Universal Studios Japan cancels planned Okinawa theme park

Universal Studios Japan cancels planned Okinawa theme park

USJ CEO Bonnier (left) announcing the cancellation of a plan to build a USJ theme park in Okinawa on the evening of May 11 at a hotel in Naha

May 12, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

On May 11, Osaka-based USJ Co., Ltd., operator of Universal Studios Japan (USJ) theme parks, officially announced to the Okinawa prefectural government and the Japanese national government that it will cancel a potential plan building a new theme park in Okinawa. As part of a series of changes that occurred after USJ Co., Ltd.’s parent company changed in November of last year, it has decided to cancel plans to build a new theme park and instead concentrate investment of operational resources into its existing Osaka theme park.

USJ Co., Ltd. CEO Jean Louis Bonnier met with prime ministerial aide Hiroto Izumi on the morning of May 11 at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence to announce the cancellation. In the afternoon, he travelled to Okinawa to make the same announcement to Vice Goernor Mitsuo Ageda. Governor Takeshi Onaga, who is currently visiting the United States, spoke to the press on the morning of May 11 (May 11 evening Japan time). “Okinawa’s business community was divided on whether or not to support the plan. USJ analyzed the views of the Okinawan people in making its decision,” Onaga said. “I would have been glad to host the theme park if it meshed with Okinawa’s soft power, but it was unclear whether that would indeed be the case.”

In July of last year, then-USJ Co., Ltd. CEO Glen Gumpel met with Governor Onaga at the Prefectural Office and asked for Onaga’s support in building a USJ theme park in the northern part of Okinawa Island. He expressed that the park could begin operations as early as 2020. A representative from USJ Co., Ltd.’s marketing division told the press that after coming under new management, the company conducted a review of all of its current and planned operations, including the plan for a park in Okinawa. “We had anticipated sufficient benefits in terms of growth from [our plan in] Okinawa, but decided that at present we will not build any new theme parks. We have received support from the Okinawa prefectural government and have nothing but thanks for everyone in Okinawa,” the representative said.

Vice Governor Ageda and USJ Co., Ltd. CEO Bonnier avoided the Prefectural Office, where the press had gathered, and met at Naha’s Loisir Hotel instead. After the meeting, Vice Governor Ageda responded to questions from the press at the Prefectural Office. “We believed that [the construction of a USJ theme park] would contribute greatly to tourist increases and regional promotion, raising Okinawa tourism’s brand power. It is a great disappointment,” Ageda told the press. When asked whether the prefectural government will continue to petition for a USJ theme park to be built in the prefecture, he responded that he intends to consult with the governor and other stakeholders in making a decision.

The Japanese national government has been actively involved in endorsing the planned USJ theme park as part of its Okinawa promotion policy, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying that the government would to do everything in its means to support the plan. At a press conference on May 11, Suga stated, “As a private company, [USJ Co., Ltd. made] the management decision to cancel the planned Okinawa theme park. It is truly disappointing.”

Plan cancelled one year after becoming public, following suspension of negotiations
Talk of building a USJ theme park in Okinawa became public in July 2014. At the time, the plan under consideration involved developing an integrated resort (IR), featuring casinos among its entertainment features, within Nago’s Neopark Okinawa.

In September 2014, immediately after the news of a potential USJ park in Okinawa became public, then-Governor Hirokazu Nakaima met privately with USJ Co., Ltd. executives to discuss potential challenges that the plan might face. In March 2015, it was revealed that stakeholders were considering building the USJ theme park in the vicinity of the government-run Ocean Expo Park in Motobu. Soon, a plan to build a USJ theme park within the Ocean Expo Park was moving forward rapidly with involvement on the part of the Prime Minister’s Office. At the end of May 2015, prime ministerial aide Hiroto Izumi conducted an observation visit to the Ocean Expo Park together with USJ Co., Ltd. executive officer Morioka.

In July 2015, then-USJ Co., Ltd. CEO Glen Gumpel visited the Okinawa Prefectural Office to meet with Governor Takeshi Onaga and request his support in moving forward with the USJ theme park construction plan. However, in November 2015 USJ Co., Ltd. was acquired by a new American parent company, which began conducting a review of USJ Co., Ltd.’s business operations and plans, effectively shelving discussions with the Okinawa prefectural government and the Prime Minister’s Office.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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