2020: we are here, in the Olympic year

Nisennijū - how often have I heard this term in the past; have I figured its signification and imagined its repercussion. As far away it seemed, as fast it arrived: 2020, the year that Tōkyō will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games again. 

It was on 7 September 2013, after a bidding period of around two years, that the Japanese capital was chosen for the second time to host the Olympics. This was the fourth time that the city intended to hold the event: the Games of the XII Olympiad in 1940 were assigned to Tōkyō, though they had to be cancelled due to World War II. It was finally in 1964 that the Japanese capital became the first host city in Asia. The archipelago’s population, eager to demonstrate to the rest of the world its post-war recovery and modernisation, placed big importance on the event. The Tōkyō 1964 Games, often called the rebirth of Japan, had a noticeable impact on the city’s urban development and on the people all over the country. The event allowed to rewrite the national image and to prove that Tōkyō was henceforth able to compete with other world cities. In order to meet the needs of a growing number of visitors, large railway works were carried out and the Shinkansen (= bullet train) was inaugurated on 1 October 1964, 9 days before the beginning of the Games. As authorities estimated that the number of cars circulating in Tōkyō would exceed one million in the Olympic year, more than 70 km of roads were rehabilitated and freshly built, and 22 highways and 8 expressways constructed. Two new metro lines were established and integrated into the already existing network. In addition, 15 km of rails for the Haneda-Tōkyō central monorail train were built and renovation works on Haneda Airport, which was at the time the main gateway of the country, were undertaken.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Japanese capital prepared a bid for the 2016 Games. Its outline was different than for 2020 and did not sufficiently resonate with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Four years later, Tōkyō won against Istanbul and Madrid, the two other Candidate Cities. The Japanese capital had then 5 months to create the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG), a privately funded organisation and main interlocutor of the IOC. 

Tōkyō 2020 is divided into two main areas, the Heritage Zone and the Tōkyō Bay Zone. Over the years, the venue plan has been adapted. Now, the Olympic Games count 33 sports and 50 disciplines that will be carried out over 42 sites from 24 July to 9 August 2020. The Paralympic Games include 22 sports and 23 disciplines that are to be held in 21 venues from 25 August to 6 September 2020. The Olympic / Paralympic Village and the IBC / MPC Tōkyō International Exhibition Centre (Tōkyō Big Sight), which will house the International Broadcast Centre and the Main Press Centre, remain during both events. 

With the aim to vitalise the city’s waterfront, 14 out of the 42 venues are located in the Tōkyō Bay Zone, 10 thereof in Kōtō Ward. Although in the 1980s the Japanese capital already made attempts to develop the artificial islands in its bay, the result was rather inefficient, leading to the under-utilisation of facilities and emptiness of urban space. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are seen as an opportunity to animate street life through the implementation of temporary and permanent venues and the organisation of various event-related activities. The Athletes Village, developed on a 44-hectar plot located in the Harumi district in Chūō Ward, is meant to become a new residential zone after the Games. The site is owned by the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) though constructed by a group of private developers. The village will provide 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 beds during the Paralympics. Since the residences are built by the private sector, the TOCOG will pay a rent during the reception of the athletes. After the Games, the buildings will be renovated and sold or rent as apartments to the public. In line with plans developed by the TMG, two 50-story skyscrapers will be added to the condominium. By 2024, there should be a total of 23 buildings counting 5,632 residential units and 24 commercial facilities. For the purpose of creating an environmentally advanced city and leave a long-term legacy, hydrogen will be used as an energy source to generate electricity and as fuel for buses and cars. 

The initial 2020 Olympic budget was fixed at USD 6 billion. As of April 2018, it increased to around USD 13.5 billion and is now estimated at USD 12.6 billion. Roughly USD 6 billion are privately funded, mainly through sponsorship, ticket sale and marketing as well as a contribution from the IOC. Consequently, more than half of the Tōkyō 2020 budget is to be covered by the public sector. Moreover, the real cost of the Games is difficult to determine and may be much higher, as expenses related to various initiatives like building barrier-free facilities for Paralympic athletes, training programs for volunteers or heat prevention are commonly not included in calculations. Organisers justify the increase of the original budget by the fact that first estimates were intended to form a framework and that the two-year bid did not leave enough time to conduct detailed studies. Furthermore, it is argued that Olympic forecast is made between 7 and 9 years in advance and that therefore some flexibility and adaptation to economic fluctuations is required. In order to prevent the permanent rise of costs linked to the Games, Tōkyō reviewed its plan and decided to privilege the use of existing sites. Hence, certain locations outside the capital were added. Furthermore, Zaha Hadid’s expensive project of the National Olympic Stadium was scrapped in 2015 and replaced by Kuma Kengo’s design proposal the same year.

