Are the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Trouble?
With an out-of-control budget, bumbling leadership, and embarrassing scandals, the city of the future is looking to the past for guidance.
Of course, there were downsides to the games, though they attracted little attention at the time. First, there was the cost, which amounted to an estimated $2.8 billion in 1964 dollars. Readying the Tokyo-Osaka high-speed train in time for the games was purely for show, since no Olympic events were held in Japan’s second-largest city: With the world’s eyes turned towards the Tokyo Olympics, Japan wanted to show off the technological heights it had attained. The rush to get the train ready in time for the Olympics caused construction costs and land acquisition fees to balloon, nearly doubling expenses to $1 billion.
To complete construction of the Shinkansen, funds were sucked away from other projects — like the monorail that was meant to connect Haneda Airport and the city center. Instead of terminating at a more convenient location, like Tokyo Station or Shimbashi, it ended several stops short, in Hamamatsucho. The project lacked the funds to buy the necessary land; instead, they built it over publicly owned waterways to cut costs, destroying local fishing industries in the process.
Highway construction was similarly affected. Expressways were built above canals and rivers to avoid buying land — the prices of which, not surprisingly, had risen dramatically because owners knew the government wanted it for the impending games. An eyesore emblematic of this situation is the expressway directly above the historic bridge at Nihonbashi, an economic center at the end of the old Tokaido Road footpath. The arrangement helped destroy a vibrant river culture that carried goods and supported numerous shops and restaurants.
Corruption, in the form of bid rigging and price collusion, a well-known fact of life in postwar construction in Japan, also reared its ugly head during the pre-Olympic years, as did ample opportunities to reward the Tokyo underworld. The yakuza availed themselves of diverse opportunities, ranging from a share of construction contracts to traffic control, and from lodging to on-site security. They also enjoyed a monopoly of brothels, gambling dens, and other such off-site entertainments. With taxpayer money siphoned off to line the pockets of corrupt politicians and underworld bosses, the subsequent cost-cutting often resulted in shoddy work.