AOYAMA VIEW 06.08.2019

The best and most popular Olympics ever – but you better watch them just on TV

52 days of continuous rain is over and we are finally into “hon-natsu”, the sticky hot real summer when even nights stay at 25-30C. Last two weeks, daytime temperatures have hit 34-35C – that‘s 47-48C real impact when you calculate in the 70% humidity. Concrete and bitumen contribute further heat: yesterday Ginza measured 39C on street level with feel like 67C according Heat Index Calculator! Typhoons started as well with the first one sweeping through Central Japan with heavy rain last weekend and now another one is slashing Kyushu. A third one is already on way from Philippines. This is what half a million tourists arriving here next year for Olympics should prepare for.

Electronic handheld cooling fan might be the new black in fighting the heat in Tokyo (FCCJ)

Two weeks ago it was exactly one year to the opening day and international media is finally starting to take note that the IOC chosen time for 2020 Games is not the best one for spectators nor for participants: 5600 people were taken to hospital and 11 of them died of heat stress. Last year, almost every day in July 24 – August 8, the projected Games schedule, temperature around the National Stadium showed readings over 31C (38C real feel), the limit City officials recommend to refrain from physical exercise. Despite all warnings, IOC selected this time to suit American TV schedules: money is more important than people‘s health.  

Through last summer, 95,000 people were taken to hospital for heatstroke, so there‘s every reason to expect the ambulances will be busy next year, too, with Olympic tourists. Overcrowded like Kyoto‘s temples today, doctors and nurses will face tough time treating people unable to express themselves in Japanese. There‘s financial aspect, too: hospitals already today have difficulties with tourist patients leaving their bills behind unpaid.


City government‘s planned measures to combat heat include mist sprays, tents for shade and free distribution of drinks and ice packs. A total of 136 km of roads and streets, including the entire marathon course, will be paved with heat-reflecting material that is said to lower temperature by 8 degrees. It all adds to the bill that is now expected to reach about double the original budget JPY 700 billion, yet well below JPY 2 trillion (USD 20 billion) forecasted at one stage. A good JPY 500 billion (USD 5 billion) was cut off by opting for more economical facilities for some sports – like playing the basketball tournament in Omiya Super Arena 40 km away instead of building a brand new one in Tokyo.

As well, the Kengo Kuma designed half-wooden new National Stadium cuts 1/3 from the projected price of the original grandiose plan by Zaha Hadid. Unlike some other new big stadiums recently, it is also expected to be ready in good time, already November this year. It will miss its originally planned test to be used for Rugby World Cup final in September by just two months despite long delay in construction start.

The Olympic Village is rising fast to Harumi waterfront (FCCJ)
Skeleton of old Tsukiji Market getting demolished (FCCJ)

As for other Olympic sports than athletics, 5 out of 10 new facilities have been already completed with the last one – new Aquatic Center – set to be complete in February. All this despite big problems in availing necessary construction materials and sufficient number of workers, something that has impacted in rising costs, too. 

It is actually difficult to say which costs are really related to the Games: improvements into roads and rail, metro stations‘ safety etc, will continue to serve residents long afterwards and the National Stadium will serve the whole nation for decades just as the old one did. Same goes for the relocation of the Tsukiji fishmarket even if its great old location won‘t be ready for use as planned due to two year delay in the transfer. Bulldozers are now busy clearing the site into a huge parking lot for 2000 extra buses needed for the Olympic traffic.


The IOC seem to be highly satisfied with the preparations. “I can truly say I have never seen an Olympic city as prepared with one year to go before the Games”, said big chief Bach here last week. “One year from now Japan will make history.”

You can find many sponsors in Tokyo using olympic markings (FCCJ)

IOC itself will also make history: its earnings from the global TV-rights will hit over USD 4 billion, an all-time record. As for its sponsors, Panasonic, Toyota and Bridgestone have always headed the big global ones together with CocaCola and other US brands. Now they have Ali Baba and other big Chinese companies, too and in addition, the ever powerful Dentsu has lined up over 60 local sponsors coughing up USD 3 billion for the hosts‘ benefit.

Despite the costs to tax payers, both local and national, the games are super popular for all the nation. More than half of the 7,5 million applicants were left empty handed in the first on-line ticket lottery and the arrangers will launch a repeat for Japan residents next week. The worldwide sales for the rest of the 7,8 million tickets will start next spring. Identity of buyers is checked carefully to prevent hoarding and a new law forbids resale at higher price with prison penalty here, so any scalping, usual with all big events, is possible only overseas. One source  – and a reason if there‘s any empty seats like in all previous Olympics – will be thousands of free tickets allocated to sponsors and sport organisations. Once you get something valuable free without even asking…


As a Tokyoite and sports fan, I am excited to have this historical sports event in my home town, yet worry that there will be serious problems with heat and traffic congestion. The metro, even normally heavily packed, will likely face huge crowds of unaccustomed people unable to get into trains, maybe even down narrow stairs to stations, unless local companies accept to change to telecommuting for their millions of workers coming daily from their suburbian homes to City offices, something still difficult in the traditional corporate culture. City campaign has started to try change attitudes about this with hope that Olympic games will help to make working sometimes from home acceptable permanently, something common in other countries for long time now. I‘m waiting with interest to see how it will succeed.

Meanwhile, if City goes ahead with its plan to reserve the inner city highways for Olympic traffic, the normal roads, clogged with heavy traffic every morning and night, could come to total standstill preventing necessary deliveries of merchandise including food to the shops. It will be tough for all here if homes will run out of fresh food – same for hotels and restaurants for the guests. On other hand, it would be embarrassing if the participants don‘t get from the Olympic Village by the Tokyo Bay to their events around the town in time.

I‘m surely not the only Tokyo resident who thinks we should get at least some benefit from putting up with all this extra trouble in addition to paying big share of the costs. Now we are treated same as if you come from, say, Sapporo, Seoul or Saparomaki. Without ticket, it will be more convenient for us to watch the games on TV somewhere outside of our own home town.

Only time you can find city this uncrowded is during the night (FCCJ)

Timo Varhama

Tokyo August 6, 2019