No Tokyo Olympics, and that’s OK

As I write this the IOC has still not released who will get the games (Update: Rio!), but we do know this – it won’t be Tokyo. I was watching Fuji TV when the interpreter spoke the words “Tokyo has lost” (東京が落選しました) — the TV anchors fell silent for about 15 seconds, save for a few sighs.

For my own completely selfish reasons, I am happy to avoid the inconvenience of over a million extra people in the city during the spectacle.

On the other hand, I can’t deny a tinge of longing and disappointment that Tokyo won’t get its chance to shine. Whatever the practical and logical concerns (and there are many), Tokyo is a beautiful and complicated city that the world overlooks to its detriment. And it’s true that if 2016 Olympics offered Tokyo just 1/10th the cachet, prestige and aura of achievement and arrival that the Beijing Olympics had in China, there could be a credible case for wanting them in Tokyo too. Setting aside all issues of cost and objectivity, the propaganda value of a truly successful and memorable Olympics is very real.

But Tokyo already had its Beijing 2008 moment back in 1964. If the Olympics can bring any real, lasting impact, it’s because they underscore and promote underlying historical trends. If Tokyo had the Olympics in 2016, it wouldn’t shake the “Japan is dying” narrative – it would just be a perfunctory, lackluster games all but forgotten a decade later, like Atlanta in 1996. At this point the overall message of “Japan as ecological technology superpower” is just not getting through, and the IOC judges apparently were not convinced. If Rio gets it they will fit this model.

So while Hatoyama made an eleventh-hour decision to show up in Denmark and give a speech, I don’t think the concept of another Tokyo Olympics jived with the spirit of the DPJ’s push to shift the nation away from relying on ever-more construction and development as a source of prosperity. Better that Japan tidy set its house in order before winning another chance to showcase itself to the world.

18 thoughts on “No Tokyo Olympics, and that’s OK”

  1. Damn that was fast. The AP report was eight minutes ago–ten by the time this gets written.

    “Tokyo already had its Beijing 2008 moment back in 1964”

    Very much so–in in a number of ways it marks the break between the post-war country and the modern country. Japan’s Coming of Age Ceremony, definitely. So let’s hope Rio can get its act together–not for the games, about which I care nothing, but for the city’s sake–and the country’s sake.

  2. I also question of whether the Olympics are of much value to an established city in the developing world that has had them before. They seem to be a good platform for an emerging city to shine.

    Chicago is an established city that has not had the games before, and I look forward to the games being held in Chicago -also New York!- some day. But its a bad idea to make the U.S. the host of any future Olympics because its kind of obvious the country is heading towards bankruptcy. Any extra money that comes Chicago’s way should really be used to shore up the El.

  3. One thing is for sure – we all underestimated the strength of lingering hardcore anti-Americanism.

  4. To me, it doesn’t matter who hosts it as long as I get to watch American athletes dominate the pool and basketball courts. For countries like Japan and the US building what is essentially a multi-billion dollar shrine to the IOC has a small rate of return. That’s why I’m glad it’s in Rio, with a reasonable time zone for American viewers.

    As for the World Cup, on the other hand, I would love to watch a WC match in the brand new Giants Stadium.

  5. It is interesting you noted Fuji TV and their reaction (silence and sighs). I was trying to watch CNN, NHK and NTV (News Zero) all at the same time (unsuccessfully though) and detected a huge disappointment and shock from CNN that Chicago was first out, but NHK seemed to continue on in a very professional manner after Tokyo was out. Yes there were still some disappointment and interviews focussing on Tokyo missing out, but CNN (international feed in Tokyo) not only continued with more attention to Chicago, but began commenting ‘negatively’ about the Olympics in general.
    Such as… “the money in sport detracts from the competition”, “money influences the decision making of the IOC”, “staging the games are costly and impose burdens on the cities”.
    Yet before Chicago was voted out, they talked up the games as a spectacle. Very poor, I thought.

    … PS, this is how I remembered it at 1am in the morning after a few glasses of red wine. I am happy to be corrected.

  6. Hmm. I actually guessed this right, though I don’t know if the reasons I thought it might be Rio were correct. I was still surprised that Rio “won”, because people had been trying to convince me it would be Chicago. Still, as has been pointed out, the time zones are still good enough to get the big American T.V. bucks.

    Most Japanese people either didn’t care or didn’t want it anyway, so I think this worked out for the best. One of my students pointed out that Japan may have been looked at less favorably because it may be seen that Asia has recently had a turn because of the Beijing Olympics. Tokyo may have a better shot next time around.

  7. The 1964 Games did what the Olympics are supposed to do, they put Tokyo on the world map. Tokyo doesn’t need that again.

