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Tokyo Tries To Build Support To Host 2020 Olympics

In just eight months, the International Olympic Committee will select either Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo as site for the 2020 games. Tokyo appears to be the favorite, but many Japanese are reluctant to push their case.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you're dismayed that people already talk of the presidential race in 2016, just be grateful we haven't said much yet about 2020. That year is already on the minds of the members of the International Olympic Committee. The committee decides in September among possible venues for the 2020 Olympics, including Istanbul, Madrid and the city we visit next. Tokyo is clean, safe and efficient, but has one problem.

Lucy Craft reports the cultural problem that gets in the way of closing the sale.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

LUCY CRAFT, BYLINE: A small army of celebrities and star athletes, upbeat music and even a 50-foot, snow-covered ski slope have been shoehorned into this Tokyo shopping mall, all courtesy of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

CRAFT: Just a sample of the pep rally fanfare being waged across Tokyo and Japan to whip up Olympic fever. The magic seems to be working on Keiko Miyakawa, here with her two children.

KEIKO MIYAKAWA: (Through translator) I welcome the Olympics. Japanese tend to not stand out. The Olympics would let the world see how attractive and appealing our country is to live in.

CRAFT: And therein lies the rub. It's precisely that Japanese reticence - a tendency towards humility and an aversion to expressing strong opinions - that has dogged Tokyo's campaign to secure the Olympics.

Masa Takaya, communications manager for the Japanese Olympic Committee, says the Japanese are just as nuts about sports as anyone else. But in opinion polls, they have a habit of curbing their enthusiasm.

MASA TAKAYA: It's our national character, which is why when I think such opinion polls, the number tends to look a bit lower than what we actually have.

CRAFT: Lukewarm public support helped scuttle Tokyo's bid to host the 2016 games. And this time, while 70 to 80 percent of residents in Madrid and Istanbul want the Olympics, polls show only about two-thirds of Tokyo's citizens back the idea.

It's especially frustrating for Takaya, because Tokyo has a stronger financial base than its rivals.

TAKAYA: We have already reserved U.S. $4.5 billion in our bank in cash.

CRAFT: If even the current PR blitz doesn't budge Olympics support numbers, the Olympics Committee is prepared to punt: They point to, for instance, this.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

CRAFT: A victory parade in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district last year for Japan's winning athletes at the London Summer Games drew half a million screaming fans - proof, Japan says that the country can and will muster the rousing welcome the International Olympic Committee demands from hosting nations.

That's not to say the Olympics bid doesn't have its critics. Tokyo City Councilwoman Yoshiko Fukushi says Japan has no business hosting the lavish sports extravaganza so soon after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

YOSHIKO FUKUSHI: (Through translator) There are still lots of people from Fukushima who can't go home. They are struggling. Those people are our first priority.

CRAFT: Takaya of the Japanese Olympics Committee argues it's precisely because of the ongoing tragedy that the country is badly in need of a boost.

TAKAYA: We need a something. We need a dream. We need a goal, objective that we can share. We means everyone across the country can share and pursue to rebuild this country.

CRAFT: The IOC will survey Japan's public support again in March as it weighs where to stage what's been called the world's greatest party.

For NPR News, this is Lucy Craft, in Tokyo.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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