Tokyo warms to the Olympics
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Tokyo warms to the Olympics

Can the 2020 Games transform Japan again, as the 1964 ones did? asks Asia Sentinel’s Todd Crowell

People in Tokyo never were wildly enthusiastic about hosting the Olympic Games for a second time. Been there, done that, might have best described their attitude in two recent bids to host the games, a losing bid in 2009 but a surprisingly strong comeback this Sept. 7 won Japan the right to host the 2020 games.

“Lack of public passion,” along with a strong sense that it was time for South America to have a chance combined to sink Tokyo’s 2009 bid. Moreover, the Olympic quest was closely identified with Tokyo’s polarizing former governor, Shintaro Ishihara.

As recently as last May a public survey by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) found fewer than 50 percent of Tokyoites favoring the return of the Olympic games. A poll by the municipal government showed 65 percent endorsing the move – better perhaps, but still far short of the 85 percent plus recorded in Istanbul and Madrid. It was feared that apathy might sink the bid again.

Strong fundamentals combined with a more focused presentation were enough to win against fairly weak competition. The Japanese delegation to Buenos Aires, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself, included an Imperial princess, former medal winners and residents of the earthquake- and tsunami- devastated Tohoku region. All played a role.

And now that the venue has been chosen, many Tokyo residents suddenly discovered that they really wanted the games after all. Newspapers are full of proposed new projects timed to coincide with the opening of the games in July 2020 such as new subways, additional runways at airports and other infrastructure.

Japanese were never quite so blas? about the games. Tokyoites cheered the record haul of ther medal winners at the London Olympics and Japan is probably the only host country that still commemorates the opening day of its first Olympiad as a national holiday – technically Health and Sports Day – although it was moved from October 10 to the second Monday in the month to create a three-day holiday.

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