Is Tokyo Prepared for the 2020 Olympics?

March 5, 2019

Having lived in Tokyo for the majority of 2018, it was clear to see that Tokyo faces an ever-growing problem in the run up to the 2020 Olympics. With inner-city temperatures reaching scorching highs of 41.1°C last July, there are serious concerns regarding the health and safety of incoming tourists, not to mention the added stress on the current infrastructure and transportation systems. With multiple concerns such as these, and with just over a year until the opening ceremony, Tokyo's Olympic committee has a lot of work ahead of them to insure the smooth-running of events.

 

Interest with Japanese culture has reached an all-time high in recent years, reflected in the tourism numbers exponentially rising year upon year. 2018 saw the largest ever influx of tourists in Japanese history, with record numbers exceeding 30 million. With the Olympics on the horizon, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to achieve a target of 40 million in 2020 in order to boost economic growth. With the population of the greater Tokyo area already exceeding 38 million, public services, especially transport and healthcare are already being pushed to their limits. Can Tokyo really handle the strain of an extra 10 million people? 

 

Furthermore, it seems as though not all residents are happy with the expected economic growth associated with tourism, with many calling it a "tourism pollution". Many locals are disgusted by the behaviours of tourists (not helped by influencers such as Logan Paul), who have appropriated Japanese culture and have no respect for traditional Japanese customs and traditions. Major cities such as Kyoto, are already complaining that local services have been corrupted by the flood of tourism over the last few years, commenting that busses now feel overcrowded, streets have become littered and light and noise pollution has grown. With an increase in the number of tourists expected in the wake of the coming Olympics, it seems unlikely that local attitudes to tourism will become positive any time soon. 

 

The problem over keeping tourists hydrated during the events will also have to be carefully managed. Long queues and expected delays will have serious consequences for both audience members and athletes. In 2018 the peak of the July heatwave killed 138 people due to heat stroke and hospitalised even more. If the coming years are anything to go by, there may be significant ramifications for both locals and tourists over the summer months which undoubtedly will leave hospitals and first-aid services under tremendous pressure. In preparation, volunteers and first aid centres are being gathered and prepared in order to hand out water bottles in case such cases emerge, however extra care should be given when picking out volunteers, since many foreigners visiting Japan will have no knowledge of Japanese (or even English) , many volunteers may be unprepared for the language barrier ahead of them.

 

Part of the pressure has been alleviated by scouts sent out in 2018, in order to canvass areas for potential problems and find the best routes to and from Olympic events. However, these tests do not take into consideration the increase in people attending the events, which may pose problems for athletes getting to the events in time. 

 

Despite this, there has been a push in recent years to fortify the current infrastructure. The frequency and efficiency of train services have been increased which should help to alleviate the pressure somewhat, but with packed stations, platforms and trains already being a problem with the current population, it should be raising red flags about the need to emphasise other forms of transport to the Olympic park and associated locations. However there has been headway in the efficacy of signs, which have become increasingly anglicised. Furthermore, for non-English speakers, a numerical system of station identification has been implemented on all major train lines, that should assist people not familiar with the Japanese train systems. 

 

Further to this, it is also important to consider the Paralympics and disabled access to the events. Japan has always been supportive of disabled access, with almost every major station in Tokyo having wheelchair access to the platforms. This looks to be continued throughout the main events of the Olympics, which have been carefully designed to accommodate wheelchair users, but a continued concern for Paralympic athletes seems to be short term accommodation that may suit their needs. 

 

Despite the looming presence of the Olympics in 2020, Japan has one more hurdle to jump. The Rugby World Cup in Autumn 2019 will be a monumental test to see whether or not Japan's infrastructure can handle the stress of a major international sporting event. If the World Cup yields difficulties, it should highlight vital areas that need to be addressed in the few remaining months; and if it succeeds then, it will prove that the reinforced infrastructure has served its purpose and with a few modifications...should be able to take the full force of Japan's coming wave of tourism.

 

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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