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Will Japan build a backup Tokyo?

Issei Kato / Reuters

Onlookers get a panoramic view of the city of Tokyo from the first observatory deck during a media preview of the Tokyo Sky Tree tower this week. Some Japanese lawmakers have proposed constructing a "backup city" that could take on the capital's functions in the event of a catastrophe.

It sounds like a story ripped from the parody-filled pages of The Onion, but some Japanese lawmakers really do want to build a "backup city" that would take over the functions of Tokyo, including tourism, in the event of a catastrophe.

The idea was floated last month at a Tokyo luncheon, with a follow-up in The Telegraph last week. "The idea of being able to have a backup, a spare battery for the functions of the nation ... isn't this really a good idea?" Hajime Ishii, a parliamentarian representing the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, was quoted as saying.


Support for creating an urban Plan B has grown in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March and led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis. "Preparations are already under way at various levels to find ways of mitigating possible far-reaching consequences of a much-expected earthquake striking Tokyo," the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan said.

The lawmakers' plan calls for building an urban center known as IRTBBC (Integrated Resort, Tourism, Business and Backup City) or NEMIC (National Emergency Management International City) on the 1,236-acre site currently occupied by Osaka International Airport at Itami. Today, Itami is used only as a secondary hub for domestic flights, operating in the shadow of the newer Kansai airport.

The new city would take on all the functions of the capital city in the event of an emergency. It would boast office complexes, resort facilities, parks and even casinos. The city's centerpiece would be a tower that would rank among the tallest in the world, coming in at just over 650 meters (2,133 feet). It'd be built to house 50,000 residents and accommodate a workday population of around 200,000 people from the Osaka region, The Telegraph reported.

If the plan goes forward, it would rank among history's most ambitious backup plans. The backers haven't calculated the cost of building the city. For now, Ishii and his fellow lawmakers — including the Democratic Party's Banri Kaieda, Shizuka Kamei of the People's New Party and Ichiro Aisawa of the Liberal Democrats — are merely seeking 14 million yen ($180,000) for a feasibility study.

So far, the reaction has been mixed: Osaka's governor, Toru Hashimoto, has been quoted as saying that his region is willing to accept the capital backup role, while Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has voiced opposition. And he may not be the only one: It just seems to me that most emergency-management officials, if not most politicians, would prefer to fortify what they have rather than building a whole new complex someplace else. Of course, I could be wrong about that.

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