“Now is the time for Tokyo to host the Olympics.”
New York and Tokyo have been sister cities since 1961, and they have established a strong bond as fellow densely populated cosmopolitan cities. Newly elected governor of Tokyo Naoki Inose visited New York last month to fortify this bond. With an anti-bureaucratic attitude, ample motivation and an outspoken personality, he has put numerous plans into action in order to improve infrastructure, promote clean energy and contribute to people’s lifestyles. The Governor chatted with Chopsticks NY about his views on Tokyo’s identity and his governing style, as well as regarding his city being a candidate for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
You are working hard to bring the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo. What are the reasons your city should be chosen?
We have a perfect transportation system. All trains arrive on time and there are bullet trains leaving every couple of minutes. So I think that in regard to the management aspect of hospitality, no one can surpass us. For example, last October we hosted the IMF Annual Meeting. The location is rotated from Washington D.C. for two consecutive years followed by being held outside D.C. the third year. Usually a host city has a three-year preparation period, but for an emergency situation we were asked if there was any way we would be able to take over with only a year and four months until the conference. Tokyo accepted this request and pulled off successfully hosting about 20,000 people without a hitch. This kind of Japanese management is remarkable. For the Olympics as well, many things are occurring from minute to minute in terms of operation. Japan is extremely advanced regarding hospitality, service and sophistication in these kinds of situations. This is why such events are held in Japan.
London has hosted three times, and Paris has twice and aimed for a third. It can be said that this would be Tokyo’s second time, but the previous time was 50 years ago in 1964. So we need to make the decision that we are ready for the Olympics to be held again. Now is the time for Tokyo to host the Olympics. I think there is also the goal of aiding reconstruction efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
To elaborate further, almost all the competition venues will be located in an 8 km radius from the Olympic and Paralympic Village, which is planned for construction in Harumi, quite close to the Odaiba area. Many existing facilities are located nearby and the renewed National Stadium will be built near Jingu no Mori, which is also close by. So for the most part we can provide over 85 percent of the facilities in Tokyo within this 8 km radius.
So it sounds like there isn’t much of a need to build anything new?
That’s right. We’re continuing the legacy of 1964, and “legacy” serves as one of our keywords. Thanks to hosting the Tokyo Olympics, the city’s east side was developed and beautified.
There are many Chopsticks NY readers who visit Tokyo for business or pleasure. What are the spots not to miss in your ever evolving city?
Our public toilets are very clean [laughs]. But this is something important. Also, the variety of Japanese food is amazing. We have food for the average diner which is really delicious, and we also have more upscale cuisine. We actually have numerous 3-star Michelin restaurants, but at the same time we have reasonably priced, casual restaurants so we are able to offer both.
Moreover, you can drink Tokyo’s water directly from the faucet. It goes through five steps of processing, and Tokyo is the only place where the water is broken down by ozone. Then it is quickly absorbed by activated carbon. At any rate, it’s great that you can drink Tokyo water from the tap so you don’t need to buy any bottled water.
I would like to highlight how important a role the Imperial Palace plays for the people of Tokyo, which is located in the middle of the city. As I wrote in my book The Mikado Code, there is nothing in the middle of Tokyo. Here in New York you have Central Park next to the city’s streets. Tokyo has nothing in the middle, but is surrounded by rows of buildings and cars driving around. This is usually the opposite in a typical city, where the center is built up and the surrounding areas are lower. The fact that Japan has zero in the middle is connected to our citizen’s innovation and hospitality. Our cutting-edge technology, development and transportation systems facilitate expansion based on this nothingness.
So you want visitors to Tokyo to experience this?
There is great air quality by the Imperial Palace which is the center of this nothingness, and the 5 km loop around the palace is a really beautiful running course. It is also nice to run in the areas bordering the Imperial Palace, with their tall buildings which surround this space of nothingness.
Japan is a homogenous country, but Tokyo is rapidly becoming more internationalized and cosmopolitan. Throughout the world, there is a strong image of it as the center of Asia. Are you actively undertaking any urban development that reflects this identity?
We are taking a portion of Tokyo and making it a special zone for foreign companies. The current effective tax rate is 40%, but we will decrease it to about 20%. I think that by doing this we can further strengthen Tokyo’s role as the world’s financial capital. For this purpose, we need to prepare people like English speaking researchers and lawyers. We also need consultation offices that can field anything in English and create services that are useful for companies’ advancement. I would also like to think about schools. It will officially be called the Asia Headquarters Special Zone. For example, if a corporation has its headquarters in New York, it will also generate one in Tokyo. So this relates to actual headquarters’ functions, not just a branch.
Both New York and Tokyo are huge cities that lead the world both economically and socially. As two similar big cities, I think that their respective problems resemble each other. What are some current issues you are facing in Tokyo?
As you might expect, one big issue is electric power and transportation infrastructure. Tokyo has relatively improved. Because of the Fukushima power plant accident, we are striving to produce electric power locally for local consumption. For example, constructing power generation facilities under buildings and replacing old power plants with new ones. The power generation efficiency of old power plants is 40%, but we would like to change them to plants with up to 60% efficiency by using the newest turbines and good quality fuel. We are also looking to reduce CO2 emissions. By 2020, Tokyo is required to reduce the CO2 emissions of 1400 high-rise buildings by 25%. Because of this, we have replaced all the air conditioners and boilers, and for the Olympics we can offer an eco-conscious event for the environment.
Like New York during Hurricane Sandy, Tokyo has seen its share of large-scale damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake and the aftermath of the power plant accident. As fellow big cities working toward reconstruction, do you have anything to share with New York from your experience?
I noticed that there are no levees on the Hudson River, but in Tokyo there are usually levees of about 4 meters. Now there are about 50 locations along the levees with floodgates, and we are making backup power sources for them. This is one of the lessons we learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Also, Tokyo’s levees are just plain concrete walls, so we would like to add some character to them. We are slowly tackling this via efforts like making them more park-like, and this is something that New York might also want to think a little about doing.
———- Interview by Masako Kaida,
Translation by Stacy Smith
Born in 1946 in Nagano Prefecture. Non-fiction author, politician. Has continually released unconventional works written from a unique viewpoint. Awarded the 18th Soichi Oya Nonfiction Award for The Mikado Code. Awarded the 1996 Bungei Shunju Reader’s Award for A Study of Japan. Appointed Vice Governor of Tokyo in June 2007. Elected Governor of Tokyo in 2012 with the most votes for an individual in Japan’s election history. From his time as Vice Governor, engaged in various projects such as advancing Tokyo water abroad and unification of the metropolitan subway and Tokyo metro. His main literary works include Persona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima and The Century of Black Ships, which are available in English. Also, ran his first marathon in 2012 when he successfully completed the Tokyo Marathon.
The exterior design for the Olympic Stadium, which won first prize in the New National Stadium International Concept Design Competition.
The Olympic Aquatics Centre and Waterpolo Arena is planned to be built on Yumenoshima (Dream Island), an artificial island. (left) The Ariake Arena will be used for volleyball events. (right)
The Imperial Palace is secluded within verdant grounds at the heart of Tokyo. According to Governor Inose, it plays an important role in Tokyoite’s mindsets. Some areas of the Palace grounds are open to the public.
Tokyo’s tap water is good tasting and safe thanks to sophisticated purification and distribution systems.
Public restrooms in Tokyo are among the cleanest in the world. Pictured here is the women’s restroom at the Chiyoda line Omotesando subway station.