The Name Game

Recently, more and more sports and cultural facilities throughout Japan have been gotten into the high-cost game of naming rights deals.

The trend started about four years ago in response to dwindling finances at the local government level. At first, the "naming boom," as it’s called, only affected sports facilities, but recently concert halls have gotten into it.

Perhaps the most conspicuous is Shibuya Kokaido (Shibuya Public Hall), one of Tokyo’s oldest auditoriums, which two years ago underwent an expensive remodeling.

Shibuya Ward has been losing between 20 million and 30 million yen annually through the hall and last fall awarded the naming rights to Suntory Ltd., who renamed the venue C.C. Lemon Hall after a brand of soft drink the alcoholic beverage maker sells. Many residents openly objected, with one calling the new name "cheesy and stupid." Suntory has paid 400 million yen to keep the name there for five years.

The generically named Tokyo Stadium in the city of Chofu has renamed itself Ajinomoto Stadium, after the seasoning company that bought the rights from the local government. In Japan, Ajinomoto is another word for the ubiquitous flavor enhancer MSG. The Yokohama International Stadium is now called Nissan Stadium.

Smaller towns have gotten into the act as well. The Kagoshima Cultural Hall is now Houzan Hall (local liquor manufacturer); Sendai Stadium is now Yurtec Stadium (electrical engineering company); Soga Stadium is now Fukuda Denshi Stadium (medical equipment maker).

Perhaps the epitome of this trend is Kobe’s proposal to sell the names of bus stops on the routes of its municipal bus lines. Reportedly a local supermarket chain has offered the city several million yen to rename bus stops that happen to be in front of their stores.