National | New Year's Special

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike looks ahead to 2020 Games and end of her term

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

With a little over half a year to go until the start of the Summer Games, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike says the host city is all set for the sporting extravaganza and is focusing on ensuring the games will have a long-lasting legacy.

“After various adjustments including budget cuts, we’ve managed to build gorgeous venues based on well-thought-out designs that can remain in use after the Olympics,” Koike said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. “We’ve done everything we can to make these games sustainable.”

Organizers say that all of the 43 venues being built or refurbished for Tokyo 2020, including the main venue, the National Stadium, have been completed or are on schedule. The Aquatics Centre is due to be completed in February.

Since assuming her post in August 2016, Koike, whose term ends in July during the Olympics, has vowed to make the sporting event a success. The former defense and environment minister was elected on a promise to make the government more open and transparent, as well as to put on a “compact” games.

However, she has since been struggling with trimming the ballooning budget to stage the games. Tokyo 2020 organizers said in December that despite cuts, the total cost of staging the games will reach ¥1.35 trillion, which includes ¥597 billion yen covered by the Tokyo Municipal Government.

Still, Koike is optimistic her efforts will bear fruit and that the games will bring about a positive change to the lives of Tokyoites, despite her disapproval of some decisions made by organizers, especially the relocation of the marathon and race walking events to Sapporo.

“I was told the marathon course should be moved (to Sapporo) and I didn’t give my consent but eventually agreed to the change, saying clearly that it’s solely for the sake of the success of the games,” Koike said.

The marathon venue change came out of safety concerns, as the organizers admitted that measures to tackle the expected heat were insufficient. Compounding the metropolitan government’s anger over the move is the fact that safety measures such as water sprinklers and special heat-absorbing paint on roads in Tokyo have driven up the bill.

Koike said the metropolitan government, which oversees one of the city’s two subway networks and some bus services, is preparing a digital service based on traffic data that will enable people working in Tokyo and those driving through the city to make “rational decisions” when it comes to transportation.

Koike said London managed to keep traffic manageable during the 2012 Games as a result of a successful campaign encouraging local residents to work from home. Koike said that with advances in technology since then, more detailed data should allow authorities to manage traffic during the Tokyo games.

Since taking office, Koike has also encouraged Tokyo-based companies to allow their workers to telecommute, especially during rush hours, and helped ensure accessibility to the Olympics and Paralympics venues.

“I hope this style of work will gain traction” and will bring the people of Tokyo to a healthier work-life balance beyond the games, Koike said.

One of Koike’s key promises is to prepare Tokyo for dramatic change, and the governor is confident she can keep her word.

“I’m readying a vision plan for society in 2040, and I am planning to announce soon a set of goals we intend to complete by 2030,” Koike said.

In 2016, Koike said she was aiming for a dynamic and innovative city with a diverse and inclusive environment for residents and visitors. She also wants to make Tokyo a more resilient city against disasters by ensuring protection and assistance to its people.

She said the scenario for 2040 goes one step further.

“In this era of significant change throughout society, I’ve been committed to increase Tokyo’s presence and ensure its significance in 2030 and 2040, and make Tokyo even more appealing, and we’ve been already planting seeds for the future development,” Koike said. “These efforts have already borne fruit.”

Koike, who is the capital’s first female governor, said that within three years, she managed to reduce by 5,000 the number of children on day care waiting lists.

“This translates to an opportunity for 5,000 women to use their talent,” Koike said.

In September 2016, Koike announced her plan to boost capacity at day care centers for children in Tokyo to 17,000, as part of efforts to ease the country’s chronic shortage of such spots.

The number of children on waiting lists in the capital as of April 2016 was 8,466, the highest among the nation’s biggest cities. In July 2019, the number dropped to 3,690, according to metropolitan government data.

Koike’s 2040 vision for Tokyo centers on all residents, she said.

Given that by 2040, an estimated 33.7 percent of Tokyo’s population will be 65 or older, Koike said she is aiming for an environment where people can not only lead a long and healthy life but also envisions a society, “where all people have a place.”

But next year will be a test for Koike’s power. Her term of office is set to end on July 30, about a week into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The election is set for July 5.

When asked whether she will run for re-election, Koike said: “I cannot give such a clear-cut answer.”

Nevertheless, the governor is expected to run for a second four-year term and should she run once again, she will likely have support from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, who praised her performance in office.

“Would there be any candidate who can defeat Koike?” Nikai told reporters in July.