Shortly after rumours about the stadium started to spread around, the organisers of Tōkyō 2020 again encountered a period of tension. Following the accusation of plagiarism from Liège Theatre’s logo creator Olivier Debie, worried Japanese internet users launched an investigation on Sano Kenjirō, the designer of the official Games’ logo. Even though the lawsuit was dropped, concerns about a possible scandal grew and the design was quickly abandoned for reasons of credibility. In order to regain public’s trust, the TOCOG announced the foundation of a preliminary selection committee for new emblems in September 2015. In April 2016, after a long selection process, the new emblems of the Tōkyō 2020 Games were unveiled. 

Succeeding a public call for applications, elementary school students chose the two final Games mascots out of three proposed sets. Besides being a method to ascertain younger generations’ preference, the selection procedure was also an opportunity to integrate discussions about the Olympics creatively in the national education programme.Two years and one day before the opening of the sporting event, the first official licensed 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games shop opened. At that time, about 700 articles were for sale and in summer 2019, another 445 officially licensed items got released. The mascots are privileged characters that figure on numerous products. 

The 2020 version of Tōkyō Gorin Ondo is a new interpretation of the official song of the 1964 Games. The lyrics, originally written by Miyata Takashi were adapted to the 21st century and sung by Ishikawa Sayuri, Takehara Pistol and Kayama Yūzō on Koga Masao’s initial melody. The music video includes an educational part that teaches how the dance moves are to be performed. 

In the run-up to the Tōkyō 1964 Games, the Japanese population made all possible effort to provide the best setting for visitors. Concerned about the image foreigners may get of host city Tōkyō and the country as a whole, the Land of the Rising Sun is once again anticipating the arrival of international athletes and spectators. Initiatives range from the establishment of innovative constructions and the arrangement of a functional infrastructure to the implementation of a high-level security system and the meticulous play of each stage of the event beforehand. The 80,000 Games and 30,000 City Volunteers are expected to help out at competition venues, support Games operations and provide services and information for visitors at airports, train stations and sightseeing spots. In order to prepare a broader part of the society, classes about the Olympic and Paralympic Games, sports and health as well as different cultures are given to elementary-, middle- and high school students. In addition, English language programmes and courses about interaction with foreigners are proposed to adults. In order to prevent from overcrowded public transportation, Tōkyō now highly encourages the former rather depreciated practice of teleworking. 

Over the past years, the Japanese capital has expanded the use of simplified signage in public space, including station names written in both Japanese and Latin alphabet and the systematic numeration of subway stops. Furthermore, announcements are today often made in Japanese and English language. It is to mention that national TV channels have gradually increased the number of programmes about the Games, reaching from the diffusion of documentaries about the 1964 Olympiad to the introduction of future venues and more recently the attendance at training sessions of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. 

Media about the 2020 Games has long been relatively reticent. However, since the One Year To Go, discussions about Tōkyō’s preparation are multiplying. The transfer of the marathon and walking race to Sapporo, accumulated with the difficulty to access tickets for competitions, have lately caused frustration among Tōkyō’s population. Few manifestations from opponents of the Games have been recognised. Nevertheless, a No-Olympics movement has slowly grown in size and importance.  

Over the past years, I have frequently visited the Japanese capital. Therefore, I could not only witness the construction of venues and attend event-related activities, but also assess the detailed changes of the city and the increasing attention that is drawn to the Olympics. Again and again I am fascinated by the very subtle communication strategies, amused by labelled everyday goods, surprised by people’s conversations and intrigued by official’s speeches.

At the current state it seems difficult to make reliable presumptions for the Tōkyō Olympics and Paralympics let alone to predict post-Games legacy. However, as I have the honour and privilege to stay in Tōkyō until after the event, I wish to continuously share small parts of my acquired knowledge in the most correct and neutral way. Anyhow the impact will be, one thing is certain: as time passes, the Games are undeniably approaching. 

2020: we are here, in the Olympic year !

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