TOKYO — Akemashite omedetou! Happy New Year. When you visit sporting goods shops here like Asics or stroll along the corridors of the Metro Subway, the ever-present sign reads: Tokyo 2020. Exactly 1,300 days from today — from July 24 to August 9, 2020 — all of the world’s YouTube and Sony TV eyes will be transfixed on the capital city of Japan.
Back in Sept. 2013, when the rigorous Olympic bidding process ended and Tokyo subdued of the two other finalists (Istanbul and Madrid), preparations started.
Tracing back history, the first Olympics in Tokyo was scheduled in 1940. But we know our history class. During that time, Japan invaded China and helped usher the horrendous moment called World War II. The Games were moved to Helsinki. After the dust cleared from war, including the rehabilitation of Hiroshimi and Nagasaki, this nation bidded again.
In October 1964, the Tokyo Olympics were played. Then, only 93 nations and 5,000 athletes participated. Three years from now, an estimated 207 countries and 12,000 Olympians will join.
Jana, Jasmin and I got the chance to get a glimpse of the National Olympic Stadium. When we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt. Bldg. last Wednesday, we climbed the 45th floor. From that vantage point and with perfect visibility, we saw the country’s tallest peak, Fujisan. And, set amidst the Meiji Jingu Gaien park in Shinjuku, we saw portions of the stadium construction.
The Olympic coliseum is located in the same spot where the original stadium of the 1964 games was held. They demolished the old structure in 2015 and built a new one with a seating capacity of 80,000. This structure has been controversial. The design was awarded to British architect Zaha Hadid, who envisioned a futuristic stadium; but the estimated costs spiraled beyond $2 billion — and the design was scrapped. In the end, they went nationalistic and voted for Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.
The Tokyo Games are expected to be the most high-tech in history. They’ll include the use of hydrogen-powered buses and self-driving taxis. Instant language translation will aid foreigners. And they’ll utilize facial recognition technology to verify ticket holders. But as computerized as Tokyo will be, for the Olympic Stadium, the architect has gone natural.
“I want to express a new, 21st century Japan,” the architect Kuma said. “The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were the Japan of the 20th century, an industrializing society, and it was a great symbol of that. But we are now in a post-industrial society and I want to symbolize the new era.”
Kuma will use wood, saying: “In the industrial society of the 20th century they used concrete and metal. In the post-industrial era we make use of natural materials. Even though you are using wood, techniques in that field have advanced. It’s not the case that using wood means it won’t last for a long time. In fact it’s precisely because you are using wood that it does last for a long time.”
I agree. We got to visit the city of Nara (40 minutes from Osaka) and found the Daibutsuden — the world’s largest wooden building — built many, many centuries ago.
COST. How expensive is it to host the Olympics? When Beijing organized China’s first ever Games, they spent $40 billion. That’s an enormous pile of money; in pesos, that’s P2 trillion. But that’s not the most exorbitant. The title goes to Sochi, Russia, who hosted the Winter Games in 2014 and spent $50 billion.
With Tokyo, they’re targeting “only” $13 to $15 billion. The original estimate was $30 billion but the organizers were able to substantially trim down the figure. This budget includes $5.5 billion for the venues and facilities (including the $1.5 billion Olympic stadium).
How did they cut the budget? Originally, they wanted a compact games (meaning, all the sites were nearby). That has been scrapped. My two favorite sports have been moved faraway: cycling will be in Izu (two hours from Tokyo) and basketball, an hour away in Saitama.