Japanese three-time world champion figure skater Mao Asada's dream of opening an ice rink will become a reality next fall, with the achievement both spreading her love of the sport and raising the city's profile in the Tokyo suburbs.
The "Mao Rink" complex scheduled to be constructed in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, features an exhibition centered on the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and is backed by a real estate company with historical ties to the area it hopes to revitalize through the project.
Asada, 32, who retired from competition in 2017 and now skates professionally in ice shows, has been developing the concept for the rink since her days on the competitive circuit.
"This is the place I want people to enjoy skating and grow into future competitive figure skaters who, one day, can win medals on the world stage," Asada said in March when announcing the project while standing at the planned construction site.
The project began taking shape two years ago when Asada pitched the idea directly to Masamichi Murayama, the president of Tachihi Holdings Co., which has a long history of undertaking real estate projects in the area. She spoke passionately for around 20 minutes, detailing her vision for the ice rink while never once glancing down at her notes.
"My employees didn't even wait for my go-ahead to start drawing up plans" when the meeting was over, Murayama, 72, said.
Two skating rinks, a main and sub arena, will be built on a 9,000-square-meter site a short walk from Tachihi Station on the Tama Toshi Monorail Line. The complex will also include a training facility, ballet studio, restaurant geared towards athlete nutrition and an exhibition space for displaying Asada's medals and costumes.
With a seating capacity for a crowd of 1,000 people, the skating rink will also allow Asada to realize her wish of continuing to "provide entertainment" to the public as a professional skater. The exterior will incorporate gold, silver and bronze colors.
Tachihi Holdings has ties with Tachikawa going back nearly a century. Formerly known as Tachikawa Aircraft, a manufacturer of military aircraft before World War II, it owns approximately 980,000 square meters in the city's center, or 4 percent of the total area.
It made around 50 types of military aircraft, including the "Akatombo" trainers and the Imperial Japanese Army's "Hayabusa" fighter throughout World War II. After the war, it pivoted to other industries as it grew but remains intimately tied to the city.
The company, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, is providing the land and half of the several billion yen (hundreds of millions of dollars) in total building costs.
Asada approached the company after noticing its heavy involvement in promoting and developing sports in the city.
In the last decade, the company has conducted various real estate projects to redevelop the city, including building a sports arena and an artificial beach. It attracts professional sports teams and has facilitated the hosting of an international tennis tournament and regional sumo tours.
"Sports and music can only be enjoyed in the flesh," Murayama said, adding that the project to build the skating rink complex will "bring vitality" to the city.
According to the city of Tachikawa, its population has been growing annually, driven by the redevelopment of the area around Tachikawa Station and the enhancement of sports facilities.
"The ice rink named for Mao, who has been active the world over, will be a great promotion. We have high hopes it will lead to city-wide excitement," a city official said.
Besides Asada's star power, scarcity of ice rinks will attract skaters as only three year-round facilities exist in Tokyo now, down from nearly 10 in the early 1990s.
"This is a huge challenge in my post-retirement life," Asada said. "I want to skate in this rink even in my 60s, and make it a place bursting with smiling faces."