December 5, 2013
ASIAFriday, August 23, 2013
Tokyo’s political master presents its strengths
HERALD IN JAPAN
The ancient Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic philosophy with Zen Buddhist roots which finds beauty in imperfection (jolie laide, as the French might say) includes one intriguingly paradoxical concept called fuga — an asymmetrical balance formed by intentionally uneven elements. Tokyo Governor Naoki Inose could be advanced as an example of fuga — there seems a hopeless imbalance between the world’s biggest metropolis with up to 35 million people in its catchment area and this little man smoking tiny cigarettes but the two match up well enough.
Inose has his own way of explaining it: “Tokyo is just too big for the soul of a politician or a bureaucrat — it needs a novelist.” The governor, it might be explained, is a novelist whose books have drawn heavily from extensive journalistic experience — a Japanese Tom Wolfe or even Gabriel García Márquez (he expresses admiration for Julio Cortázar).
But Inose is more interested in talking up his city than himself — and specifically its candidacy for the 2020 Olympics. That Tuesday noontime in Tokyo City Hall, he was a man on a mission — much as the Herald would love to have interviewed him about the multiple challenges of governing his vast metropolis, it was a single agenda.
“It must be Tokyo, we have all the answers,” he insists (next month here in Buenos Aires the International Olympic Committee will be choosing the 2020 venue between the Japanese capital, Istanbul and Madrid). He paints with a broad brush all the advantages of placing Japanese efficiency, technology, creativity and innovation at the service of organizing the Olympics in one of the world’s safest cities but then he suddenly darts into unexpected detail.
“Have you ever lost your wallet?” he asks the Herald (who hasn’t, living in Argentina?).
“In Tokyo you’d have it back,” he explains, “last year we retrieved 30 million dollars in wallets found on the streets.”
Among all the competitive advantages Tokyo can offer, it has at least one handicap — unlike Istanbul and Madrid, it has hosted the Olympics before (in 1964) when the IOC likes to break new ground.
Repeats are not unusual, replies Inose, the last Olympics were the third time for London and would have been the third time for Paris if they won (perhaps this is why Brazil is the first South American venue, he suggests). By 2020 there will have been 56 years between the two Tokyo Olympics whereas Spain had the 1992 Barcelona Olympics only two decades ago.
Moreover Japan is a completely different country from 1964 — back then the world was helping to consolidate postwar recovery but now it was a question of what Japan can offer the world as a developed, institutional country. Everything that the world appreciated from the London Olympics — the installations, transport, etc. — can be offered by Tokyo and improved (the “moving stadium,” for example).
Rather than empty hype, Inose feels that he is offering a package on which he can deliver because he has track experience in organizing sports mega-events — he refers to the Tokyo Marathon (one of the world’s six “grand slams” on a par with London, Boston and New York) as his model and the project basis for the 2020 Olympics. The 7th marathon was held this year with 10,000 volunteers supporting the 36,000 competitors. To give one example of the meticulous organization, Inose mentions the 70 fibrulators preventively deployed — two heart attacks were suffered during the race and both runners were saved.
Inose can readily see Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo as an Olympic athlete in a race and Japan boasts the top robot technology in the world but that is not the only image he wants to project. “Cool Tokyo” where East and West meet is a fun city brimming with enthusiasm to celebrate the Games and ready to extend the warmest hospitality to visitors. That hospitality will, of course, include sushi which can be priced at several thousand yen but Inose wishes to bury the idea that it is impossible to find either cheap or Western food in Japan — not only is there French cuisine but Tokyo boasts more Michelin stars than Paris. Plenty of pasta too, you name it and it’s there — and at every end of the price range.
So Tokyo is not soulless but it is clean and safe — the cleanest city in the world (even the toilets) while water can be drunk from the taps.
But perhaps the most visionary feature of the plans is the site of the future Olympic village. You would think that such a populous city would have no room but the Games would be held in the heart of downtown — in front of the imperial palace and overlooking Tokyo Bay. Despite all the people, Tokyo is a harmonious green city, Inose insists, and after four days there the Herald would have to agree — no traffic jams and not even a crammed subway (no sign of those famous pushers).
The governor welcomes the chance to revive Tokyo’s empty centre with an Olympic village which will serve as the basis for future urban renewal. Lieutenant-governor for five years to the colourful Shintaro Ishihara (Tokyo City Hall’s feisty chief for 13 years), Inose hopes that the Games will give him a springboard to measure up to his illustrious predecessor.
Expanding on his city’s “unique atmosphere” once more as time started to run out, Inose concluded that the future is Tokyo in a fast-changing world before congratulating his Buenos Aires mayoral counterpart on securing the Youth Olympics and looking forward to being here next month (when he hopes to meet President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) for the crucial Olympic showdown with Istanbul and Madrid.