After Rio, Tokyo eyes safe, smooth 2020 Games

Competitors compete in the Laser Men sailing class off the Copacabana beach in Rio de ...
Competitors compete in the Laser Men sailing class off the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janerio during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 10, 2016. Leon NEAL / AFP


The people of Tokyo have spent the past two weeks watching the Olympics with increasing confidence that the myriad problems that have dogged the Games will make Rio an easy act to follow.

Though Japan’s road to hosting the next Summer Games in 2020 has been marred by its own share of embarrassments, the feeling is that Tokyo’s woes pale in comparison to those of the South American metropolis.

There, tourists, officials and athletes have had to dodge the scenic city’s notorious street crime and violence, while structural problems inside the Olympic Village have also been a challenge.

Tokyo citizens, while too polite to criticise the current hosts directly, are upbeat about their city performing better.

“I will be delighted if we host an Olympics where everyone stays safe and goes home thinking, ‘Oh, I am glad I came to Japan’,” said Akiko Sasanuma, 79, watching the Rio Games on a giant screen at a special outdoor pavilion in a leafy Tokyo park.

There is a high chance of that happening.

The 2020 Games were awarded on expectations that Tokyo would be a model of efficiency, with the city touting itself as “peaceful, reliable, safe, and stable”.

“Tokyo has everything and it’s a very safe town,” said Toshiyasu Furuya, 45, who works in the heart of the city and commutes from suburban Kanagawa.

To be fair, Tokyo boasts advantages that Rio, located in an emerging country suffering from uneven levels of development, just doesn’t have.

It is the capital of the world’s third-largest economy, a centre of advanced high-tech efficiency and hosted the Olympics back in 1964 and jointly hosted football’s World Cup with South Korea in 2002.

And though its metropolitan conurbation is the world’s largest with more than 35 million people, streets are safe, trains run on time and the air is clean.

That doesn’t mean Tokyo is trouble free.

There is crime and the city has seen some sensational cases including grisly murders and a sarin gas attack on its subway in 1995.

But with strict gun control and a public honesty visitors find disarming, few people ever experience serious crime.

Tokyo folk regularly leave expensive smartphones on cafe tables when making a trip to the toilet or to order another latte, knowing they will still be there when they return.

– ‘Vibrant, exciting’ –

Japanese media have noted Rio’s propensity for crime.

“Robbery and theft targeting tourists shows no sign of decline,” Jiji Press reported, noting that in the Olympics’ first week Japanese nationals were the victims in at least nine cases.

Hinata Wada, 14, who lives just north of Tokyo, said that the Olympics are a chance for outsiders to experience the kindness of Japan’s people and the sparkle of its capital city.

“It’s vibrant,” she said. “It’s the centre of Japan. It’s exciting.”

Tokyo is a centre of youth culture, including anime cartoons, video games and eclectic street fashion.

It’s also a haven for global foodies and boasts 13 Michelin three-starred restaurants which sit happily alongside traditional culture such as kabuki theatre and sumo wrestling.

One concern is Japan’s propensity for deadly earthquakes.

But it is virtually impossible to predict exactly when they will occur and the city can arguably boast of being best prepared for a major natural disaster.

Tokyo’s urban convenience should please foreign visitors, said Yoshihide Tominaga, 48, a former resident who now teaches urban environmental engineering at a college in northern Japan.

“These are things in which Japan overwhelmingly outshines others,” he said, stressing its seamless public transport and polite service in stores.

“I think those are uniquely Japanese experiences that you won’t see anywhere else,” he said.

Since being awarded the 2020 Games three years ago, Tokyo’s bid has faced a series of problems, including being forced to redesign its stadium, over costs, and the official logo amid allegations of plagiarism.

More seriously, French prosecutors have launched an investigation into alleged bribes linked to Tokyo’s winning Olympic bid, which organisers have denied.

Yuriko Koike, who was elected in July as Tokyo’s first female governor, has ordered officials to rein in ballooning costs.

“I want to make it an Olympics where athletes compete in a pleasant environment and it is celebrated by residents of Tokyo, Japan and the rest of the world,” she said Thursday before leaving for Rio to attend the closing ceremony.

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Story By AFP
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