    The plans involved destruction of a waterfont ecology park, which was a bad idea. There’s an interesting parallel with the slighting of Greenwich Park for the London 2012 Olympics.

    My great-uncle added Japan to his world tour because of the 1964 Olympics. 40 years later I still remember being shown the slides of the bullet train. It was an event for the whole family, even only he and his wife went on the tour.

    My mother-in-law said she (as a native born Tokyoite) knew the city had hit the international big time when the Bond file “You Only Live Twice” was filmed there in 66.

  8. I was in New York watching CNN when the news came out and people are pretty nonchalant about Chicago’s loss. I talked to a few Chicago-ites and they really don’t seem to have much of an opinion at all.

  9. Who overlooks Tokyo? It’s universally considered one of the world’s top cities-and that’s exactly why it doesn’t need the Olympics. Seeing a DIFFERENT city in Japan get it, like Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, would have been nice, but there just wasn’t enough interest or money for those bids.

    I’m very glad to see Rio win this one. It would have been cute to see Chicago get it the same year they got Obama as president, but that might just be over the top. Madrid might have been nice too, but everybody is already talking about Spain’s rapid modernization, with them suddenly having the best bullet trains on the continent.

  10. Tokyo and Japan in general are often not taken seriously. The Olympics wouldn’t have done anything to change the popular image of Japan.

  11. My mind exactly.I would rather wish Met government to do something more constructive.Like preserving the Tsukiji fish market.

  12. RMilner and Roy both took the words right out of my mouth. That said, having a fondness for Tokyo that often gets me mocked by my neighbors, I have to agree with Adamu that neither Tokyo, nor Japan in general, gets its due.

    I’m still glad Tokyo didn’t get the Olympics, though (even though Tokyo losing means my BBC interview is now consigned to oblivion. Curses!) What Tokyo needs now cannot be provided by blowing a lot of money to flatter an organization and a movement that is both past its day and a leech on every society it visits.

    It’s good that the Games are going to Rio – both because having the World Cup and Olympics close together makes sense and because Rio stands to benefit in the way Tokyo did in ’64.

    Tokyo ’64 spurred the shinkansen, which is one of the greatest developments of the 20th century. Tokyo ’16 would have spurred what? A woody for Ishihara and more debt? F*@k that. Our esteemed Governor can overpay for watered-down Johnny Walker at a kyabakura and spend his evenings looking at girlie mags he’s not buying in a cobini, like the residents of his metropolis do, if he wants to get his rocks off. You know what? Let the city buy him some DVDs if it’s that important.

  13. Also glad the games aren’t coming here, although in my case it’s more because I spent a lot of time at Nagano in 1998 and know what a logistical nightmare these major events can be in Japan when they’re designed and run by bureaucracy instead of a commissioner with real power to say “no, the buses will take people to the event site and not someplace a kilometer away,” or “no, the downhill course will begin on the Happo-one ski run that thousands of skiers use every season; screw that ‘but it encroaches on a protected natural area’ excuse.”

    One reason for the Rio choice I haven’t seen pointed out much is that it’s a much friendlier city, time-zone-wise, for televised coverage in North America and Europe, the only two TV markets that really matter to the admen. When sporting events get hosted in East Asia you have disgruntled people trying to sell slots in the middle of the night in New York and in the dawn hours in Paris.

  14. Adamu –

    Watching the Prime Minister’s and Ishihara’s speeches in Copenhagen I was left wondering whether or not the “we will host the most environmentally sound Olympics ever!” message ended up being counterproductive, turning delegates off with its earnest seriousness. “Eco” is for every day. The Olympics are supposed to be (and it looks like they will be) a blowout party.

  15. It looks like my analysis was way too generous to Madrid. One thing I find interesting about the final IOC vote is that Tokyo got two fewer votes in Round 2 than in Round 1; after Chicago was knocked out, more than one person switched their vote from Tokyo to either Rio or Madrid. Rio appears to have gotten most of the final support from people who voted for Chicago and/or Tokyo in the first two rounds.

  16. I was also wondering about those two switched Tokyo votes, but one likely explanation is that they were anti-Chicago votes, with the intent of sinking Chicago in the first round. Once Chicago was out, the members could switch votes to their favorite city.

  17. Good column from several years ago celebrating the fact that NYC missed out on the Olympics. Tokyoits and Chicagoans should take note.

  18. “One thing is for sure – we all underestimated the strength of lingering hardcore anti-Americanism.”


    The US had the Games twice in the ’80s, once in the ’90s and once in the ’00s. That’s more frequently by far than any other country. Relax already.

Comments are closed.