The Summer Olympics are coming to Tokyo Japan in 2020 and preparations have been underway to welcome the thousands of people from all over the world who will be arriving in Tokyo. And although this will be the second time Tokyo has had the opportunity to host the Olympics (the first being in 1964), this time Japanese people are a little more anxious and divided about the event.
Tokyo, which is one of the most populated cities in the world, is already dealing with the construction projects for the Olympic events, but will also have to worry about the crowds of tourists that will arrive in the already congested city and the recent trend of record breaking hot summers that Japan has been experiencing.
On the other hand, having the Olympics come to your country is not only good for publicity and tourism for the host country but also a chance to make a name in the sports and world economic markets. With the rebuilding, upgrading of infrastructure and creation of many jobs, the Olympics can mean a rekindling of the Olympic flame but in addition an economic one as well.
Here are some of the issues about Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics and differing opinions that Japanese people in Tokyo have about being the host city.
Karube-san, 32, a Japanese highschool teacher living in Tokyo, has a variety of reasons why he is worried and excited about the Olympics coming to Tokyo. First, he is worried about the cost that taxpayers will be burdened with to hold the event.
The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (OCOG) estimated that the cost for holding the Olympics will be 12.6 billion dollars of which the OCOG as well as local sponsors will provide 5.6 billion. The remaining 7 billion dollars will be provided by the Japanese and the Metropolitan Tokyo governments, meaning taxpayers of Japan.
Although some of these costs will be offset by the profits that Japan and Japanese companies hope to earn from tourism, marketing, publicity, technology and job creation, he and other Japanese people fear that it still might leave Japan in the red. “I don’t know how much profit Tokyo will really make because the Olympics is only held for a few weeks and the costs have been adding up for years.”
This is not an unfounded fear as the Council on Foreign Relations reported that no summer Olympics has had a surplus since Los Angeles in 1984 and that most cities take years or even decades to climb back out of debt if at all.
Karube-san also mentioned he is worried that the money that does come in from the Olympics from foreigners will only come in to Tokyo. “I wonder if the only place in Japan that will benefit is Tokyo and the rest of Japan will suffer.”
However, having many people from all parts of the world come and experience Tokyo is a positive thing as well. He is excited about the boom in tourism and the fact that Japan will gain more recognition on the world stage.
“In the long run, hopefully Japan will gain respect and many people will continue to visit Japan and even do business in Japan after seeing the Olympics.”
Hirokage-san, 63, an office worker, on the other hand is much more optimistic about the benefits of having Tokyo hold the Olympics. “I think having the last Olympics [in Tokyo] was great because although my town of Fukuoka didn’t see much benefit, Japan had it’s Shinkansen created. IT was also further developed so I am interested in seeing what new developments come out of the next Olympics.”
In 1964, when the Tokyo Olympics were held, there were many technological advancements created for the games that made Japan a leader in transportation and technology. The 1964 Summer Olympics were the first Olympics to use satellites to broadcast the event around the world. Japan also became a leader in transportation when it started the operation of the famous Shinkansen bullet trains. And in order to watch the games, television sets and other appliances became major sellers in middle-class homes.
This time, the 2020 Olympics also hopes to return with another technological innovation theme. Coined the “2020 Robot Project”, Tokyo hopes to unveil a variety of robotics to enhance not merely the games but the lives of people. The creation of human support robots to assist with wheelchair users, power assist suits that can be worn to help with construction and heavy lifting for the staff involved in the Olympics and mascot shaped robots to be placed around the city will be used for welcoming, interacting and assisting visitors to Japan.
There will also be humanoid robots used to transmit images and sounds from an event that can be mirrored in other locations. Robots with 306 degree cameras to capture high definition imagery and project it virtually will also be used during sporting events. These robotic and technological advancements are being unveiled for the Olympics but much like the Shinkansen are hoped to be a permanent part of the city and infrastructure in Japan. The hope is that many of these technological innovations will then be used by people around the world in many aspects of society.
Asked if there is anything that troubles him about the event, Hirokage-san mentioned he won’t be visiting any of the Olympic events or travel in the areas where many events will be held. “I think there will be too many people and noise in the city so I will be happy watching the Olympics from my home on television.”
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo has a population of over 13 million people and more than 2 million people commute to Tokyo from surrounding areas every day. Tokyo is already the busiest and most metropolitan area in the world. And according to estimates from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, over 600,000 foreign tourists are expected to visit Tokyo for the Olympics. This addition to the regular commuting crowds will mean congestion will be at an all time high in the already packed trains and roads.
To deal with this problem of traffic and congestion, a new initiative called “Smooth Biz” has been implemented by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. It involves allowing many workers to telework, meaning they can work remotely from home. Also, adjusting hours and giving flex time so workers can commute in off-hours will reduce commuters on public transportation.
Allowing workers to take flexible vacation days off during the Olympic season has also been suggested. The move to reduce traffic on the roads and increase public transit use is also part of the “Smooth Biz” initiative. “My daughter, who works in an office in Shinjuku said she will be taking the time off during the Olympics to leave Japan and travel abroad,” added Hirokage-san. With the influx of tourists to the Tokyo area, many Japanese people feel it might be a good idea to travel outside of the Tokyo area or the country in general.
