Tokyo 2020, Renaissance and Legacy

The importance of the 2020 games go well beyond the sportive for Tokyo. The entire country is counting on the event and the joined efforts of industries to be the uprising moment of Japan as a society with a window open on the world.


Tokyo is conscient of the potential dramatic post-games effects that the Olympics might leave once the event is finished. Accordingly, and in order to avoid Rio-like situations, construction plans and infrastructure works have been carefully designed to become and stay sustainable.

The 1964 Olympic Games brought the first Shinkansen (bullet train) connection between Osaka and Tokyo, highways, subways as well as urban developments that are still benefiting the city. But, Japan 1964 was a country with a young population and a growing GDP. Today’s Japan has lost its edge and is hindered in its development by its conservatism and nihoncentrism (Nihon means Japan).

Hopes are high for Tokyo 2020 to be a turnaround, both in terms of economic growth and social behaviour. About 9 trillion Yen (1.7% of GDP) has been put aside to come to this point. Prime Minister Abe, whose grandfather was Japan’s PM during the 1964 Games puts it like this: “I want to make the Olympics a trigger for sweeping away 15 years of deflation and economic decline.”

In terms of infrastructure investments, it’s reassuring to see that most of the budget is being spent on city development, rather than on fancy stadiums. Much needed additional accommodation, transportation and redevelopment of urban areas absorb over 90% of the total budget. Examples are a direct route between Tokyo’s 2 main airports, Haneda / Narita and the redevelopment of the Shibuya station area (including the disappearance of the famous Shibuya crossing).


Even if the Japanese come across as extremely friendly and helpful, it’s a stretch to call the country immigration- or integration-friendly. It’s hard to get around without the help of handy apps or the rare English-speaking Japanese commuter pointing out directions in the complex public transport system.

Japan knows this and is using the Olympics to accelerate its efforts to turn the country into a more foreigner (Gaijin) friendly environment. More signs are being put up in multiple languages – English and Mandarin being the most needed – and a committee is formed to consider whether there’s a need to amend and add pictograms to meet modern needs. New picto’s could be developed for Wi-Fi, prayer rooms and ATMs that accept international credit cards. Fun fact: there are lengthy discussions about the pictogram for the onsen (Japanese Spa). The Japanese picto is a circle with 3 lines of steam coming out of it, whereas the international (ISO) pictogram is a symbol featuring 3 people bathing inside a circle…

Much more important are the efforts of 7 Japanese universities to train Olympics volunteers, in a recurrent series of 4-day language courses, to become more at ease with English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Portuguese. Although English is mandatory for each student, most of them will be able to understand a written text, but unable to hold a conversation.


Another topic of discussion in Japan’s ageing society is the need for (or not) immigration. As the economy and industry are changing, there’s an increasing need for a different workforce. In addition, Japan is already struggling today to fill in the many jobs in farming, construction, hotels, elderly care and shipbuilding. The country has already implemented easier visa for seasonal workers, but more efforts are being discussed, especially in the running-up to the Olympics.

2 trends exist amongst the Japanese population, the first fighting for more openness, the second pleading for a more compact and efficient country (about the latter trend, reading tip: “Chronology of the Future” by the conservative author Masashi Kawai). As the Japanese are afraid of societal disruption, the idea of receiving not only foreigners, but also their families, is looked upon as a risk for the country’s safety and the sustainability of the social support system (Japan has very good social security and systems in place to keep older people active).

Why is this important for the Fleet Manager?

Understanding Japan requires a bit of an effort. Even for yours truly, who’s been living in Tokyo for 2 years and whose better half is Japanese, it’s a daily struggle. The essential take-away is to understand that Japan will never revolutionise. Change is accepted, but gradually and with much attention for the balance in society or, on a smaller scale, in a company.

This is why events, such as the Olympics are crucial. They are change accelerators and unique opportunities for Japanese society and business to take a leap forward and become more “international”. For the Fleet business, the Olympics mean the kick-off of mobility initiatives, further development of the infrastructure and connected to autonomous vehicles.

It has become common for company strategies to align with Tokyo 2020 and put roadmaps in place for innovation. The Olympics have become a context for change and innovation; why not use it for your fleet strategies as well?

Authored by: Yves Helven