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Japan Political Pulse: Is Tokyo 2020 organizing committee worthy of the name?

What is worrisome about the ongoing discussions on a review of venues for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is that a growing number of people are saying there is no problem with spending vast sums because the facilities are for the 2020 Games.

    There are similar discussions over problems involving the office of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It is only natural to question whether the office needs to be in the snazzy skyscraping Toranomon Hills complex in Tokyo's Minato Ward. However, some people are derisive in their dismissals of these concerns, saying, "What's wrong with setting up the office in the Hills?"

    The Tokyo 2020 committee should revive the spirit of the organizing committee for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which used a small, aging facility as its office.

    The Tokyo 2020 committee and its more than 700 staff occupy the entire eighth floor and part of the ninth floor of the complex's Mori Tower, with its 52 aboveground stories and 5 underground levels.

    The committee pays approximately 500 million yen in annual rent for its Mori Tower office space. This year, the committee also leased additional rooms in buildings in the Akasaka district of Minato Ward and in Shinjuku Ward, bringing the total annual rents to about 700 million yen. The committee will likely have paid some 4 billion yen in rent by the time it is disbanded after the 2020 Games.

    A Diet member who inspected the organizing committee's office lamented with a wry smile, "It's quite something. The corridors are strangely wide, and the executives' offices are just full of secretaries..."

    However, ordinary people have no chance to see what goes on inside these gilded offices, as the committee has said explicitly that "outsiders are not permitted entry." The entrance is beyond a well-guarded security gate which only insiders with valid ID cards can pass.

    The organizing committee's Communications Section, whose Japanese name literally translates into "strategic public relations" section, explains that it can comment on the rent totals released on its website, but refuses to answer any question about the offices' size or how the committee chose these buildings. Is this why the division is called "strategic" public relations?

    According to a salesman at a major real estate management company in downtown Tokyo, the total floor space of the eighth floor of Mori Tower is 3,425 square meters -- nearly half a soccer pitch. The salesman says the average monthly rent for an office in central Tokyo is about 18,300 yen per 3.3 square meters. However, the rent for what the industry calls "large-scale, Class-S property" -- like buildings of Toranomon Hills -- is about 40,000 yen.

    Unlike high-rise apartment complexes, there are no price differences between floors in office buildings. Office space on lower floors is no less expensive than that on upper floors.

    The organizing committee for the 1964 Games was initially housed in the former Kishi Memorial Gymnasium, a two-story wooden structure in the Kanda-Surugadai district. Later, the committee moved into the former Akasaka Palace, now the State Guest House. The building also hosted to the National Diet Library and the Cabinet's constitutional research commission for some years after World War II.

    Daigoro Yasukawa (1886-1976), chairman of the then organizing committee and former president of Yaskawa Electric Corp., wrote that he had instructed committee secretariat staffers to be humble.

    "There was a case in which an individual involved with the Olympics, who was caught for a traffic violation, was let off scot free after telling the officer, 'I'm doing work related to the Olympics.' It was a fact that an imprudent mood was spreading within the secretariat, giving rise to presumptions that unreasonable demands were acceptable if they were for the Olympics and that such arrogant attitudes could be tolerated by the public. I repeatedly advised secretariat staffers to 'maintain a low profile and do things only after asking the public for support, and refrain from acting in a high-handed manner even for the Olympics,'" he stated in his memoir, published in the Feb. 9, 1965 issue of the Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun business and technology daily.

    The Mainichi Shimbun carried an article in its Oct. 18, 1962 issue about the revival of a dispute over the Olympic rowing event venue, similar to one raging now over the 2020 version. It was in February 1963 that Yasukawa was appointed to reform the organizing committee, just 20 months before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

    Finding out and overcoming problems is always important. However, the current organizing committee has only disclosed information partially. The committee lacks any inclination to go ahead with its business only after gaining support from the public. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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