Tokyo 2020 to fo­cus on Games legacy

Ja­panese are learn­ing from Athens 2004


The 2020 Sum­mer Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games in Tokyo will serve as a spring­board for the re­build­ing of Ja­pan’s im­age and econ­omy fol­low­ing the triple blow of the earth­quake, tsunami and nu­clear dis­as­ter in 2011, in the same way that the 1964 Olympics in the Ja­panese cap­i­tal show­cased the coun­try’s post­war re­con­struc­tion, Ja­pan’s am­bas­sador in Athens, Ma­suo Nishibayashi, told Kathimerini in an in­ter­view on the oc­ca­sion of the 50th an­niver­sary of the Tokyo Games.

Fore­see­ing an im­prove­ment in eco­nomic re­la­tions be­tween Greece and Ja­pan, Nishibayashi said that Tokyo must learn from events such as Athens 2004 and make the great­est ef­fort for its post-Olympic legacy. He said the or­ga­niz­ers’ motto is “Sport can change the world, so let’s change it.”

Friendly, with a ready smile and un­mis­take­able Ja­panese deco­rum, he ex­pressed af­fec­tion for Greece, although not so much about its do­mes­tic sports scene, with the ex­cep­tion of long-dis­tance races.

Just over a year, and my man­date is sup­posed to be be­tween three and four years. I first came to Greece some 2324 years ago and loved it. I went on a fam­ily trip and a cruise to the is­lands of Hy­dra and Poros. But it was a very cold day!

It is a won­der­ful place to work. This is my eighth over­seas post, and if I com­pare it with pre­vi­ous ones, such as New York, Geneva, Cuba and oth­ers, Athens is the best. That is in terms of crime rate, the great weather… Athens is the ideal post, es­pe­cially for some­one of my age – I am over 60 years old! I en­joy Greek food. You have so much seafood here. The peo­ple are also very nice, very kind – that’s the other rea­son. There also are a lot of places to visit – so many fa­mous places, but I have not had time to visit them all.

I was 12. My pri­mary school or­ga­nized a trip to a sta­dium. I just got a taste of the Olympic Games in the sta­dium that was newly cre­ated at the time. Now we are go­ing to dis­man­tle it and cre­ate a new sta­dium for the 2020 Games. It’s the same place but the new venue will have more ca­pac­ity and a new de­sign by an Iraqi ar­chi­tect [Zaha Hadid].

I re­mem­ber the most popular ath­lete, Abebe Bik­ila, the bare­foot marathon run­ner. The other one was Czech gym­nast Vera Caslavska, who re­cently vis­ited Ja­pan again at the age of 70. She is now a coach. Tokyo 1964 was the Olympics at which Ja­pan won 16 gold medals, the coun­try’s best tally, which was only matched in 2004. So the Ja­panese peo­ple re­mem­ber the big­gest num­ber of gold medals for them be­ing at Tokyo and Athens.

It is a chal­lenge. We launched a new slo­gan a few weeks ago: Sport can change the world, so let’s change it. In 1964 Ja­pan had just emerged from the post­war pe­riod, we cre­ated high­ways, the new train and so on. Ja­pan, es­pe­cially Tokyo, changed!

As is known, Ja­pan was af­fected by a dis­as­ter [in 2011] in which an earth­quake and tsunami killed more than 20,000 peo­ple. We need to re­con­struct, we are at that stage and we need to show the world how we are re­con­struct­ing the coun­try. This Olympics is a golden chance for us to show the world we are re­cov­er­ing from that dis­as­ter. Another big chal­lenge is to cover the [Fukushima] nu­clear power sta­tion, as that will take some 30-40 years to dis­man­tle, but it’s the time to just show our ef­forts. The Olympic Games of­fer a fu­ture to the vic­tims. It will also seal the re­cov­ery of our econ­omy.

Of course we have to learn from London, Beijing and Athens re­gard­ing the post-Olympic use of the fa­cil­i­ties. We have al­ready started to learn about the pub­lic spend­ing in Athens – I’m sorry to say – and also in Beijing. In London they had al­ready thought about that is­sue, but they still have some prob­lems, I was told. We have to make the great­est ef­fort after the Olympics.

Not ex­actly, but be­tween 2012 and 2013 I was the am­bas­sador in charge of cul­tural ex­change, so I was in­di­rectly in­volved in the bid­ding process, given that the gov­ern­ment is not re­spon­si­ble for the bid­ding, only the Tokyo Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment.

It de­pends on the sport. We are go­ing to cre­ate some new fa­cil­i­ties but we are also go­ing to make use of those we al­ready have. The plan is to have com­pact venues, not to spend a large amount of money. Con­struct­ing the new venues and re­con­struct­ing the old ones will cost money but it will pro­vide a boost to the econ­omy too. We have to pro­vide the right fa­cil­i­ties for all the ath­letes. We want all vis­i­tors to ex­pe­ri­ence Ja­panese hos­pi­tal­ity in var­i­ous ways, in pub­lic spa­ces, at ho­tels, with train ser­vices. That is the most im­por­tant thing for us.

