OSAKA – As Tokyo continues to celebrate landing the 2020 Summer Olympics, some people in Osaka are making noises about the Kansai region considering a future bid for the games.
While pleased the Olympics are returning to Japan, the level of public and media enthusiasm in Osaka and the rest of Kansai is far less than what has been seen in Tokyo.
Like critics elsewhere, there is much concern in Kansai over the water leaks plaguing the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. There has even been local speculation that the International Olympic Committee might be forced to consider taking the games away from Tokyo if the problems at Fukushima worsen over the next couple of years.
At the same time, Tokyo’s victory has revived the dream among some Osaka officials of someday hosting the Olympics. On Tuesday, Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin no kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Toru Hashimoto hinted he might support that idea.
“Not merging Osaka Prefecture, Osaka city, and Sakai definitely means that we won’t be able to go after the Olympics,” Hashimoto told reporters.
Hashimoto was using the prospect of an Osaka Olympics to entice Sakai voters to cast their ballots for Katsutoshi Nishibayashi, 43, the Nippon Ishin candidate in the Sept. 29 mayoral election, and thus for the merger.
Nishibayashi is trying to unseat Mayor Osami Takeyama, 63, who opposes the merger plan. For his part, Takeyama expressed puzzlement at Hashimoto’s suggestion.
“The Olympics have nothing to do with the Osaka integration plan,” he said, jokingly adding that Osaka will host the Olympics after Kansai governments are united as a regional block, meaning never.
Osaka Gov. and Nippon Ishin Secretary-General Ichiro Matsui also hinted that he would love to see an Osaka Olympics but admitted this is unlikely to happen soon.
“There probably won’t be an Osaka Olympics while I’m alive,” the 49-year-old governor said Monday.
Osaka launched a bid for the 2008 Olympics but was badly beaten by Beijing.
Its plan was criticized by the International Olympic Committee as flawed, and by Diet members in the ruling and opposition camps, as well as many in Tokyo, as a waste of money.
Public support was tepid, but the bid was heavily backed by major Kansai and Osaka-based firms, especially Kansai Electric Power Co. and Osaka Gas, as well as major construction companies.
Many of these firms continue to support the idea of an Osaka Olympics.