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8 SEP 2019

What we can learn from: Japan’s Rugby World Cup & Olympic legacy

In a bumper year of sport, Managing Director and Chief Representative of Japan at Grosvenor Daniel Cox sees much to cheer about in the country's legacy plans for its venues post Rugby World Cup and Olympics.

The Rugby World Cup, which kicks off next month in Japan, is soon followed by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Thanks to the adaptive reuse of existing venues and smart, controlled new construction, the country is unlikely to succumb to the "white-elephant syndrome" that is often associated with international sporting events.

Only the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium is a new addition for the rugby, a revitalisation project in the area devastated by the 2011 tsunami. Instead, rugby's flagship event is using many of the stadiums built for the 2002 football World Cup. Tokyo is being equally smart about the summer Olympics and Paralympics.

Getting into shape

A dozen of the Olympic venues were built for the 1964 Games in Tokyo. Most are still used today, for a variety of purposes. The 2020 Olympics provides a reason to rejuvenate them.

The beautiful Yoyogi National Gymnasium and its innovative canopy made its architect, Kenzo Tange, a global name. Although it was developed for watersports in 1964, it has been used for ice hockey and basketball, and is one of the meccas of J-Pop. Now it will host handball in 2020.

When these venues were built, they were sorely needed. The city was rapidly growing and modernising. Many have survived for almost 60 years. The Baji Koen Equestrian Park was built for the 1940 Olympic Games, which were supposed to be held in Tokyo, but didn't happen for obvious reasons. It's an 80-year old facility that's still being used for equestrian events.

Olympic gains: Tokyo 2020 in numbers

  • 43 total venues for Tokyo 2020
  • 8 new permanent venues
  • 25 revitalised venues
  • 10 new temporary sites
  • 2 skyscrapers of 50 floors built after the games
  • 5,650 residential units for sale or rent after the events
Japan is unlikely to succumb to the "white-elephant syndrome" that is often associated with international sporting events

Home advantage

Harumi Flag is the name of the Olympic Village, which will house 17,000 athletes and team members, and then be sold as apartments. Since the units are designed to accommodate up to eight athletes, with multiple bathrooms, the developers will need to renovate them all before sales start to the public in 2021. But that's all baked into the price for the land when it was bought from the government. These will be mass-market apartments, and there's likely to be strong demand for them as the city recentralises after decades of suburban sprawl. Harumi Flag is in Chuo City, which has a cap on the amount of housing it permits, as does neighbouring Koto City.

For the middle-class, pan-Asian buyer, Tokyo is perhaps cheaper than their home market. Credit is cheaper; construction quality is on par with — if not better than at home. So there could be strong demand for those Harumi Flag units from overseas buyers as well.

Open to all

Away from the Games sites, there's also been work on "hard" and "soft" infrastructure. The city is fixing on- and off-ramps, providing universal access to all railway stations, creating bicycle lanes and adding greenery.

There's a big effort to educate taxi drivers in English, and offer language options in the city for Thai, Chinese and Bahasa. This is against the backdrop of a highly successful national plan to increase the number of foreign visitors to Japan  from four million tourists per year in the late 1990s to 31 million in 2018.

Thousands of visitors coming to Tokyo, and millions streaming or watching on TV, will be great for the city. When people see how well the public transport works, how green the city is, the food culture, history, safety and sophistication, it should be a very positive experience. And anything that's good for the city is good for the property industry.

This article originally appeared in Modus Asia-Pacific edition, Q3 2019, under the headline 'Japan’s pre-Games build up'