This is not so much a prophecy as it is a prediction: The city of Tokyo is in serious trouble. We are headed to the “Electric Town” this week to look at how this modern metropolis of more than 9 million people is preparing to host the 2020 Summer Olympics exactly one year before the five-ring juggernaut rolls into town. To be clear, the Olympics—and their masters in the International Olympic Committee—are not in trouble. They will nest in Tokyo’s five-star hotels, avoid traffic in special Olympic driving lanes and gather a mighty profit. But, if recent history is any guide, the city and its residents are in for a very rough ride.
We are heading to Tokyo to report on the preparations underway for (and growing resistance against) next year’s games, but even before we land there are some things we can be sure about. One is that the debt to be incurred from the Games could have a perilous effect on Japan’s economy. The country is already weighted down by debt, with Forbes magazine publishing breathless articles about “when Japan’s debt crisis will implode.” The 2020 Olympics costs have exploded, now in the range of $30 billion, four times the original cost projections. After a slew of bad press, Tokyo organizers have claimed that they’ve made extreme budget cuts, but as sports economist Andrew Zimbalist noted, many of these cuts were fictitious. And the cuts the organizers have made have largely been on essentials related to the experience of fans and athletes, like new transportation infrastructure for the games.