Tokyo // When the Olympic flame was lit to rapturous applause across Tokyo in 1964, it marked not only the beginning of the games but the reinvention of a nation.
In the countdown to the event, the sprawling Japanese capital experienced a frenzy of construction, resulting in modern highways, shiny airports, futuristic stadiums and high-class hotels.
The nation’s first bullet train made its global debut in a timely fashion while cameras capturing the jubilant crowds were the first to broadcast the Olympics live around the world.
The effect was instant confirmation of Japan’s dramatic revival as a powerful, peaceful, innovative and resoundingly modern nation less than two decades after its wartime defeat.
Fast forward nearly half a century, and it is clear that Japan is hopeful that it is once again on the brink of a reinvention that will recapture the attention of the world.
On this occasion, the successful bid for the 2020 Summer Games is widely regarded in Japan as an opportunity to rebuild from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, which claimed nearly 20,000 lives and unleashed devastation along its eastern coastline.
It is also hoped that the games will mark a new chapter in terms of the recovery of the world’s third-largest economy, following nearly two decades of economic stagnation, soaring public debt and deflationary gloom.
Signs have already been brewing that changes are afoot in Japan. In recent months, the nation has captured headlines for its so-called “Abenomics”, the bold reflationary policies involving monetary stimulus and heavy fiscal spending spearheaded by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe.
Japan’s Olympic bid success is the icing on the economic cake – and its benefits are clearly multiple – the Tokyo metropolitan government has already forecast that the event will generate ¥2.96 trillion (Dh109 billion) in revenue and create 150,000 jobs between now and the start of the games in 2020.
The impact of the successful bid could be seen instantly in the capital, with shares rallying, the yen dropping and the government revising its growth upwards for the January to March quarter from 3.8 per cent to 4.1 per cent.
And as the seven-year countdown kicks off, Tokyo – which will also stage the Paralympics – is bracing itself for a blitz of activity across the commercial spectrum.
Construction is a key industry that is forecast to benefit from the games. In the pipeline is the creation of Tokyo’s biggest housing project in 42 years to accommodate participating athletes.
The Olympic Village complex, spanning a 44-hectare site of reclaimed land next to Tokyo Bay, will house 17,000 beds and be used as a residential development after the games.
The event will be split into two key areas, including the Heritage Zone, comprising sites previously used in the 1964 games, and the Tokyo Bay Zone, with 22 new venues.
Almost all venues will be within a compact eight-kilometre radius of the Olympic Village, while the main focus will lie on the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which is set to receive a futuristic ¥130bn makeover by the British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
Preparation for the Olympics will help to further fuel the economy’s recovery, according to Will Johnson, the head of research and consultancy at Savills in Japan.
“The Olympics will play an important part in maintaining the momentum of the economic recovery that was brought about by Abenomics,” he says. “Positive sentiment is key to growth – businesses need to expand and consumers need to spend. The 2020 Olympics form part of a bigger jigsaw.
“It can be expected that this will include significantly increased retail and tourist demand, providing a shot in the arm to commercial facility operators and the hospitality industry.
“In terms of physical infrastructure, many of the new facilities, including the Olympic Village, will be located on vacant development sites in Tokyo Bay. This will help to generate a sense of critical mass in this relatively low-density part of the city.
“Developers who own large development sites in areas such as Harumi, Ariake and Aomi are expected to see increased interest in these locations, primarily for residential units.
“Additionally, public investment in new roads and transport infrastructure will create additional value, supporting land and condo prices in surrounding locations.”
Tourism is also expected to surge. Already, the industry appears to have recovered from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, with a record number of overseas visitors recorded last month and a new high of 13 million forecast to visit Japan by the end of the year.
“ We are sure that Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games will be hugely beneficial for tourism to Japan over the next decade,” said Kylie Clark, the head of public relations and marketing at Japan’s government tourism body in London. “The spotlight will not only be on Tokyo in the summer of 2020, but also in the next seven years as Tokyo prepares for this internationally important event.
The cooling industry is one less obvious industry expected to reap the rewards of hosting the Olympics, with the games scheduled during peak summer heat and humidity from July 24 to August 9.
Measures to cool the city include the resurfacing of more than 100km worth of asphalt roads, a process already under way, using a water-retentive reflective material that will slash temperatures by 8 per cent, according to the Nikkei newspaper.
Other steps include high-tech misters on athletic fields and on the marathon course, in a bid to prevent dangerous incidents of heatstroke among competitors.
The Japanese government is no doubt hoping that the optimism fuelled by the successful Olympic bid will help to soften the blow of a planned increase in the nation’s sales tax, which the prime minister is expected to approve on October 1.
Aimed at containing Japan’s soaring public debt, which is more than twice the value of GDP, the hike from 5 to 8 per cent is clearly unpopular – 50 per cent of people polled in a recent survey were opposed to it.
Whether the unpopularity of the tax hike is able to dent the wave of Olympic optimism unleashed across the capital may not yet be apparent, but one certainty is the fact that the next seven years will be crucial if Tokyo is to reinvent itself in 2020 with the dramatic flair – and resounding success – as in 1964.