Photo:CTG/SF on Flickr

Olympic Dreams: How Will 2020 Change Tokyo?

Last year, to much fanfare, and after several previous failed attempts, it was finally confirmed that, for the first time since 1964, the Olympic Games will be returning to Tokyo in 2020. However, in these days of austerity, economic stagnation and a growing gaps between the aspirations of government and the realities of ordinary citizens, this news was not met with universal approval.

Similar in some ways to Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there was a chorus of dissenting voices decrying an Olympic bid as a monumental waste of money, and that the money would be far better used in other areas.

However the government sees it differently and has promised to deliver an Olympic Games that will inspire and invigorate not just Tokyo, but all of Japan. It’s a tall order, but if there’s one thing the Japanese do well it is persistence and an indomitable spirit. One gets the feeling that they just might pull this one off.

But how? That is the big question. A lot of promises have been made and the government has pledged to deliver. So today, let’s look at some of the ways that the government says the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will change Japan for the better.

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For starters, there’s the obvious boost to infrastructure and the economy. Even the most conservative estimates showed that the London 2012 Olympics brought hundreds of millions of pounds into the city as well as a certain level of residual benefits for the other UK cities that hosted some events. Japan can expect to benefit in this way too, with certain events unsuitable for Tokyo’s urban terrain being outsourced to a number of other Japanese cities. This will provide a boost not just to the hotel and hospitality trades, but also the residential property market, if the previous games in London and Beijing are anything to go by. In the year or two before the games we can expect a spike in property prices, as new transport links, sports complexes and other infrastructure upgrades near completion.

But what will these new buildings be? And how will they impact the lives of ordinary people in Japan?

One probable benefit of Tokyo 2020 will, hopefully, be an improvement in Japan’s English speaking abilities.

English education in Japan is something of a sore point amongst Japan’s Education Ministry. Despite numerous high profile and expensive initiatives, such as the JET program, the ability of Japanese people to speak English remains relatively low compared to other developed Asian nations like China, Korea and Singapore. “English Villages” are being trumpeted as an effective means to finally resolve this long-standing problem in the run-up to 2020.

Photo : GORIMON on Flickr

Having already been piloted in Osaka’s Kinki University, and a number of private high schools and prefectural education boards around Japan, English Villages are venues where students can go for a “total immersion experience” of English. In other words, the will take part in numerous activities, sports, crafts and games completely in English, led by native English speaking teaching staff.. The idea is already showing signs of success in Kansai and there is growing support for it to be rolled out across Tokyo in the run-up to 2020.

One of the undoubted icons of the 1964 Olympics was the purpose-built Tokyo Olympic Stadium. However, that was more than 50 years ago, and it’s fair to say that the stadium isn’t quite what it once was. Rather than attempt to refurbish the existing stadium, plans are afoot for a completely new, state of the art stadium to be built in place of the existing one. Looking like something out of a sci-fi writer’s most vivid dreams, the designs for the new stadium are breathtaking, and will certainly put Tokyo on the map as a 21st century sports hub.

A major criticism in the wake of the 2012 games was that whilst the host city itself benefitted immensely, the rest of the UK was largely ignored in the Olympic aftermath. Eager to avoid the same perception as that self-appointed centre of the universe that is London, Tokyo organizers have emphasized a number of benefits that will be felt by the whole country.

In a push to maximize its medal tally, Japan will refocus its investment in sport, both at the professional and grassroots levels.

The government also realizes that, such is the nature of sport, one cannot solve problems just by throwing money at them. So at a recent session of the Japanese parliament, it was agreed that a national agency for sport must be created. This agency will come into effect from October 1 2015 and will be responsible for overseeing the growth and development of competitive sports in Japan at all levels. With a staff of around 120 experts, the agency will report directly to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

Such a move, whilst clearly part of the greater sporting momentum generated by the Tokyo Olympics, is a long term strategy, the effects of which will not truly be felt until long after Tokyo’s 2020 torch has been extinguished. Likewise, a new ministerial position in the government cabinet, specifically to oversee the development of preparations for the Olympic and Paralympic games is expected to be formally approved and created later on in this diet session.

Public transportation will also be given an overhaul. Whilst Tokyo’s rail and subway network is among the most efficient and punctual in the world, the metropolitan government believes things could still be improved further.

Photo : Andrew Mager on Flickr

In an unprecedented move, the Yamanote Line (the loop line that covers several Tokyo hubs like Shinkjuku, Shibuya, Ikebukuro and Ginza) will run 24 hours per day. The bus service between Shibuya and Shinjuku will also be extended to be a 24 hour service. Whilst this may be bad for taxi drivers, it is certainly a major boon for commuters. That old quandary of having to leave the party to get the last train may soon be a thing of the past.
It remains to be seen of course if all of these grand plans will, ultimately, bear their intended fruit. Nonetheless, these are exciting times, not just for Tokyo but for all of Japan. For millennia, the message of hope, companionship and determination of the Olympic flame has lit up cities around the world. Come 2020, Tokyo will be no different.

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