Atsumi-san,71, a retired lawyer, is a fan of the Olympics but feels it should have been hosted in another part of Japan or in a different country altogether. “I enjoyed talking to my classmates about the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 when I was a little girl. We didn’t have a television so we listened to it on the radio and it was really exciting. But, now Tokyo is too big, has too many people and I don’t think we can handle the Olympics now,” she said.
Much like many other Japanese people, Atsumi-san feels that the crowds and congestion are not ideal for hosting such an international event. “And in 1964, the Olympics were held in October but in 2020 they will be in August at the peak summer season. It really isn’t the greatest idea and I expect a lot of health issues” she added. The IOC and Tokyo Government were in talks about moving the marathon out of Tokyo because of the extreme weather conditions and finally agreed to hold the marathon in Sapporo.
Atsumi-san is also an activist who often attends protests, rallies and demonstrations relating to politics, culture or legal issues. One issue she closely follows is the rebuilding of parts of Japan that were affected by earthquakes or other disasters like Kumamoto and the Tohoku region. With people still suffering from the earthquake and tsunami, Atsumi-san feels spending money on the Olympics and building stadiums or housing for athletes rather than for helping the survivors rebuild is misappropriation of funds. “I also think that with all the construction and rebuilding of areas of Tokyo, a lot of the local people of that area might be inconvenienced or even displaced. Especially the homeless.”
Moreover, Atsumi-san feels the Olympics should have been held somewhere else and has been cursed from the start with the controversies that have been persisting since the beginning of the bid for the Olympics. She refers to stories that came out of the bribery scandal between the Japanese Olympic committee with one of the members resigning as well as the logo for the 2020 Olympics facing claims of being plagiarized and having to be replaced by another logo. “After finally moving past those two problems, now there are issues about working conditions of construction workers and the unfair work practices for both Japanese and foreign staff.”
Finally, Atsumi-san also fears Japan’s susceptibility to natural disasters that are increasing due to climate change might cause disruptions during the Olympics as well. “We just had a wave of big typhoons hit Japan during the Rugby World Cup. What will happen if there is a big earthquake or tsunami again during the Olympics?” she wondered.
With recent Typhoon Hagibis and flooding across regions of Japan, extreme weather conditions is a realistic concern for safety. “I want the Olympics to run smoothly and hope there are no medical or environmental problems that result from holding the event. I do feel the actual events are a great way for countries and talented athletes to show their skills and achievements. I just think Tokyo might not have been the best place to hold them.” she concluded.
Kudo-san, 25, a nutritionist at a seniors home near Shibuya Tokyo, has mixed feelings about the Olympic events coming to her town.
She expressed concern about the health of the athletes as well as the tourists coming to Japan. “Recently, the summers in Japan have been really hot and humid and many people suffer from heatstroke and heat exhaustion. I think it will be really tough on athletes from other countries who are not used to such humidity. Also, every year many Japanese seniors suffer from heat exhaustion so I am not sure if foreigners from other countries that don’t get as hot, can cope.”
With an average high temperature of 30.8 degrees celsius and many days hitting mid 30’s, Tokyo in the summer is hot, humid and harsh. Cases of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heatstroke are widespread and matched with congestion and traffic, the Olympics might turn deadly for both spectators and participants. There was much debate of moving the marathon event to early hours when the weather is cooler or from Tokyo to somewhere cooler because of the health risks involved for runners. The IOC finally decided to move the event to Sapporo in Hokkaido.
Despite the weather concerns, the inflow of foreigners is also exciting for Kudo-san who is very interested in foreign cultures and languages. “I don’t get much chance to take long vacations or go abroad. So during the Olympics I want to visit many Olympic event areas and try to talk to foreigners from different countries,” said Kudo-san. She added, “If I visit the hotels or restaurants in Tokyo during the Olympics I think I will have many chances to speak English and make new friends.” Since the Olympics is an international showcase of sports and culture, many people from countries who would normally not visit Japan will come to cheer on their country’s teams. These visitors will stay in hotels and eat at restaurants around Tokyo, which will boost the business of these establishments as well as create jobs for Japanese people.
Many Japanese people who have knowledge in foreign languages like English, Spanish or French will have many opportunities as translators, interpreters, tour guides or service staff during the Olympic season and hopefully beyond as the city brings in more and more tourists every year. Travel to Japan has been increasing every year and the government hopes that more than 40 million visitors will visit Japan in 2020. This increase in foreign tourism should boost the economy of Japan and benefit both businesses and individuals.
The mixed feelings of Japanese people are similar to the people of many countries who have held the Olympics. Part honor, part apprehension, hosting the Olympics is a long, challenging and contentious topic.
Whether a country can successfully pull off a profitable, safe and satisfying event requires lots of intense discussion, insightful opinions and detailed planning.
Japan is a great country that has always been an economic, political and social leader that has faced many obstacles throughout its history but persevered. Hopefully, holding the 2020 Olympics will be one more triumph in a list of accolades.
Main Photo: StreetVJ / Shutterstock.com
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