When the capital hosted the Olympic Games over half a century ago, it was heralded as a symbol of Japan's postwar recovery. This time around, Tokyo appears keen on trading brick and mortar for hearts and minds.

One-hundred kilometers of highways were freshly laid during the massive infrastructure drive that coincided with the 1964 games. Haneda Airport was modernized, and luxurious hotels sprouted in a city once ravaged by American firebombings. A new sewage system gushed into action, and the world's first bullet train roared between Tokyo and Osaka at record-breaking speed to the awe of visitors.

The sporting event saw Tokyo transform from a grubby city to a first-world metropolis and signified Japan's return to the global stage as a peaceful, economically confident nation. This was reflected in the choice of Yoshinori Sakai, born in Hiroshima on the day the atomic bomb was dropped on the city, to light the Olympic flame.