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Presenting the up, down and dark sides of ‘Gorinnomics’

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

The weekly magazines’ and tabloids’ reaction to the selection of Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympics reminds one of an oft-quoted remark by Oscar Wilde that goes, “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

The hosting of the 2020 Games is being harped by some as the “fourth arrow” in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strategy for reviving the economy — the previous three arrows being bold monetary policies, flexible fiscal policies and economic growth strategies to encourage private investment.

Eiji Kinouchi, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities, tells Aera (Sept. 23) that the gorin tokuju (special demand created by the Olympics), including revenues from inbound tourism, are projected to result in an economic windfall of ¥150 trillion. This has already spawned the new term “Gorinnomics,” a composite of “gorin” (five rings, the Sino-Japanese kanji for Olympics) and “economics.”

But Aera warns such expectations may be no more than kawa zanyō, a truncated form of the Japanese idiom equivalent to counting one’s chickens before they’re hatched. For one thing, many of the facilities are planned to be built on reclaimed land, which the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, showed is highly vulnerable to soil liquefaction. Should the greater Tokyo region be hit by a major temblor sometime in the next seven years, warns Waseda University professor Masanori Hamada, preparations for the Games might be thwarted, resulting in Japan “failing to deliver on its promise to the world.”

Another concern is the environmental impact. A bird-watching organization and some local civic groups have already been campaigning against the planned construction of a 300-meter long concrete course for the canoeing event along with stands for 5,000 spectators (which will be removed after the Games) in Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward, which, they fear, will wreck the habitats of some 226 species of wild birds, 140 insects, 80 spiders, 91 trees and 132 plants.

Tabloid newspaper Nikkan Gendai (Sept. 10) noted that Tokyo’s selection to host the 2020 Olympics is likely to enable the Diet to ram through heretofore gridlocked efforts to legalize casino gambling on the coattails of other programs for the Games — perhaps as soon as next month, when the legislature reconvenes.

“This time it will not be so much as a gambling casino as an ‘all-purpose resort’ with a theater, international conference facilities, hotel and so on, with a casino also included,” financial journalist Yoshiki Kobayashi is quoted as saying, adding that New Komeito and opposition parties are likely to go along with such a plan.

“The national bureaucracy, such as the Tourism Agency, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have been energetically submitting ideas,” Kobayashi continues. “Makers of gaming machines for the pachinko industry expect their share values to rise, so they are also dropping their previous opposition.”

Weekly Playboy (Sept. 30) predicts that the hosting of the Games will alter what it describes as Tokyo’s “power balance.” In 1964, most of the main Olympic venues were located on the city’s west side, such as Yoyogi in Shibuya Ward and Komazawa Park in Setagaya Ward. But plans for 2020 call for the athlete’s village, media center, and facilities for numerous venues to be moved eastward to the Tokyo Bay waterfront: Harumi, Toyosu, Ariake and Daiba.

One likely result will be a rush to invest in high-rise condos constructed along the waterfront. But these would serve as a straw that sucks up the city’s resident population while further exacerbating the growing problem of unoccupied homes in the nearby suburbs.

“Sufficient planning went into the previous London Games so that many facilities could be demolished and removed afterward, and most of the ones that were not could be put to practical use,” says real estate consultant Osamu Nagashima. “If development in Tokyo applies a similar concept, property on the waterfront will turn out to be a good investment; but if not, then it will amount to nothing but ‘warriors’ dreams’ ” (a reference to a haiku composed by poet Matsuo Basho after his visit to an ancient battlefield).

Then (of course) there’s always the problem of the yakuza to consider. In a 10-page special report titled “Honshi de shika yomenai, 2020 Tokyo Gorin ‘kuroi omotenashi’ ” (“The ‘black hospitality’ of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that you can only read about in this magazine”), Shukan Asahi Geino (Sept. 26) warns that organized crime syndicates are likely to utilize “sleeping companies” (registered firms with no actual business activity) to gobble up contracts for construction projects. Efforts by the Tokyo government to “clean up” the city by shutting down sleazy adult-oriented businesses in Kabukicho, Shinjuku Ward, and in Akihabara, Chiyoda Ward, it predicts, might lead to the profusion of illegal “delivery health” (outcall sex services) that engage in bottakuri (overcharging) or otherwise cheat customers.

The gangs, which some believe have deep ties to the real estate and construction industries, have shown remarkable business acumen, and proactive efforts by police to crack down on them ahead of the Olympics may merely result in yakuza groups metamorphosing into new, less-visible forms.

  • Roan Suda

    Another fine, well-researched article by Mark Schreiber. I only wish the news were better. To me, the gloomiest scenario is casino gambling, truly a bargain with the devil.