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Big In Japan: Not the Olympics

The only experience I have had with Chicago's Olympics frenzy has been via online communications from friends and my perusing of the Tribune, Sun-Times and Daily Herald via the Web. I know the hype is swirling in Chi-town and that the community seems to overwhelmingly support the idea of a Chicago Olympics. Additionally, according to some people I know in Chicago who work in the news, the media there also has wholeheartedly latched onto the Olympic bandwagon.

TokyoLogo.jpgSince Tokyo is also a finalist for the 2016 Games, I thought I'd ask around town and see how people here felt about the contest and what their thoughts were on being in competition with Chicago.

But before I delve into that, the advantages of Tokyo as an Olympic city are worth mentioning. From personal experience, I have to say (no disrespect intended to the City of Big Shoulders) that Tokyo would make an excellent Olympic site. It is virtually crime-free, clean, organized and efficient. It also boasts what is arguably the world's best public transportation system. Further, Tokyo is truly an international town, the capital of Japan and large enough to host the games. Some contend that a Tokyo-hosted Olympics would signify Japan's complete rehabilitation from the destruction and poverty wrought by World War II.

So how does the Olympic bid look from Tokyo?

The consensus among Daily Yomiuri sportswriters is that the bid "is not even on the radar." Sports talk radio is in a sumo/baseball mode with occasional quips about the upcoming Beijing games.

TokyoPoster.jpgThere is very little hype here about the Tokyo bid. Sure, there are posters and other ads around the city, but the public seems to be indifferent. According to one Japanese writer I spoke with, the 2016 Games are seen more as the baby of Governor Shintaro Ishihara, and of less importance economically or culturally. Isihara has proposed building a 100,000-seat arena in west Tokyo's scenic Yoyogi Park. People seem to think that Ishihara wants to create one last spectacle before he dies. Or, as one English acquaintance of mine so eloquently put it, "Shintaro'll be dead and buried before the Games anyway, so why should people give a [expletive]."

Many from the city see the 2016 bid as a distraction and a nuisance that would disrupt their busy daily lives. Evidently, some within the city government - particularly assemblywoman Yoshiko Fukushi - are grumbling that the cost will be too high. Further, public backing for the bid is estimated at about 59% - the lowest of all finalist cities. On top of that, Tokyo would have to spend billions of yen in taxpayer money to build facilities in the city. That doesn't sit well with residents. In addition, there is a possibility that Tokyo would be dragged into a competition with neighboring Fukuoka for a new Olympic venue, another potential issue that draws the ire of Tokyo citizens.

A Japanese friend of mine who lives in Yokohama (home of the Cubs-like BayStars) told me that Tokyo feels that it doesn't really need the games. It already hosted an Olympics in 1964 during a time when, according to my friend, "the Olympics meant something in the world." At that time, many in Japan - and Tokyo in particular - saw the awarding of the Games as part of an emergence from the Third World into the first. The '64 games were the first Olympics held in a non-Western city, which was a source of pride to residents.

The same friend told me that an Olympic bid would be a much bigger deal - both for economic impact and city pride - for other, smaller cities in Japan (i.e. Yokohama), as it was for the Nagano's 1998 Winter Games.

As there is little discussion of the Olympics in general, there is even less discussion in the city about being in competition with Chicago or Rio. Again, people seem to not really think about it much. Don't get me wrong; people in Tokyo know where Chicago is, and are aware of the competition. They just don't seem to care.


Previously in Big in Japan:
* Not Fukudome
* The Yokohama Cubs
* The Chicago Way


Posted on July 30, 2008

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