History repeats as Olympics offers Japan focus for revival

Country hoping 2020 Games can be symbol of recovery as 1964 Games were; China cool on win

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 1:36am

A half-century after the 1964 Tokyo Games heralded Japan's reemergence from destruction and defeat in the second world war, the city's triumphant bid to host the 2020 Games is giving a battered nation a chance to revive both its sagging spirits and its stagnating economy.

"In most competitions, if you don't win a gold medal, you can also win maybe a bronze one," Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose told reporters in Buenos Aires after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose his city to host the 2020 summer Games. "In this battle, there was only the gold."

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman initially side-stepped questions about whether China had congratulated Tokyo.

But later the ministry said in an addendum to its transcript of the briefing that China's Olympic Committee "had already sent its congratulations to Tokyo for its successful bid to host the Olympics". It did not say when the congratulations were conveyed.

Chinese state-run media offered Tokyo heavily qualified congratulations, saying the event's success would depend on Japan recognising its second world war aggression.

"Japan should learn how to behave," the Global Times said in an editorial.

If behaviour such as visits to the Yasukuni war shrine continued, the editorial said, the world would reconsider whether "a country which has been paying high tribute to brutal war criminals for years is qualified to host such an event that advocates peace and harmony".

Japan's capital defeated Istanbul in the final round of voting at the IOC meeting in Buenos Aires.

The decision suggests IOC members were convinced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's reassurances that radiation leaks from the nuclear plant wrecked in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster pose no threat to Tokyo or the Games.

To prepare for the 1964 Games, Japan rushed to build expressways and introduced its first high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains. The Olympics won it worldwide recognition for its growing affluence and economic power.

This time, many in Japan consider the Olympics a symbol of recovery both from economic stagnation and from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 19,000 people dead or missing on Japan's northeast coast. "From here on, things will get better," said Yoko Kurahashi, 65, whose high school was just across the street from Tokyo's Metropolitan Gymnasium, the site for the 1964 Games gymnastics and water polo competitions.

Two decades after its economic ascent was cut short by the bursting of its financial bubble, its population shrinking and rapidly ageing, Japan can use all the help it can get, said Yukio Takahashi, who was jubilant as he took his morning walk with his wife in a suburban park that was a main 1964 Olympic venue.

"This will help us to not lose confidence," Takahashi said. "It gives us a goal, something to strive for."

Surveys showed 70 per cent of Tokyoites favoured the bid.

Already, Olympics hopes have lifted share prices in construction, real estate and tourism-related companies. Hosting the 2020 Games could yield positive economic effects of over 4 trillion yen (HK$312.9 billion) and create more than 150,000 jobs, according to some estimates .

Such assets outweighed concerns over leaks of radioactive water from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. But they also will add to pressures on Tokyo to resolve the crisis.

"We have made promises," Abe said after the decision. "Now we have a responsibility to meet those expectations."