We have al­ready started to fo­cus on the younger gen­er­a­tion of Ja­panese who will be around 20-25 dur­ing the Tokyo Olympics. We start se­lect­ing th­ese peo­ple when they are around 16 years old. We must also cre­ate fa­cil­i­ties for train­ing.

We are mak­ing a spe­cial ef­fort in the cre­ation of new in­fra­struc­ture for the Par­a­lympics as well, for peo­ple with mo­bil­ity prob­lems, the vis­ually im­paired etc. How­ever it is too early to as­sess the to­tal cost of the Games.

Yes. We have al­ready started learn­ing from Greece, from that – I’m sorry to say – bad ex­pe­ri­ence.

I follow soc­cer, of course, but I’m not a very keen sports fan. I do play golf – I went to play at Costa Navarino re­cently.

There is a lot of room for that. We have launched a tech­ni­cal co­op­er­a­tion pro­gram to help sport in other coun­tries, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in Africa, Asia etc, but Greece is not in­cluded in that. The first pil­lar of our pro­gram, pro­mot­ing the Olympic move­ment, ob­vi­ously in­volves Greece though, so maybe we will have some room to co­op­er­ate there.

They are crazy about it! They love run­ning, but they mostly adore base­ball. It is the most popular sport,

fol­lowed by soc­cer.

Ev­ery year we have two or three run­ners come from Ja­pan for the Athens Marathon. We have an ex­change pro­gram be­tween Nagano and Athens, ex­chang­ing run­ners. We in­vite marathon run­ners from Greece and we send some run­ners to Athens ev­ery year. This has be­come a tra­di­tion over the last 10-15 years.

At the Spar­tathlon at the end of Septem­ber around 55 Ja­panese run­ners took part. They were the big­gest na­tional group after the Greeks.

The marathon is very popular in Ja­pan. In May we have the so-called Golden Week [which in­cludes four na­tional hol­i­days], and peo­ple can take the week off work, in­clud­ing May Day. This year was the first time that a half­marathon was held in Athens and some 40-50 run­ners [from Ja­pan] joined it thanks to the fact that they could take a week’s leave to come and run here. I think the or­ga­niz­ers in Athens tar­geted the Golden Week in Ja­pan.

I think we can bet­ter pro­mote bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween Ja­pan and Greece through the marathon. Marathon is a very fa­mous place. All [Ja­panese] high school text­books men­tion it, re­gard­ing the bat­tles of Marathon and Salam­ina, and have photographs of the place. The legend of the run­ner who ran from Marathon to Athens right after the bat­tle to say “We won,” and passed away, is a very fa­mous story. Every­body knows it in Ja­pan.

Greece is a very popular spot for Ja­panese peo­ple. Un­for­tu­nately, apart from in shipping, our business re­la­tions are not very big. Ja­panese ships are very popular among Greek shipown­ers. His­tor­i­cally, we have had a very small num­ber of in­vest­ments in this coun­try, even be­fore the cri­sis. Un­for­tu­nately, com­pared to other Euro­pean coun­tries, we have a very limited pres­ence here.

This is a golden chance for the Ja­panese to get to know Greece. Peo­ple will pay more at­ten­tion to the light­ing of the [Olympic] torch, but in gen­eral we have to make a greater ef­fort to pro­mote Greek tourism in Ja­pan. The Greek gov­ern­ment should pro­mote this coun­try more in Ja­pan, with more ad­ver­tis­ing in news­pa­pers etc. The Turks, the Croa­t­ians and oth­ers have at­tracted more Ja­panese vis­i­tors re­cently. Greece used to be a very popular spot for the Ja­panese un­til 20 years ago. We used to have more than 120,000 tourists from Ja­pan per year here, but now this has dropped to one tenth, be­tween 10,000 and 20,000. It’s a small num­ber.

Be­fore the eco­nomic cri­sis we used to have 60,000 to 70,000 tourists. The cri­sis pro­vided a very bad im­age of Greece, as TV pro­grams cov­ered the fight­ing in Omo­nia and Syn­tagma. Although you have re­cov­ered more or less and in the last cou­ple of years the coun­try sta­bi­lized, peo­ple in Ja­pan do not know it. It will cost some money of course, and our of­fice and the Ja­panese side are co­op­er­at­ing with you to pro­mote Greek tourism.

Ja­pan’s Am­bas­sador in Athens Ma­suo Nishibayashi (left) told Kathimerini that the sta­dium where the 1964 Olympic Flame lit the caul­dron in Tokyo will be de­mol­ished.

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