The trains weren’t exactly abuzz this morning with locals excitedly discussing the fresh news that came from Argentina during the night time but being almost-silent on public transport is how things are done here anyway. The local population’s poor support for having its first Olympics since 1964 looked like it might work against it at one stage but over time thinking has supposedly changed according to some government statistics. There were over a thousand people waiting anxiously in Komozawa Olympic Park for the news although the opportunity of being seen on every TV station in this country, as well as around the world, may have helped them decide to stay up all night!
On waking to hear the news today, I can’t say I really felt any emotion but no doubt that will change as it approaches although I really can’t even be sure if we’ll even be living here in 2020. That seems ages away right now, and indeed it is, but given that I only planned to stay here for a year or two when I arrived all those years ago the odds are that we’ll be here and if not, then I’m sure I’ll be pretty excited by it all. No doubt it won’t be too long before people start enquiring about staying in our ‘spare room’ during the Olympics but this is Tokyo remember where space is at such a premium and nobody has a spare room!
I should not forget that it was the World Cup of 2002 which partly inspired me to get myself over here. That was back in times when Japan had more favourable relations with some of its Asian neighbours and the government and Japanese citizens really need to re-address its attitudes to them.
Tokyo’s safe option campaign saw it triumph over rivals Istanbul and Madrid in a race which was perhaps a little underwhelming with no real stand-out candidate. In one sense Tokyo is the best option as the infrastructure is already pretty much in place and with the Rugby World Cup also being held here (perhaps unknown to the majority of the country) in 2019 the venues need to be more ahead of schedule than we’ve seen in recent games history.
I have no worries that Tokyo will put on a fine show as people have a real affection for the Olympics here. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the Paralympics which helped Britain’s wave of enthusiasm roll-over last Summer but there was hardly any mention of it in Japan at all. Appearances are everything in this country and, as one of my colleagues said at the time, “it’s not their thing” to which this attitude to such games really needs to change over the next seven years.
It’s also interesting to hear how the rest of the world views Tokyo and there have been many comments across internet forums with the main worry being radiation. For people with little knowledge of the country, Japan IS Tokyo and as far as they know Fukushima is just next door. Evidence has long shown that radiation has never really been an issue in Tokyo and having been to Fukushima since the big disaster I can tell you that its nowhere as bad as what you may believe. However, Japan must do all it can to deal with Fukushima so that visitors will actually dare visit and enjoy the games without any fear. If you think radiation is an issue for athletes who will be in Tokyo for a fortnight or so then spare a thought for those of us living here now!
Putting my sarcasm aside for now, the government would be well advised to hurry up its clean-up and reconstruction in Tohoku whilst splashing out billions of yen (which given the debts of this country they don’t have) on an event which hasn’t yet captured the imagination of the public. Plenty of time for that though and I have no doubt that the locals will embrace it when it matters most. Many people (both locally and internationally) will be curious to see the extent of the recovery in Tohoku so with the worlds eyes on Tokyo it would be the ideal opportunity to show everyone that progress is being made in the stricken areas.
In terms of my work, I’m bracing myself for seven years of people crowing on about ‘orinpiku’ but hopefully the country, which ranks very low for its English ability compared to other nations, will realise that being able to speak English is a very important and useful skill with the rest of the world soon to descend on these shores. This will hopefully mean a rise in student numbers and I’ve even heard of some Japanese kids already tweeting about studying English so they can become Olympic volunteers.
Of course there are some serious issues to be fixed in Japan before 2020 as well as other things like 24 hour ATM’s and English signage but if its Chinese rivals Beijing can do it then so can Tokyo. The growing costs of hosting the Olympics every four years is a worry but a successful games will make this a true world city and hopefully rescue it from the downward slump its been suffering from in recent past.