mae, is very well-known for its notoriety, because Togo Shrine is involved, where Heihachiro Togo the admiral of Meiji Japan who defeated the Baltic Fleet of Tsarist Russia has been enshrined.

The venue is a top-notch site, close to the JR Harajuku Station, next to the intersection of Meiji-dori and Takeshita-dori, encompassing the former Palais France Building site and a part of the Togo Shrine. One tower commercial complex, 115 meter high, 23 stories with 3 basement floors is proposed to be built. The construction plan started 14 years ago.

The plan was promoted by Teruo Matsuhashi, then master of the shrine, now turned honorary master since 2007. He has been known for his own notoriety, as he once suggested to co-enshrine A-class war criminals like Hideki Tojo, who were sentenced guilty at the International Military Tribunal. The advisor who encouraged this notorious master and led the way to kick restart the plan was Tamio Ohama, the vice president of “Riviera Corporation” (now changed name to Riviera). He is father of Fumitaro Ohama, president of “Fashion Walker”, sponsoring the “Tokyo Girls Collection”.

“Notification of Construction Plan” is shown at the proposed construction site, next to the entrance to the front gateway of the shrine. Scheduled completion is written as August 31, 2017, but puzzlingly, planned construction start at November 15, 2001. Planned construction start is more or less the date of construction approval was given from the authority. In short, this construction was approved 12 years ago, but had not been started until last year. A “pork-barreled property”, the property industry calls this kind of site.

Violating Shibuya- Ward Scenery Program?

The reason of construction halt was lawsuits among related parties. The site started construction only in last year, but residents near the site are aiming at a lawsuit to stop the construction. They claim Shibuya ward’s “Shibuya Ward Scenery Program”, which is to restrict outstanding high buildings, and seeking an injunctive order from the court. Also, they pinpoint a compliance problem of the special purpose company called “Harajuku Town Special Purpose Company”, who is the owner of the proposed building site. We need to focus what happened in 14 years ago.

Per tsubo land price of the site near the Togo Shrine reaches 30 million yen, so it is natural that someone plans a property business. Any religious organization receiving special tax exemption must not conduct profit seeking business. But, the shrine proposed a redevelopment program encompassing the Pallais France Building site and a part of the shrine, with Tamio Ohama, well-known wheeler-dealer of the property industry, so the story became a hot topic.

In fact, the removal of tenants and the demolition of the former Pallais France Building attracted many yakuzas such as a Yamaguchi-gumi related one, or front company of Inagawa-kai, and in 2007, one right wing thug threatened the Togo Shrine, and he was arrested.

How come such a distinguished shrine, where Nobuhiko Higashikuni, former royal family and the first grandson of the Showa Emperor, sitting as the honorary chairman of “Togo-kai”, the supporting advisory group, started such an entangled property development? The key to answer the question lies with Ohama of Riviera, the partner of the master Matsuhashi. His ability first known in the property industry was when he was general manager of site planning at the Sumiomo Realty. At that time, Ohama was competing to acquire a site at Toranomon with Fujishima Kosan (a related company of Kawasaki Teitoku, a property concern known with Itoman incident), but he was arrested by Tokyo Metropolitan Police with fraudulent loan. Noboru Watanabe, the president owner of Marukin Corporation, the precursor of Riviera picked him up. He was close to Shin Kanemaru, former Vice Chairman of Liberal Democratic Party, with Yamanashi prefecture as the same home town, and he even looked after Kanemaru’s mistress.

Horse-Crazy Master Zeroed in on

The site of Pallais France was cleaned up by Ohama, and he zeroed in on at Matsuhashi, who loved horse racing. Ohama, other than as a property businessman in Riviera, has another hat with horse racing industry under Japan Racing Association (“JRA”), by acquiring and owning Taiki Farm, a well-known pasture produced reputable horse like “Taiki Shuttle”.

In 2009, Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau taxed Riviera for 2 billion yen omission, and eventually forfeited 900 million. In that case, consulting fee Riviera received from the City Of Yokohama who was trying to open an off-site boat betting booth was deemed as bribes to local landowners. Likewise, Ohama was assisting JRA to open an off-track betting booth at Atami. It seems Ohama, fully utilizing the network in horse racing, mesmerized Matsuhashi. Among Tokyo’s horse owners, Matsuhashi was well-known as “horse-loving master of Togo Shrine”.

As his friendship with Matsuhashi established, Ohama sold the site of Pallais France and a part of shrine to “daVinci Advisors (later changed name to daVinci)” in trust method. The construction entity, was “Harajuku Town SPC”, which was de-facto controlled by Ohama, and got an approval of construction from Tokyo Metropolis in 2004.

However, as daVinci announced the value of the project as 75 billion yen as opposed to the originally estimated 40 billion yen, Matsuhashi got greedy, and asked daVinci for further cut, quoting a slight negligence. As Matsuhashi tried to grab the leadership, a lawsuit emerged. Claimants were daVinci side, two companies including one “SPC Rimrick”. Defendants were three entities, including Togo Shrine and Harajuku Town. This quagmire in legal battle wasted time, and at last, settlement was made in June 2012.

It is indeed very hard to justify this sort of property development as a suitable business of non-profitable religious entity. A foreign-owned company now controlling the SPC said: “We have no tie with Riviera, and as we bought a package, we know nothing on the relationship with the shrine”. Taisei Construction, who manages the construction, claims “the contract is deemed appropriate”, even though it abstains from commenting on the details of each project, and mentions as it has “no problem in light of compliance code”.
We are curious how the late Heihachiro Togo, the naval hero, reckons this “troubled tower” at Takeshita-guchi.