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. 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.
Despite scandals, rising costs and doubts about the economic payoff, the Tokyo Olympics will be a must-see event -- if you can find a ticket or a hotel room -- when they open in a year. Tokyo was supposed to be a "safe pair of hands" after Rio de Janeiro's corruption and near-meltdown three years ago. Local sponsorship revenue has passed ¥324 billion ($3 billion), about three times more than any previous games, driven by Japan's giant advertising and marketing company Dentsu Inc., the exclusive marketing agency for the Tokyo Games that is caught in a French probe into alleged vote-buying connected with Tokyo winning the 2020 bid. Ticket demand is unprecedented and few Japanese can even get them. Estimates suggest up to 90 percent of Japan's residents who applied were unsuccessful in the first phase of a ticket lottery in June.
The eyes of the world will be on Tokyo for more than just the 16 days that it hosts the 2020 Olympics, as the concept of legacy gains more importance for global sporting mega-events. "I think what Tokyo can learn from Rio is that without a compelling case for legacy, a city should not host the games," 2016 Rio Olympics spokesman Mario Andrada told The Japan Times during a recent interview in Tokyo. "Because it is a really expensive venture, and only a well-structured, tangible, clear legacy can justify the public spending on an adventure like this." The legacy of an Olympics refers to the benefits that a host city and country gains once the event is over. That can take the form of new stadiums, redeveloped urban areas and updated transport networks -- the so-called hard legacy -- or a boost to the nation's image and an inspiration for its people -- the soft legacy.
The Japanese public is being prepared for the reality of next year's postponed Olympics, where athletes are likely to face quarantines, spectators will be fewer, and the delay will cost taxpayers billions of dollars. In the last several weeks, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has given selected interviews outside Japan and hinted at empty stadiums, quarantines and virus testing. IOC member John Coates, who oversees Tokyo preparations, said a few weeks ago in Australia that the Tokyo Olympics face "real problems," partially because of the numbers involved: 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes to start with, and then staff, officials, media and up to 80,000 volunteers. The stark message about a very different, reduced Olympics is now being floated in Japan by politicians, and in unsourced news stories. The themes include the possibility of reduced seating at the Olympics -- if any fans at all -- tests for all athletes, fans and staff, and a quarantine-like situation at the Athletes Village.
One of the many challenges facing Tokyo as it prepares to host the next Summer Olympics is the possibility of a deadly heat wave like the one that has gripped the nation in recent weeks. With two years to go until the 2020 Games, Japan is experiencing one of its hottest summers on record. On Monday, the mercury hit 40 degrees Celsius in central Tokyo for the first time in history. If a similar heat wave strikes during the July 24 -- Aug. 9 Olympics, the health of athletes, spectators and workers is very likely to be at risk during outdoor endurance events such as the marathon and cycling. Accordingly, the International Olympic Committee has approved a plan to hold some events early in the morning to avoid the heat, and its inspection team has said all venues will be analyzed to determine what further measures can be taken to mitigate the impact of the high temperatures.