Tokyo 2020 Games shot in the arm for aging nation

Published on NewsOK Modified: September 8, 2013 at 9:18 pm •  Published: September 8, 2013
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TOKYO (AP) — A half-century after the 1964 Tokyo games heralded Japan's reemergence from destruction and defeat in World War II, the city's triumphant bid to host the 2020 games is giving this aging 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 Gov. Naoki Inose told reporters in Buenos Aires after the International Olympic Committee chose his city to host the 2020 summer games. "In this battle, there was only the gold."

Japan is counting on the games to boost both the economy and morale.

Already, Olympics hopes have lifted share prices in construction, real estate and tourism-related companies. The news from over the weekend helped boost Tokyo's Nikkei 225 share benchmark by 2.2 percent by midmorning Monday.

Hundreds of Japanese athletes and officials gathered downtown for the early morning announcement shouted "Banzai!" jumping up and down and hugging in unusually demonstrative reactions to the announcement the International Olympic Committee had opted for Tokyo's guarantees of safety and stability, despite the festering nuclear crisis in its northeast.

Japan's capital defeated Istanbul in the final round of voting at the International Olympic Committee meeting in Buenos Aires, after Madrid was eliminated in the first round.

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.

The 1964 games were relatively bare bones by today's standards.

"There were no facilities, no food to eat; no barbells; no place to practice. That was what it was like," said Yoshinobu Miyake, a featherweight weightlifting gold medalist at the 1964 games who recalls walking the streets of Tokyo with a crooked barbell in hand, looking for a place to practice.

"But still, we had to win — so it was a country that managed to go on with just a hungry spirit, a Japanese spirit," he said.

To prepare for the 1964 games, Japan rushed to build expressways and introduced its first high-speed "Shinkansen" bullet trains. The games won it worldwide recognition for its growing affluence and economic power, and were a turning point for the country's athletics, as it captured 16 golds, 29 medals in total, trailing only the United States and Soviet Union.

This time, many here 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.

"This will help invigorate us," Kurohashi said as she stood outside Tokyo city hall with her 94-year-old mother-in-law watching hundreds of other Tokyo residents celebrating with gold streamers and balloons.

Two decades after its economic ascent was cut short by the bursting of its financial bubble, its population shrinking and rapidly aging, 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.

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