Here come the Olympics

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Tokyo's Olympic bid for the 2020 summer games won out over Istanbul and Madrid yesterday.

I am sure the Games that run in seven years' time (July 24 - August 9, 2020) will be a success and give a boost to the local economy. Tourism will boom. Bilingual folks in Japan will have lots of work as interpreters, guides, and more. Journalists based here will get to file thousands of words and plenty of video. Anyone with rooms to rent will have a steady income leading up to the Games.

Yet I have mixed feelings about the whole enterprise. I live inside the "Heritage Zone" of the plan. What will we see in the next seven years? The 1964 Olympics changed the face of Tokyo. This one will, too, particularly with grand new venues on Tokyo's waterfront and revitalising some of the Olympic venues from the last Tokyo Games in 1964.

It's exciting and hopeful to imagine a renaissance in Tokyo, and scary at the same time. These Games will surely be fraught with all the problems other host cities have encountered - budget overruns, derelict buildings after the event, overly-strict police security, not to mention a crackdown on circles in marketing. Only time will tell what transpires but it seems the planning groups have done their best.

The Bid Plan Application files and Canditure files are interesting reading. The Application has a general overview and the three Canditure files give more specific details including the budget, marketing plans, competition schedule, venue details, transportation plans, and accommodation options. It's not too often that you get to learn things like all the election dates between now and the summer of 2020. Or how many advertising spaces there are on Tokyo buses (14,105). Or that here are 237 cars per 1000 Tokyoites.

The budget is huge (15 billion USD) and it is a mix of Tokyo metropolitan government, private sector, and federal money. Because of its failed 2016 Olympic bid, Tokyo has been planning for this day for a long time, buying up land for years in the pre-planning, so none of that land cost is in the official budget. To keep the budget low there is a some clever use of existing facilities. Tokyo Big Site, normally hosting corporate and industry conferences, will host fencing and wrestling. Tokyo International Forum will be used for weightlifting. The Budokan will host judo, which is what is already does (along with music concerts) and the main sumo stadium will be converted into a boxing ring. Even with that, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will own 9 new sports facilities and the entire 17,000 bed Olympic Village complex afterwards. A sailing marina seems like a good addition, but a sea kayaking course? Hmmm, our tax yen at work. 

Something dear to my heart is the situation at Yoyogi Park. It isn't fully clear what will happen there. The main stadium, newly built by 2019, will be located nearby in Jinju Gaien. The old Yoyogi National Stadium hosted basketball and swimming for the 1964 Olympics and will be used for handball this time. Within the park itself is a "live site" with video feeds from venues around the city to allow people without tickets to see what's going on. Some of the maps in the canditure files show a security perimiter that looks like a large blob in the middle of the park. There will also be "live sites" in Hibiya Park and Ueno Park, so I can't imagine these venues will be permanent or cause too much damage to the parks.

One of the points of concern in the bid was accommodation availability and price. Tokyo has more than 87,000 hotel rooms within 10km of the Olympic Village site and about 150,000 in the greater Tokyo area. Will this be enough for visitors? The organising committee has gotten contracts for over 40,000 rooms for officials, sponsors, and other key groups. For example, Tokyo Dome Hotel is guaranteeing 300 of its 1006 rooms for broadcasters and journalists. But how about all those people visiting as spectators? Here's a way citizen can help - homestays. This might be a good time to start renting out your extra rooms via Air BnB.

Tranportation in Tokyo is going to have a few changes, including expansion of Kachidoki station on the Oedo line (which will run around the clock during the Games), the completion of several ring roads, and special highway lanes for designated Olympic vehicles. Olympic tickets will be on IC chipped cards that also provide free rides on public transport on the day of the ticketed event. The increase in traffic on the public transport systems will be as high as 920,000 extra passengers (on top of a daily 25 million), so if you might want to think about working from home during the Games or taking your summer vacation abroad and skipping the fireworks festivals.

All of this means that Tokyo in 2020 is going to be a very different place than the one I landed in in 1998. I hope I can keep up!

P.S. Note to hooping friends - rhythmic gymnastics are scheduled from Aug 5-7. Get your tickets early. :-)

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