Can the Tokyo Olympics rebrand Japan?

Tokyo 2020 mascot robot Miraitowa, which will be used to support the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, exchanges high-five with a boy during the robot unveiling event to celebrate the first anniversary of the mascot debut at Tokyo Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. 22 July 2019, (Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato).

Author: Nobuko Kobayashi, EY-Parthenon Japan

Tokyoites have started the one-year countdown to hosting the Summer 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games. Enthusiasm has conquered initial scepticism. By January 2019, 205,000 people had registered as volunteers, exceeding the organising committee’s goal of 80,000. In May, the first-round lottery for tickets awarded 960,000 passes to winners from a pool of 5.1 million applicants — roughly one-seventh of the 35 million people in the metropolitan area.

Preparations for Tokyo 2020 have borrowed heavily from London 2012 — another mature host city. The spirit is to build less and reuse more. Instead of constructing a new facility, for example, the cycling event will occur at an existing track in Izu, 120 kilometres away from Tokyo. All 5000 medals will be made from 100 per cent recycled metal retrieved from 6.2 million used mobile phones and other IT gadgets collected nationwide.

From plastic bottle recycling to zero-emission fleets, all wheels are in m00otion to promote Tokyo as a technologically-advanced and environmentally conscious city. This is an important message particularly in the face of the global climate challenge. But this is not the only message Tokyo aims to convey while in the spotlight.

The world has shifted since September 2013 when the Japanese Olympic Committee won the bid for the Summer 2020 Olympics. Globalisation has receded. Rather than enlarging the entire economic pie, countries are rushing to secure their own slice. With the world’s two largest economies — China and the United States — seemingly at odds in every aspect of ideology, economics and society, the global order as we have understood it appears to have evaporated.

Respect for pluralism is the dominant spiritual value of the Olympic Games, which extends beyond sports. Japan has a rare opportunity to shine by personalising this spirit as host. Under its core …continue reading