What Really Scares Japanese About the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? 8 Locals Share Uncensored Opinions

What Really Scares Japanese About the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? 8 Locals Share Uncensored Opinions

The Olympics will be held in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9, 2020. It is going to be a great excitement for the Japanese, yet at the same time some have concerns about hosting the world’s biggest sports festival in their hometown, as it's perceived to have a direct effect on their daily lifestyle during the period.

To get more of a hint as to how Japanese feel about the Tokyo Olympics, we interviewed several people from different backgrounds about what concerns them the most. The following is their opinions on the games.

1. What to do with the newly refurbished stadiums? (Makoto / 42, Office worker, Yokosuka)

"My worry is what we will do with the newly refurbished stadiums? I’ve heard many former countries have had the same problem, a good example is the stadium in London, which is now hardly used.
The government has used a large chunk of our taxes, but once the games are over will these stadiums just be forgotten and abandoned? And I’m also concerned that many Japanese haven’t even thought of this as an issue. I mean if the government reckons spending all this tax money on the games is a good idea, it just shows how little they are thinking about life after the Olympics.
Realistically, I believe the money would be better spent on long term things such as education. And what’s more is that we, the people, haven’t been seeing the benefits of the high taxes we’ve been paying, so when the government says the Olympics will benefit our economy it simply isn’t true as it is all just business."

Although the majority of Japanese tend to prefer newer buildings, so they often redevelop an area/a city, many people are questioning this issue this time because, apparently, one of the stadiums those were unnecessarily rebuilt was beloved as it was and had a history.

As a history lover who has faced disappointing situations countless times, I personally hope this questioning movement will affect our future in a good way as we can expect more people to be eager to preserve historic buildings rather than replacing it with a modern one.

2. How will the rush-hour trains be? (Ken / 24, Shop manager in a pub, Kawasaki)

"I don't really have much concern about the Olympics, as a pub manager because we've done quite well during the Rugby World Cup, with people flooding in at all times.
But of course, as a person who lives in Tokyo, I'm worried about how the rush-hour trains will be. They are already overcrowded as it is, so I can’t imagine how they will manage with the extra people, potentially it could be a real safety issue.
But when it comes to the drinking business, I'm rather looking forward to the Olympics, seeing it as a huge business boom. Whether teams lose or win, they will turn to alcohol to celebrate or drown their sorrows, and for my pub that’s fantastic news.
One more thing I’d like to mention, however, is that I wonder how many people will speak Japanese or English. I mean, the visitors during the Rugby World Cup were mainly from the English-speaking countries, so we were able to manage communication rather well.
But it will be a bit more chaotic during the Olympics as so many nationalities will be taking part, so if they all speak in their languages it will be almost impossible to establish understanding. So, we must come up with some ways to communicate with non-Japanese-nor-English speakers."

Many people say they are concerned about how to communicate with visitors. But they are also conscious that they can do it anyhow with a gadget such as a portable electronic translator or even with gestures because they freshly remember how they had fun with rugby supporters!

In fact, the Rugby World Cup became a legacy in terms of what gave the idea of exchanging cultures with people from abroad, which is an opportunity you can't normally expect much within Japan. And I truly hope the Tokyo 2020 will just be like that.

3. Will professionals be forced to work for free? (Minami / 34, Medical staff, Yokohama)

"The government has been encouraging people from all professions, including medical staff, to volunteer during the games.
But realistically, all medical staff are already overwhelmed due to the chronic shortage of workers. Hence, not many are willing to volunteer, as time and money are genuinely limited. And I’m concerned that if there are not enough staff volunteering, it may result in being forced to work during the games for free, whether you are volunteering or not, which will surely be a bitter pill to swallow.
Also, I believe it is problematic to push medical staff to work without pay. I mean, if it's forced volunteering, with people being sour that they need to do it, then when something goes wrong, who will feel obliged to take responsibility? After all, if you aren’t paid for your job, then why bother right?"

There are many students and retired people who are willing to volunteer. However, filling the roles that require skills are still challenging. The shortage of staff might be the biggest issue that the JOC has to deal with.

4. Will travellers follow the rules? (Yuri / 28, Teacher, Tokyo)

"My biggest concern, with the games, is how overcrowded Tokyo will be, we barely have space now with the workers, pupils and students, add tourists and travellers to the mix and it will be manic.
There is no doubt that for young people this will be an incredible experience and a chance to really open Tokyo to the world.
The mix of cultures and languages will be wonderful, however, I am sure that with government making the announcements; ‘local people should avoid commuting during peak-hours and allow travellers to commute first’, might mean that our children will be put at risk with the lack of safety on public transport.
Meaning, will travellers follow the rules? Or will they be confused and with high numbers put themselves and others in harm's way?
So, I want to know how we can protect our kids and at the same time allow them to make the most of this fantastic opportunity?"

Our society, especially in Tokyo, is very organized. For example, all passengers line up to get on a train, and a queue-jumper will be given a dirty look. And, it will be a great opportunity for children, who are used to such an organized society, to widen their view to meet people who have completely different backgrounds.

At the same time, it can be an unsafe situation for them, as they are protected in the tidy world, to be surrounded by those who don't behave like others. I believe there are no local nor travelers, but just adults, so we all must take extra care of children in Tokyo.

