Olympics 2020: Japan begins three-year countdown
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Japan on Monday began the three-year countdown to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with celebrations and fanfare, even as organisers struggle to contain soaring costs and restore credibility.
Japanese celebrities and athletes dressed in bright kimonos gathered for the launch of a remake of a popular 1964 Tokyo Olympics song, as organisers promised to turn the 2020 Games into the biggest “natsu matsuri” (summer festival) ever.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, clad in a white traditional Japanese “happi” coat, attended a flag ceremony at city hall.
“I hope to lead the Olympics to success with all of you,” she told the audience.
The International Olympic Committee, fearful that ballooning budgets could see future Olympic bids dry up, last month praised local organisers for slashing costs.
Ms. Koike last year ordered a review of the budget which recommended revised plans to reduce costs projected to rise to more than $25 billion — four times the initial estimates when Tokyo won the 2020 hosting rights.
Tokyo organisers have since slashed costs to around $13 billion but have otherwise largely failed to inspire confidence after the city beat Madrid and Istanbul in its bid to host the Games for a second time.
Progress on the financial front comes after a rocky start when the initial roll-out of the centrepiece Olympic stadium was bungled, forcing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2015 to tear up the blueprints amid public anger over its price tag. A new and cheaper plan was unveiled later that year.
More embarrassment followed when the original Games logo was scrapped following allegations of plagiarism.
But the focus on Monday was on building enthusiasm for Tokyo’s hosting of the Games.
Other events held across Japan included a 1,000-kilometre running and cycling relay from the northern prefecture of Aomori to Tokyo.
The route took in areas hit by the deadly 2011 tsunami and the event featured 2000 Sydney Olympics marathon champion Naoko Takahashi at the start.
A surfing exhibition by pros took place at the Tsurigasaki beach venue in Chiba — an hour outside Tokyo — where the sport will make its Olympic debut in 2020.
Japan also observed a national exercise to encourage tens of thousands of commuters to work from home, in a bid to ease rail and road congestion before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and reform the country’s workaholic culture.
About a quarter of the population of 127 million live in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures.
The congested megalopolis thus faces a serious need to ease rush-hour crowds to accommodate tourists for the Olympics.
The public-private “Telework Day” involved some 60,000 workers at more than 900 companies, organisations and government offices, according to the Internal Affairs Ministry.
They worked from home, skipping their usual habit of commuting in notoriously packed trains or driving personal cars to the office.
The Ministry had no figures to break down participation by region but most of those involved are believed to be in Tokyo.
The idea followed a teleworking effort at the time of the 2012 London Olympics. Japan will repeat the exercise on the same date over the next two years in the run-up to the opening of the Summer Games on July 24, 2020.
The plan is also part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to rethink Japan’s workaholic tradition, where mostly male workers are routinely expected to spend long hours in the office and have little time with their families.
The government earlier this year unveiled its first-ever initiative to limit overtime in a bid to tackle “karoshi”, or death from overwork. It hopes that once the Olympics are over, more people will telecommute as a lasting legacy.
“Teleworking can be one solution” to heavy traffic congestion in the Tokyo metropolitan area, said a government official in charge of the campaign.
“Some people may say they felt some effect (on reducing congestion) this morning, while others say they felt no difference.
“This is a small start but we’d like it to trigger companies as well as workers to start thinking about a different work style,” he said.
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