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Tokyo Gears Up for 2020 Olympics

  • Henry Ridgwell

Construction already is beginning on the venues that will host the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. There is much excitement over hosting the Games, but also some concerns.

The scene is the annual inter-school sports festival inside Japan’s National Stadium, central Tokyo. For the hundreds of young hopefuls, it’s an early taste of the adrenaline and glory that the 2020 Olympics will bring to their city.

Among them is 14-year-old Mousei Saeki. He said he really wants to come and see the games because there will be many great athletes coming from over the world.

This stadium hosted the 1964 Olympic Games - just as Japan’s economy was beginning its post-war boom.

And it is economics that played a big part in Tokyo winning the right to host the Games once again, says Tokyo 2020 CEO, Masato Mizuno.

“City Tokyo has a hosting fund of US$4.5 billion. This is in the bank already, so we can build all the facilities,” said Mizuno.

Work on demolishing the old 1964 stadium already has begun. In its place will be a futuristic new stadium.

Polls show 92 percent of Japanese people support Tokyo 2020. But mixed with the patriotic pride, there are some doubts.

Sixty-four-year-old taxi driver Jou Iwasaki remembers the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He said that for young people, the Olympics give hopes and dreams, and that’s good. He said at first, though, he was really against it, citing the precious green spaces that will be lost in the area. He also mentioned the high costs that will be required to maintain the facilities.

Concerns over the cost of the Games prompted activists to launch the group "Hangorin" - literally, anti Olympic rings. Spokespeople Tetsuo Ogawa and his colleague, who gave his name as Sakura, explain.

Ogawa said in every country that has hosted the Olympics, the city always has had to rebuild, and only a small part of the population benefits.

Sakura added that two years after the earthquake and tsunami, people continue to live in temporary housing. The government won’t spend any money on them but they’re going to spend money on the Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Mizuno said, however, that income from the Olympics will benefit all of Japan - including the tsunami-hit Tohoku region.

“Hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo will make such a big economical effect. Directly we said US$30 billion economical effect, and then also 150,000 direct employment,” he said.

Concerns over the stability of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant threatened to derail Tokyo’s Olympic bid - prompting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to address the International Olympic Committee to assure them of its safety.

Mizuno insists Fukushima will not cast a shadow over Tokyo 2020. “The government promised to solve the problems. So we believe in the prime minister’s word. So then also, records show that the level of radiation in Tokyo is very stable and low.”

The hope of the city and its people is that the Fukushima crisis will be long out of the headlines by the time the opening ceremony lights up the new stadium for the Games.

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