5. How will public transport be affected? (Aiko / 36, Office worker, Tokyo)

"For me, the biggest issue I have with the Olympic games is public transportation.
The train occupancy rate in Tokyo during rush-hour is over 100%, and at the peak, it reaches nearly 200% on some lines. Already it is a challenge every day to use these lines and I'm fatigue every day by the time I arrive at the office. So although selfish, I simply don't want any more passengers on my way to work. Because truthfully the train are already at their max capacity.
The governor of Tokyo and the JOC have tried to offer a solution by announcing that it is highly advisable to work remotely or accept flexible working hours. But, it is not up to the workers to enable this and I don't think most companies are willing to cooperate. I mean, my company sure isn’t going to allow it."

In fact, the public transportation issue is something all the interviewees mentioned. I also suspect that there will be another problem other than overcrowded trains, which is delays. However, as summer in Japan is extreme, it'll be inevitable to hold many games in the morning, which means supporters must take the busiest train - during rush hour.

I believe, as Aiko said, what all Japanese who commute everyday hopes is their company to allow either work remotely or with flexible hours, which seems the only solution for all of us.

6. Hibiki (45, Professional, Tokyo)

"Personally, I feel anxious when I think of the reputation of Japan, which may be established after the Olympics.
I think the governor of Tokyo and JOC are too optimistic. For example, I don't think we are fully prepared to deal with the heat in summer in Tokyo. Even with our own people - I mean the Japanese who have lived here a long time and are used to the climate here, we still have deaths from heat stroke; for example just last summer we had about 1,500 people die from this. We'd better be honest and announce to the world just truthfully how hot and humid it's gonna be here during the games, so that they can rethink whether they are 100% confident in visiting Tokyo or not.
Otherwise, we might end up being the least appealing country for travellers in the next few decades. I mean, what else can we do to prevent people from suffering serious heat strokes, other than asking them 'Please, don't come if you think you are incapable of dealing with extreme heat?’ And maybe warning people with existing medical issues, like heart problems or people with asthma. We already know there is no way and no budget to put air conditioners everywhere in Tokyo, so maybe our duty is the give clear warnings."

During the Rugby World Cup 2019, some matches had to be canceled due to a massive typhoon. Fortunately, most fans were understanding and even sympathetic to Japan, as the country which was hit by a number of disasters in recent years.

However, even with a natural disaster, a few people were quite unhappy about the consequences, which, I must admit, is also understandable considering they had been waiting for 4 years to watch their country play.

And, this time, it is the Olympics which Japan opted to invite itself; in other words, Japan is responsible for holding all the games safely and in the best condition.

So far, many people feel that there must be more that we can do. The good thing, though, is Japan still has many who question the current situation and voice these concerns loudly, especially on social media, which nowadays has massive power.

I hope it will awake the JOC and the governor of Tokyo so that they will listen to citizens and take measures to the heat of summer.

7. What about Japan's safety...? (Etsuko / 80, Housewife, Tokyo)

"As an older citizen, I am worried about the safety in Tokyo during the Olympics. People from all over the world are expected to travel here. As with other Olympic games held in other cities, the crime rate will inevitably rise.
I may sound nationalistic or even racist, but as an old lady I know very little about foreigners and their customs and habits, and generally what you are unfamiliar with can be extremely intimidating. I mean how are we to know who is who? How do we filter them? For all we know we will be allowing murderers and thieves into the city along with normal citizens.
Even though I know a lot of people my age are excited about the arrival of visitors from overseas, so much so that they’ve started learning English to welcome them and communicate with them, which is all very nice but if I am honest I am just scared of bumping into them on the street. I want to keep as much distance between myself and them as is possible."

Because Japan is still quite a single-nation country, some older people still have a fear of foreigners. However, it is not as deep as it used to be thanks to many foreign things being imported, such as films, books, seasonal events, and so on.

Also, as Etsuko said, their fear basically comes from unfamiliarity. Thus, I am pretty sure even they say they are scared for now, they'll enjoy meeting people from abroad once they find out we are all the same after all.

8. Who will benefit from the economic bumps? (Emi / 27, Professional, Chiba)

"I just think, have we thought enough about the recovery we have made since the various disasters? I mean we still have damaged buildings from the earthquakes.
The government has promised that the money from the Olympics will be put directly towards dealing with the aftermath of these disasters, but how can that be true if, so far, they have spent far more than 150 billion yen [US$1.4 billion] on stadiums and other sport facilities for the Olympics?
I mean the damaged areas haven’t gone anywhere and people are still in temporary accommodation, surely they should be the priority? But they absolutely aren’t because the government is too busy spending our money on random and 'fun' things for the Olympics.
So, nowadays, every time I hear the government talking about economic benefits I just think ‘really?’ So then why haven’t we done anything to re-establish and refurbish the disaster-stricken areas?"

Tokyo 2020 was originally recognized as a way to support the recovery of damaged areas in Japan economically and mentally as well. Portions of the games were supposed to be held in the Tohoku area, which was damaged by the 3/11 Tohoku earthquake and still in recovery mode.

As natural disasters are always a hot topic in Japan due to the unfortunate circumstances that we are often in, many people are now questioning if it is really necessary to make Tokyo look nicer by re-building stadiums or other sports facilities, imposing a delay in helping damaged areas recover.

So, what we hope is at least the Olympics will cheer up those who are still striving to get back their normal lives, and it will generate enough money to re-establish the damaged areas as quick as possible.

Even though the Japanese have some concerns about the Olympic, they are still thrilled and keen to show their high hospitality to all the visitors. Let's look forward to seeing them there next year!

Main image: BT Image/Shutterstock

Written by:


A Japanese writer who is from a city by the sea. Started writing from the age of ten. Since then, pen and notebook have always been the best friend. Loves travelling, tea, and books.