Tokyo to bid for Olympic glory

Posted in Japan | 30-Aug-06 | Author: Hisane Masaki| Source: Asia Times

Beaming Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.

TOKYO - The Japanese capital has won the hotly contested race to become the country's candidate site to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, edging out its only rival, Fukuoka in western Japan.

The decisive factors in Tokyo's victory are its international high profile as the capital, as well as its financial strength and the perceived viability of its plan. But a highly jubilant Tokyo still has a long way to go before reaching the goal of actually hosting the quadrennial sporting extravaganza for the second time since it first did so in 1964.

The International Olympic Committee will select the host city in July 2009. Among the potential host nations are the United States, Spain, Italy, Brazil, India and Qatar.

A 55-member selection committee - comprising 25 executives from the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) and 30 representatives of sports associations and other groups - voted by 33-22 on Wednesday evening to field Tokyo as the nation's candidate. The vote was held after the panel members assessed a JOC evaluation report of the sites, based on plans submitted by Tokyo and Fukuoka, and heard the two cities' presentations.

The triumph of Tokyo, an odds-on favorite, over Fukuoka, a regional city with a population of 1.5 million on the westernmost major Japanese island of Kyushu, had been widely expected, especially after the JOC evaluation report in favor of Tokyo was made public five days earlier.

Pluses and minuses
While pointing out that Fukuoka had experience in managing international sporting events and a strong will to host the Olympics, the report concluded that the JOC was unconvinced that the city could acquire written consent from about 120 different landowners to sell their properties in a district earmarked for construction of the main arena. It also expressed concerns about the feasibility of the plan.

Tokyo, meanwhile, has already secured land for the construction of a main stadium and accommodation facilities for athletes. Another handicap for Fukuoka was the lack of direct flights to and from North America and Europe.

The JOC evaluation report noted that Tokyo was globally recognized and had a strong financial base to follow through on its plan to prepare a fund worth 400 billion yen (US$3.4 billion) by fiscal 2009.

Critics have insisted, however, that the Tokyo plan is sketchy overall and does not precisely address traffic control. Tokyo, home to about 12.5 million people, is notorious for its grueling traffic jams and heavily overcrowded trains, especially during rush hours. Sports associations are also said to have given a slightly higher evaluation to Fukuoka than Tokyo. Some of them have criticized the Tokyo metropolitan government, saying it did not properly understand their requests.

Apparently alarmed by the expression of criticism by several sporting organizations, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara changed his vacation plans about a month ago to put himself in the vanguard of the campaign for his city's bid.

Tokyo's plan calls for competition in 26 of the 28 sports planned for the Games to be staged at 36 venues located within a radius of 10 kilometers, with effective use of existing facilities, such as Yoyogi National Stadium, to curb construction costs from being the main feature. Tokyo has said it would seek the "most compact Olympics in the world".

The JOC apparently had been worried that it would be difficult for Japan to win the Games unless it were submitted by the capital city. This worry is not unfounded. Nagoya in central Japan failed in its bid for the 1988 Summer Olympics. And then Osaka in western Japan missed the 2008 Games. The 1988 Summer Olympics were held in Seoul and the 2008 Games will be held in Beijing. Finalists in the selection process for the 2012 Summer Olympics last year were all major metropolises. London eventually won.

War of words
In the run-up to the vote on Wednesday, Fukuoka Mayor Hirotaro Yamasaki not only criticized Tokyo's plan but trained his guns on Ishihara, an outspoken nationalist and hawk on China.

Yamasaki claimed that Ishihara's often-controversial remarks could impede cooperation between Japan and other Asian nations when it came to organizing the event. "Tokyo has so many problems [with regards to hosting the Olympics], but they have not been revealed [to the public] yet," he said.

Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea, remain at their lowest point in decades because of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine, territorial and other disputes, and differences over World War II history.

Economic benefits
The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were Asia's first. Judo and volleyball were introduced to the Olympics then. Many middle-aged and senior Japanese still remember, among other things, Dutchman Anton Geesink's winning of the open category in judo, barefooted Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila's becoming the first person to win the Olympic marathon twice, and the Japanese women's volleyball team's winning of the gold medal. The volleyball team was known as the "Witches of the Orient".

The 1964 Olympics showed the rest of the world how rapidly Japan had recovered from the ashes of World War II, with its much-vaunted "Shinkansen" bullet train making its debut between Tokyo and Osaka just in time for the opening of the event.

The Olympics also heralded Japan's rise as a new economic power. Japan joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a grouping long dubbed the "club of the richest", in 1964. Japan became the world's No 2 economy in terms of gross domestic product, after the United States, only four years later.

Japan's longest postwar economic expansion of the 1960s, known as the "Izanagi boom", started a year after the Tokyo Olympics and ended with the 1970 Osaka World Expo. The current expansion, which started in early 2002, will almost certainly continue past October, outlasting the 57-month-long Izanagi boom.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Japanese favor hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics. According to one poll, conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, a major national daily, 72.9% of respondents said they supported the move. As reasons, the largest group - 30.4% - cited a positive overall economic effect.

In July, the Tokyo metropolitan government announced its estimates of an economic ripple effect Japan's hosting of the Olympics would have. According to the estimates, if the Games are held in Tokyo, they will generate 2.83 trillion yen (nearly $25 billion) - 1.57 trillion yen in Tokyo and 1.26 trillion yen in the rest of the country.

From 1964 to 2016
The 1964 Olympics were held at a time when Japan was rapidly ascending as a new economic power. But when the 2016 Games are held - wherever they are - Japan's economic power, which has already lost much of its luster in the past decade or so, will almost certainly have declined further in relative terms.

In the late 1960s, the average life expectancy of Japanese people was 69.2 years for men and 74.7 years for women, compared with 78.6 years for men and 85.6 years for women in 2004. People aged 65 or over accounted for only about 7% of the total population in the late 1960s, but now they make up 20%. To be sure, the longer people live, the better. But Japan is now at a historic juncture demographically, with precipitously declining birth rates as well as the rapid aging of the population.

Japan's population began to decline for the first time since World War II last year, two years earlier than expected. The working-age population had already begun to shrink several years earlier. Not only is Japan's birth rate already among the lowest in the industrialized world, but its pace of decline is the fastest, raising grave concerns about a possible erosion of the economy's international competitiveness as the population thins out.

Nobuyuki Okamoto, a professor at Tokyo's Rikkyo University and supporter of the capital's bid for the Olympics, said in a recent interview that Japanese are now "regaining their confidence once again after overcoming the depression of the 1990s", which followed the burst of the asset-inflated bubble economy of the late 1980s. He said hosting the Olympics would be a new goal for them, as the 1964 Olympics were.

Okamoto said Tokyo's selling point in the international competition for the Olympics was the "multicultural" nature of the city.

Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. Masaki's e-mail address is