Tokyo 2020 Games Shot in the Arm for Aging Nation

Sunday, 08 Sep 2013 06:44 AM

 

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TOKYO — A half-century after the 1964 Tokyo games heralded Japan's reemergence from destruction and defeat in World War II, the city's triumphant bid to host the 2020 games is giving this aging nation a chance to revive both its sagging spirits and its stagnating economy.

"In most competitions, if you don't win a gold medal, you can also win maybe a bronze one," Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose told reporters in Buenos Aires after the International Olympic Committee chose his city to host the 2020 summer games. "In this battle, there was only the gold."

Hundreds of Japanese athletes and officials gathered downtown for the early morning announcement shouted "Banzai!" jumping up and down and hugging in unusually demonstrative reactions to the announcement the International Olympic Committee had opted for Tokyo's guarantees of safety and stability, despite the festering nuclear crisis in its northeast.

Japan's capital defeated Istanbul in the final round of voting at the International Olympic Committee meeting in Buenos Aires, after Madrid was eliminated in the first round.

The decision suggests IOC members were convinced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's reassurances that radiation leaks from the nuclear plant wrecked in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster pose no threat to Tokyo or the games.

The 1964 games were relatively bare bones by today's standards.

"There were no facilities, no food to eat; no barbells; no place to practice. That was what it was like," said Yoshinobu Miyake, a featherweight weightlifting gold medalist at the 1964 games who recalls walking the streets of Tokyo with a crooked barbell in hand, looking for a place to practice.

"But still, we had to win — so it was a country that managed to go on with just a hungry spirit, a Japanese spirit," he said.

To prepare for the 1964 games, Japan rushed to build expressways and introduced its first high-speed "Shinkansen" bullet trains. The games won it worldwide recognition for its growing affluence and economic power, and were a turning point for the country's athletics, as it captured 16 gold medals, 29 in total, trailing only the United States and Soviet Union in medals.

This time, many here consider the Olympics a symbol of recovery both from economic stagnation, and from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 19,000 people dead or missing on Japan's northeast coast.

"From here on, things will get better," said Yoko Kurahashi, 65, whose high school was just across the street from Tokyo's Metropolitan Gymnasium, the site for the 1964 games gymnastics and water polo competitions.

"This will help invigorate us," Kurahashi said as she stood outside Tokyo city hall with her 94-year-old mother-in-law watching hundreds of other Tokyo residents celebrating with gold streamers and balloons.

Japan is counting on the games to boost both the economy and morale. Two decades after its economic ascent was cut short by the bursting of its financial bubble, its population shrinking and rapidly aging, it can use all the help it can get, said Yukio Takahashi, who was jubilant as he took his morning walk with his wife in a suburban park that was a main 1964 Olympic venue.

"This will help us to not lose confidence," Takahashi said. "It gives us a goal, something to strive for."

Surveys showed 70 percent of Tokyoites favored the bid.

Hosting the 2020 games could yield positive economic effects of more than $40.4 billion and create more than 150,000 jobs, according to some estimates, more than half of it new demand for construction, sales of Olympics-related goods and purchases of new televisions and other appliances.

Hosting the Olympics offers a strong excuse for pork-barrel-style construction projects. In reality, greater Tokyo, home to 35 million people, is facing a major overhaul of its aging infrastructure anyway, nowhere more so than in crumbling sports venues due to be refurbished for the 2020 Games.

The government hopes to boost visits by foreign tourists to 30 million a year by then, from the 8.36 million who came to Japan last year.

Already, though, Olympics hopes have lifted share prices in construction, real estate and tourism-related companies.

Improving consumer confidence is vital for the success of Abe's economic recovery strategy, which hinges on stimulating inflation by pumping more money into the economy, keeping interest rates near zero and improving Japan's competitiveness through a wide range of reforms.

Whether the Olympics, seven years away, would bring the sort of boost needed right now remains to be seen. Unless Japanese companies, long wary of betting on a shrinking domestic market, step up investments and raise wages, price hikes are more likely to discourage rather than spur more spending in the long run.

The ultimate economic impact from holding the games varies from city to city. The 2008 games were a strong plus for Beijing, yielding an impressive new airport, subway lines and other welcome infrastructure. London's 2012 games likewise were a boost for the British economy.

But the Bird's Nest stadium, the centerpiece of the 2008 games, stands neglected as a $500 million souvenir. In Athens, many of the venues from the 2004 Olympics are desolate and weed-infested, and the Greek economy is in crisis.

Although Japan has a national debt amounting to twice the size of its economy, Tokyo itself has a $4.5 billion "reserve fund" for infrastructure projects for the games. Japan's status as the world's third-biggest economy and its strong links to Olympic sponsors were additional strengths. The huge Asian market was another draw for the IOC.

Such assets outweighed concerns over leaks of radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. But they also will add to pressures on Tokyo to resolve the crisis.

"We have made promises," Abe said after the decision. "Now we have a responsibility to meet those expectations."

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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