Like the 1964 Olympics, the 2020 Summer Games are expected to have a positive impact not only economically but psychologically as well. They will also offer Japan the chance to set an example for the industrialized world, to demonstrate that despite its troubles — deflation, a rapidly aging population and scars from a triple disaster — it can still pull off the world’s biggest sports event.
Consider Japan’s demographics in 2020 compared with 1964.
According to government statistics, in 1965, just a year after the Tokyo Olympics, people 65 or older made up only 6.3 percent of the 99.2 million population. By 2020, the ratio is expected to be 29.1 percent for a population of 124.1 million.
“By hosting the Olympics Tokyo can be a model for mature cities. Using private-sector funds, it should upgrade the current infrastructure to make it ‘eco-friendly’ and more accessible to the disabled and elderly,” said Naofumi Masumoto, a Tokyo Metropolitan University professor who studies the Olympic Games.
The metro government plans by 2020 to install elevators, wheelchair ramps and universal restrooms in all train stations as part of the “2020 Tokyo” strategy.
Hiroo Ichikawa, professor of urban policy at Meiji University’s graduate school, says it’s time to take a hard look at the aging infrastructure built for the 1964 Olympics — structures that are now 50 years old.
“We have to think about what to do with them and in what order in terms of urgency, or which facilities and infrastructure should be rebuilt,” Ichikawa said.
The 1964 Olympics, according to Ichikawa, spurred construction of major roads and expressways badly needed by a city that was being quickly transformed by the car.
“Japan managed to complete half of the Metropolitan Expressway network in the five years leading up to the games, which included the section between Haneda airport and the center,” he said.
The Tokaido Shinkansen Line linking the capital with Osaka also went into service on Oct. 1, just nine days before the opening ceremony.
The impact of the 1964 Olympics manifested itself in other ways as well.
Masumoto said various sports were popularized thanks to the games.
“Japan won the gold in women’s volleyball at the games, which became a very popular sport with mothers,” said Masumoto.
Many started volleyball teams and played at their children’s schools, a phenomenon that came to be dubbed “mama-san volley” (“mothers’ volleyball”).
He also pointed out that, inspired by the games, the Japan Soccer League, the predecessor of the J. League, was created in 1965.
The date of the opening ceremony, Oct. 10, was chosen for Sports Day in 1966, a national holiday to commemorate the occasion. The holiday was later moved to the second Monday in October.
Meiji University’s Ichikawa said society embraced internationalization ahead of the 1964 Olympics in anticipation of all the foreigners expected to visit Japan for the event.
“Many English conversation schools were set up. And hotels of a global standard were founded in Tokyo, such as Hotel Okura, Hotel New Otani and Tokyo Prince Hotel,” Ichikawa said.
There will also be differences — and new opportunities — for a no-longer-rising nation this time.
As the first Asian city to host the Summer Games twice, Tokyo can serve as an example to Seoul and Beijing, which hosted the games in 1988 and 2008, respectively, Masumoto said.
The 2020 Games can also give the public, especially young people, hope amid the malaise that followed the bubble years, Ichikawa said.
The metro government estimates the games could inject some ¥3 trillion into the economy and create 150,000 jobs nationwide from 2013 to 2020.
“The younger generation apparently welcomes the Olympics coming to Tokyo, saying they can talk about the future positively for the first time in their lives as things have not been good at all since they were born some 20 years ago,” Ichikawa said.
According to a survey released in August by the education ministry, which is in charge of promoting sports, 92 percent of some 1,900 respondents nationwide said they had a favorable view of holding international events such as the Olympics in Japan.
The 20-to-29 age segment stood out, as fully 97 percent responded favorably, the highest of all segments in the survey.
International events also give Tokyo and Japan the chance to show off their strengths to the world.
“During the 2020 Summer Games, Tokyo can show the world its know-how for running the world’s largest metropolitan area (with more than 30 million people). Also, it’s a chance to showcase cutting-edge technologies, which could be used in organizing the events,” Ichikawa said.
He said the games even have the potential to create new industries, citing security giant Secom Co. Established in 1962, Secom was put in charge of providing security at the Olympic Village.
“For this Olympics, there’s a lot of potential for the information industry. Maybe GPS systems could be used to monitor and control the flow of people. Ways of sending useful information to visitors will be improved, and the infrastructure will be built to send such information. Related business opportunities will be tremendous,” Ichikawa said.