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Aware that voters outside of the capital may lack the degree of anticipation for the 2020 Olympics that can be felt among Tokyo politicians and corporations who will directly profit from the games, and sensitive to rumors that taxpayers elsewhere will get stuck with a post-Olympics tax bill, the government has realized it needs to make the event more popular nationwide.

As of this month, nearly 200 cities, towns and villages across Japan have registered to become so-called host towns. Cities such as Osaka, Nara and Kobe, as well as towns like Kyotanba, Kyoto Prefecture, have registered to serve as Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic host towns. Elaborate plans have been filed with the Cabinet Office (which is overseeing the initiative) to have athletes from Denmark, New Zealand, South Korea, Australia, Switzerland and Turkey, among others, pay a visit — even if it is a brief one — to places outside the capital.

Of course, there is the obligatory mention in the proposals about promoting international friendship with Olympic athletes, learning about different cultures, teaching visitors local customs and showing the world that, yes indeed, Japan is not just Tokyo. Or Kyoto. Or any of the other well-trodden media stereotypes that we usually encounter.

That is fine and dandy. But localities nursing their own dreams of an Olympics at some point were likely more interested in the part of the plan promising central government money for local Olympics-related events. The dash for Tokyo Olympic cash means Liberal Democratic Party-friendly boys and girls will get assistance for everything from printing up environmentally unfriendly glossy paper flyers advertising an Olympic-related event to upgrading their town’s sports facilities in order to hold friendly matches and training sessions with visiting athletes. Let the Pork Barrel-ympics begin!

Nobody expects a village or town to bid for the games. But Osaka, badly beaten by Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, has never quite given up on its dream to host the event. That Sapporo has expressed an interest in the 2026 Winter Olympics (it hosted the 1972 Games), and the fact the next three Olympics are being held in South Korea, Japan and China, has some in Kansai worried whether the International Olympic Committee would award an Olympics yet again to an East Asian city — especially if Sapporo is successful in its bid.

That hasn’t stopped the flow of rhetoric about how Osaka and the Kansai region are well-suited to hosting not only a few athletes and coaches prior the Tokyo Olympics, but also the games themselves. All that is needed is a bit of central government cash. Not just for Osaka, of course, but for nearby cities and towns. Sure, they might be mere host towns in 2020. If they play their cards right with the LDP and Osaka’s political leadership, however, they could be tapped to host a couple of lesser known, not-made-for-TV events in any future Osaka Olympic bid strategy. Which of course means more tax money for their local infrastructure.

Osaka is already bidding to host the 2025 World Expo despite a noticeable lack of public enthusiasm and reports that Paris, which also wants the Expo, enjoys strong support. For 2020, Osaka has registered to host Australian athletes prior to the games, while the city of Izumisano, near Kansai International Airport, wants to host athletes from Uganda, with which locally based organic cotton towel manufacturers have a relationship.

It remains uncertain as to whether such efforts to play the gracious host in 2020 will pay off down the road in the form of a formal Olympic bid that comes with the political support of the capital. In the meantime, becoming a host town means extra cash for pet construction projects and more money for LDP-supported politicians and businesses. Oh, and of course some worthwhile international cultural exchange … we hope.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

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