TOKYO (NY Times) — Tokyo’s leaders promised glory and riches when the Japanese capital won its bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Jobs and the economy would grow. The public would rally in support. Japan’s international stature would rise.
The Olympics closed on Sunday, a year later than planned and far off the script the organizers described when they won the Games in 2013. The coronavirus forced the organizers to put the Games inside an anti-coronavirus bubble, all but eliminating any economic or even spiritual upside for Tokyo.
Instead, the city has been reduced to a mere vessel for a mega-event that has demanded much but provided little in return. Even after spending many billions of dollars, Tokyo experienced the Games much like any other city: as an event on television.
Makoto Inoue borrowed heavily to open a Mexican restaurant in 2018 in the shadow of Tokyo’s new Olympic Stadium, hoping that the location would attract Olympic visitors plus crowds of tourists for years to come.
On the afternoon before the Olympics kicked off, customers piled into his small basement shop for one of the first times since the pandemic began. But at 8 p.m., coronavirus restrictions forced him to close his doors just as the opening ceremony was getting underway.
“I could see the fireworks,” said Mr. Inoue, 43.
Instead of an economic boost, the Olympics brought a growing sense of malaise. Already weighed down by scandal and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the Games went ahead against the wishes of most of Japan’s people, who viewed them as an unacceptable risk to public health. The organizers’ insistence on holding them reinforced a sense that the country’s leaders are unaccountable to the public.
After enduring so much, many in Japan have been left wondering what the point of it all was.
“National confidence is in a fragile state,” said Nobuko Kobayashi, a partner in Tokyo with the Japanese arm of the consulting firm Ernst & Young, who regularly writes about social issues in the country.
The chaos surrounding the Games has reinforced “a hunger for a new system and a new way of doing things,” she said.
Poor decisions and missteps led to a series of resignations among top Games officials. Japan is now confronting its worst coronavirus outbreak yet, as some people in Japan appear to have taken the Games as a license to lower their guard.
Voters may punish Japan’s leaders for their persistence. The party of Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister, is likely to retain power in the face of weak opposition in parliamentary elections that are set to take place no later than the end of October. Still, its grip could be considerably weakened, and Mr. Suga’s fate after that is an open question.
Opinions about the Games have softened somewhat as they finish their two-week run, melted by the glow of Japan’s best-ever medal haul. Government leaders have danced around questions about what benefits the Olympics have conferred, providing bromides about how the athletes’ success in the face of adversity will set an example for a world struggling with the pandemic.
The biggest setback for the Games came from the pandemic, which forced organizers to delay the event for a year, leading to ballooning costs, economic losses and political disarray. The total cost is unclear: The absence of spectators alone probably reduced the economic benefit by $1.3 billion, the Nomura Research Institute, a Tokyo think tank, projected before the Games.
The economic forecasts, too, began to look shaky. Official estimates suggested that the event and its legacy effects would create nearly two million jobs and add more than $128 billion to the economy from investment, tourism and increased consumption.
Days before the opening ceremony, Toyota, one of Japan’s most powerful companies, announced that it would not air its Olympic ads in the domestic market and that its chairman would not attend the event. Other sponsors followed suit. (Local media had reported that Toyota spent $1.6 billion for a 10-year Olympic sponsorship deal. Toyota declined to comment.)
The losses are a rounding error for Japan’s enormous economy. But the smaller businesses along the thoroughfares and winding alleys of Tokyo may never recover.