J-Village's all-weather training field to be revamped into multipurpose facility to attract more visitors

5 June 2019

The Fukushima prefectural government plans to refurbish an all-weather practice field of the J-Village national soccer training center to turn it into a multipurpose facility within the current 2019 fiscal year for use as a venue for music concerts and other events that are expected to attract large numbers of visitors, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said June 4 at a regular press conference. It will remove restrictions imposed by relevant laws and regulations on the use of the field for purposes other than sports by introducing extra equipment necessary for non-sport events.

Given the recent opening of a new railway station that has improved access to J-Village, straddling the towns of Naraha and Hirono, and the attention the training center has gathered as the venue for starting nationwide torch relays for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Fukushima government is seeking to improve the facility's ability to attract visitors through the planned diversification of its usage and thus boost spillover effects on adjacent areas. It will become possible for a remodeled all-weather field to host an event with an audience of up to 4,000 people.

Uchibori said an appropriation of 160 million yen will be included for design and revamping work in a supplementary general account budget for fiscal 2019 ending next March, to be submitted to a June prefectural assembly session. Under the plan, the status of the all-weather ground as specified according to the Building Standards Act will be changed from "a training field for sports" to "an assembly hall." It will be fitted with equipment required by the law and the Fire Service Act such as an emergency generator, lighting and broadcasting equipment.

In view of the torch relay start about 10 months ahead on March 26 next year and the full restoration of the disaster-ravaged JR Joban Line scheduled around the same time, the local government intends to embark on field design soon after the supplementary budget is passed in order to complete refurbishing work by the end of fiscal 2019. The expenses are to be covered by a national government subsidy.

The all-weather practice field went into operation in September last year as J-Village’s new core facility combining a new hotel, which opened earlier in July last year. The new field, housed in a steel-frame structure, has a total floor space of some 10,000 square meters. It can serve as a soccer or rugby pitch. Equipped with a membrane roof about 25 meters high, the ground can be used irrespective of weather. It was characterized as a practice field for sports under a post-disaster reconstruction and redevelopment plan mapped out in 2015 by the prefectural government and other parties concerned. Its use for large guest-attracting events was not initially expected.

The number of visitors to J-Village from July 2018, when it was partially reopened, to the end of March this year totaled about 210,000, short of the pace needed to attain an annual target of 600,000. In April this year, when J-Village was resumed on a full scale, visitors totaled 57,000.

The Fukushima government believes it will benefit from such tailwinds as the opening of the Joban Line's "J-Village Station," the nearest railway stop only 2 minutes' walk to the entrance to J-Village facilities, and its choice as the torch relay starting point. It also anticipates increased use by promoters of entertainment events. These factors have prompted the local government to remodel the all-weather field. Another incentive was a record single-day turnout of some 20,000 visitors who gathered on the day of J-Village's full resumption in April when commemorative events such as a music concert were held.

"We would like to see the all-weather field used for various events so that many people will gather in J-Village," Uchibori told the news conference.

J-Village opened in July 1997 as Japan's first national training center for soccer. It was suspended following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Most facilities were resumed in July 2018 before fully reopening on April 20 this year.

(Translated by Kyodo News)