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The candidates in Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election seem at a loss for innovative ideas. The current governor has done a middling job on crime (Kabukicho, curfews for kids) and has banished diesel fumes, but he’s a xenophobic blowhard who, among his many irrational proclamations, has averred that bullying at school persists because victims “lack a fighting spirit.” The centerpiece of his strategy for a new term is his lunge for the Olympics. This is the starry-eyed vision of an aging man seeking to relive his youth as well as a costly initiative with little chance of success. After all, Nagano hosted the games just nine years ago, and Beijing will do so next year.

As for Shintaro Ishihara’s leading challenger, Shiro Asano may be a bit boring, but he’s a man with both feet on the ground. He would reconsider the Olympics bid, he says, and would prefer to concentrate on transparency, social reforms, disaster preparedness and education.

Given the scope of Tokyo’s problems — a declining birthrate, pervasive bullying, a growing “NEET” (not in employment, education or training) sector, the derisory status of women in the workplace (earnings 40 percent less than men), a rapidly aging population, and the ocean lapping ever higher at the door — Tokyo cries out for something more fundamental than the short-term blowout of an Olympics matsuri, even in the unlikely event that the games return to these shores in the near future.

Indeed, what Tokyo needs is a challenge that would bring together the diverse elements of our metropolis. One example might be to transform Tokyo into a more verdant, eco-friendly environment making it the “Stockholm of Asia,” so to speak. If this resulted in a less stressful lifestyle for its inhabitants, then it would certainly be a more acceptable use of Tokyo’s long-suffering taxpayers’ hard-earned yen.

don walker

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