National

Tokyo governor vows to use 2020 Games to tackle demands of graying society

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike vowed Friday to use the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics to create a city that can cope with the demands of a rapidly aging population.

Graying Japan is one of the world’s fastest aging societies, with the number of centenarians rising to 65,692 in September, an increase of 4,124 from the previous year.

Tokyo is under pressure to update its creaking infrastructure to deal with its aging population, but Koike said she believed the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics can provide the catalyst to transform the city.

“In 2025, Japan will see the baby-boomer generation reach the age of 75,” Koike told an audience at the World Forum on Sport and Culture in Tokyo. “We will be a super-aged society. Through the Paralympics, we want to make Tokyo a city which is accessible to all.

“We will build our city based on accessibility guidelines so that we can have a very free city. That will be the legacy of the Tokyo Games.”

Koike was one of several keynote speakers addressing the legacy of the Tokyo Games at the conference, which was organized by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The Olympic Movement has come under fire in recent years for forcing host cities to spend vast amounts of money with little lasting benefit, but Koike is determined to make the 2020 Games work for Tokyo in the long run.

“In order to make sure that the Tokyo Games are a great success, we need to also make sure that we have a legacy for the citizens of Tokyo,” said Koike, who was elected governor in August. “It needs to improve the quality of lives for people in Tokyo. We want to make sure that residents of Tokyo feel the legacy in their daily lives.”

Koike identified various areas where Japan can benefit from the games, including public health, business and technology, and the impact on the areas affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

“The Rio Games had a team of refugees, and they gave a great performance,” said Koike. “Refugees are a man-made disaster, but recently we have seen a lot of natural disasters. People who are affected by that face great difficulties just like the refugees, and through the Olympics we must show that we are able to recover from such disasters.”

Koike has made it her mantra to cut waste and recycle wherever possible in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, for his part, stressed that the organizing committee is on the same page.

“We are focused on promoting the recycling of resources,” said Muto. “For example, venues will be using a lot of wooden materials, and we have to be careful how we procure them and make sure it doesn’t destroy the natural environment.

“Even with the food we serve to athletes and visitors, we have to be careful. Fish come from the ocean and we have to consider the impact on the ecosystem.”

Muto made a distinction between the “hard” legacy of infrastructure and venues, and the “soft” legacy that he hopes will give Japan’s younger generation confidence on the world stage.

“One thing that we shouldn’t forget is how the Olympics can change people’s way of thinking,” said Muto. “If it gives children the mind set that they can be active in the international field, I think this is the longest-lasting legacy that we can build.”

Tokyo follows on as Olympic host from Rio de Janeiro, which staged the games this summer despite concerns over financially-stricken Brazil’s spending.

But Brazilian Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani highlighted the positive legacy left by Rio 2016, pointing to the creation of hundreds of new schools and health centers and improvements to public transport.

“Right from the very beginning when we were awarded the Olympic Games, the legacy was the most important issue,” said Picciani. “We understood that the Olympic Games gave us the opportunity to increase the development of the city. The Games were a great opportunity to transform Rio de Janeiro.”