Company: Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association
Annual budget: ¥14.6bn (€117m)
Maintaining Tokyo’s public parks is about more than just mowing grass, pruning trees and planting flowers: there are ancient Japanese gardens to shape and preserve. “Our centuries-old gardens are valuable cultural assets,” says Katsuhiko Sano, executive director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association. “One of our oldest pine trees was planted in the mid-17th century.”
The association was formed in 1954 to run refreshment stands and souvenir kiosks in several of the Japanese capital’s green spaces. Today it’s a sprawling semi-public organisation that manages and maintains 64 parks and gardens, eight cemeteries and a crematorium, as well as harbour and river ferry services. Sano leads a team of specialists who design parks, heal trees and keep a close eye on the city’s biodiversity. There are history experts who know all there is to know about feudal-era falconry and duck-hunting, sales staff who develop new sweets for concession stands and educators putting young gardeners through rigorous technical programmes. They stage disaster drills too.
“We do more than 100 drills a year with police, firefighters, military troops and community leaders,” says Sano. “Parks would become base camps for disaster-relief efforts if a major earthquake were to hit Tokyo.” Sano has instilled the importance of hospitality in his senior managers and relies on the knowledge of trusted advisers such as Hiromu Ouchi, an association veteran who previously held senior posts. “I can ask him anything and he usually has the answer,” says Sano. His top priority now is expanding services for visitors from abroad, who accounted for more than 10 per cent of the 3.1 million visitors to Tokyo’s nine gardens last year.
“We expect more visitors as the 2020 Olympic Games approaches,” says Sano. “Most Japanese don’t speak a second language but we need to be ready with multilingual staff and pamphlets.”
As a career bureaucrat for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Sano had a hand in mapping out the city’s new roads. Since taking the helm of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Park Association in 2016 he has poured resources into planning for the 2020 Olympic Games, preparing for a major disaster and raising awareness of Tokyo’s green spaces. “I visit the parks and gardens a lot,” he says. “I can’t make key decisions without knowing what is happening on the front lines.”