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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Envisioning Tokyo’s Global Future

Mar. 30, 2015

Japan's capital, Tokyo, is facing a dynamic future. Despite a population of just 13 million, it has a budget and GDP that surpasses many countries. Its profile will only grow when it hosts the Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. The event is still five years away, but the people running the city have a lot to do. On the list: preparing for the threat of terrorism and the risk of natural disasters. NHK WORLD's Sho Beppu sat down with Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, who is overseeing it all.

Beppu: In the year 2020, Tokyo will host the Olympic games. Some people say that this could be the last chance for Japan to revitalize its economy or gather again its power as a nation. Why do you think this event is so crucial?

Masuzoe: Maybe these games will be the last and best chance for us to revitalize our economy. We have suffered a lot because of these two decades of stagnation. Now it's time to expand our economic and financial activities all over the world. I would like to make Tokyo a global financial center again.

Beppu: But there are many challenges for the 2020 Olympic Games. For example, concerns about terrorism. How much of a risk do you think Tokyo faces from those international extremist groups?

Masuzoe: There were Japanese victims in the recent shootout in Tunisia, as you know. The Islamic State group has also had Japanese hostages. So that means Tokyo, and Japan, are no longer safe from the terrorists of the world. The Olympic games are the best target for terrorists. We have to prepare, not only for a direct attack using guns or rifles, but also for cyberterrorism.

Beppu: Don't you think that intensifying counter-terrorism measures sometimes alienates certain religious minority groups? How do you deal with this problem?

Masuzoe: Our society should be open to all kinds of beliefs, values, and religions. Unfortunately, even in Tokyo, so-called hate speech is common. Ultra-nationalist hate speeches go against the spirits of the Olympic games. We have to expel this kind of extremism, so that people feel safe in Tokyo.

Beppu: Now, what about concerns regarding earthquakes?

Masuzoe: This is my main concern as you know. March 11th was such a tragedy, everyone knows about it. We are serious in preparing disaster prevention measures. In terms of buildings, we have to come up with strict measures to make them resilient and disaster-resistant. We need to make sure the new skyscrapers are safe, you know, even if hit by an earthquake like the one on March 11th.

Beppu: There are some officials in the region hit by 3.11 that complained that the construction boom in Tokyo is so big that it's using up the resources that are much-needed by Tohoku. How do you explain this?

Masuzoe: It is really the failure of our national government. We will make efforts to promote and prepare for the coming 2020 games. But at the same time, we are dispatching many of our officials to the Tohoku area to help that region. So it is up to the national government to decide how to allocate our resources-- human resources, financial resources and materials.

Some regional politicians aren't shy when it comes to pointing out the faults of national governments. But Governor Masuzoe is trying to be part of the solution.

He said he considers Tokyo to be the locomotive pulling the rest of the country forward. He also sees the capital as a major player on a global scale. As Japan's relations with its neighbors continue to cool, Governor Masuzoe has been instituting his own brand of diplomacy. The approach makes sense, given his background.

Yoichi Masuzoe began his career as a scholar of international politics. He continued his research on numerous trips abroad. Masuzoe lived in France for a time. He became a household name after making appearances on television.

He was elected governor of Tokyo in February 2014. Masuzoe has been sing the power of his position to strengthen international relations.

He's made six overseas trips since taking office. He met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Seoul. He also flew to Beijing for talks with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang.

Beppu: What did you achieve with your visit?

Masuzoe: Very recently, the foreign ministers of the three countries--Japan, China and South Korea--met and declared that they would like to have a summit meeting of the three countries as soon as possible. I am very proud to say that I opened the doors. You know, last year no Japanese political leader could shake hands with President Park Geun-hye.

I understand there are many, many difficult issues like that of the so-called comfort women. So it has been very difficult to open the door to discussions between the national governments of China, South Korea and Japan.

But I am the head of Tokyo, and we have sister-city relationships with Beijing and Seoul and other big cities. So it is very, very easy for us to start talks-- not on national issues, but on challenging issues that all big cities are facing, like transportation, traffic jams, water systems and so on.

So, city diplomacy is paving the way for national diplomacy. I did not do it intentionally. It was a by-product of our city diplomacy efforts.

Tokyo first hosted the Olympics in 1964. The games compelled city leaders to improve infrastructure. Projects included the Shinkansen bullet train and the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway. It marked the end of Japan's post-war reconstruction ...and the beginning of a period of rapid economic growth.

Governor Masuzoe spelled out his plans for the city last December in what he called, "A Long-term Vision for Tokyo." He wants the 2020 Games to create a new future for the capital.

One of the pillars of the plan is building on Tokyo's status as a global city. Masuzoe wants to increase the metropolis' competitiveness at a time when cities around the world are vying for business and recognition.

Masuzoe: There is a Japanese think-tank that ranked cities in order of their global status.Tokyo came in fourth place. London, New York, Paris and number four was Tokyo.

Beppu: Number four, Tokyo. In 2020, and after that, do you think Tokyo will become number one?

Masuzoe: We will try our best to become number one. After the Olympic Games of 2012, London became the number one global city. So we will have a big chance. In five years, we will try our best to become number one.

Beppu: As the governor of Tokyo, what is the legacy that you want these games to leave for future generations?

Masuzoe: I would say a hydrogen society. We have hydrogen cars. In the athletic village in Ariake, we would like to make a small community-- an all-hydrogen-society. That is one of our dreams. There are many, many other positive legacies that we would like to leave.

Also, there's 'Omotenashi' to welcome people. We will launch a team called Omotenashi Tokyo. This team will help every tourist who needs some kind of assistance. This kind of volunteer spirit will be another legacy we would like to leave for future generations. Japan will drastically change after 2020 in a positive way.

Governor Masuzoe will face a test on everything from infrastructure, to terrorism, to disaster risk management in the coming five years.

He is working to bring out the best in Tokyo, but that's not all. He believes giving the city a boost will also help revitalize Japan.