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BusinessHow the Olympics Hurt Tokyo's Economy

How the Olympics Hurt Tokyo’s Economy

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Toshiko Ishii, 64, who runs a traditional hotel in the city’s Taito Ward, spent over $180,000 converting the building’s first floor into an eatery in anticipation of a flood of tourists.

It was already a bit of a risk, and when the pandemic hit, Ms. Ishii became worried that she might have to shut down. Even with the Olympics, she has had no guests for weeks.

“There’s nothing you can really do about the Olympics or the coronavirus, but I’m worried,” she said. “We don’t know when this will end, and I have a lot of doubts about how long we can keep the business going.”

Pandemic or no, reality was bound to fall short of the grand expectations set by Japanese leaders.

They pitched Tokyo 2020 as an opportunity to show the world a Japan that had shaken off decades of economic stagnation and the devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that touched off the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Appealing to nostalgia for the 1964 Olympics, when Japan wowed the world with its advanced technology and economic strength, Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister, framed the 2020 Olympics as an ad campaign for a cool, confident country that was the equal of a rising China.

After decades of perceived decline, “more and more Japanese, the elder generation, senior people, wanted to remember, wanted to repeat that successful experience again in 21st century Japan,” said Shunya Yoshimi, a professor of sociology at Tokyo University who has written several books about Japan’s relationship to the events.

Instead, the pandemic brought a sense of fear and uncertainty that were worsened by the decisions of Japan’s leaders.

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