TOKYO – With exactly one year to go until the Tokyo Olympics open, organizers marked the day by unveiling the gold, silver, and bronze medals that will symbolize the 2020 Games.
Thousands of politicians, sponsors, and fans jammed a massive exhibition hall in central Tokyo on Wednesday, piling on speeches, musical interludes, and dancing performances to celebrate the one-year mark.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a cameo appearance to welcome the guests. And IOC President Thomas Bach repeated what he has said often in various places around the world.
"I can truly say," Bach said, "I have never seen an Olympic city as prepared as Tokyo with one year to go before the Olympic Games."
Despite all the talk and theatrics, the center stage belonged to the medals by Japanese designer Junichi Kawanishi.
Kawanishi wrote that the medals are to "resemble rough stones that have been polished and which now shine with light and brilliance."
The front side carries the Tokyo Olympic emblem, with the Greek goddess of victory on the back.
Bach, a fencing gold medalist in the 1976 Olympics, conducted a mock fencing duel earlier in the day with a junior high student — another chance to draw attention to the one-year milestone. The games will be held from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020.
Tokyo is spending about $20 billion to prepare the city to host the games, though exact Olympic spending is disputed and difficult to track. Five of the eight new venues are already finished, and the centerpiece, the $1.25 billion National Stadium, is to open by the end of the year.
Ticket demand by Japanese residents appears to be a least 10 times above supply — maybe more — with demand also surging abroad. A recent law banning unauthorized ticket resales in Japan is sure to be tested because of glaring loopholes.
Organizers are also preparing for Tokyo's typically hot summer weather, though this summer has been wet and cool. Traffic and subway congestion is also a concern, as is earthquake preparedness.
"This year Tokyo is chilly rather than hot," Yoshiro Mori, the president of the organizing committee, said. "It's quite different from what we experienced last year."
Mori said Japanese Emperor Naruhito had accepted a role "as honorary patron" of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. He will be expected to announce the opening of both the Olympics and Paralympics.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was asked a few days ago to justify spending billions on the Olympics. Organizers have been under pressure to cut costs, and they say they have cut billions by using existing venues. Tokyo is building eight new venues, but using 35 "temporary" or older venues.
Koike described the Olympics and Paralympics as an "accelerator" to get things done, though research shows that the Olympic deadlines drive up costs. And Tokyo is famous for building things — with or without the Olympics.
"I'd like the legacy of the 2020 Games to be something more intangible, a new way of thinking for people and for society," she said. Koike described the Paralympics, which open Aug. 25, 2020, as a "springboard" to make the city more accessible to people with disabilities.
The goals for next year are more modest than they were in 1964 when the Tokyo Olympics showcased bullet trains, futuristic designs, and a new expressway to document Japan's recovery following World War II.
A group of anti-Olympic activists, many from outside Japan, have held small protests and other events in recent days under the Japanese title "Hangorin no Kai" — which translates roughly to No Olympics. They oppose Olympic spending, which they say cuts into budgets for local housing and environmental issues.
They also call for more money to rebuild Fukushima prefecture located northeast of Tokyo. Organizers say Fukushima is a main focus of the Olympics, locating baseball, softball and soccer games there to persuade the world the area is safe.
"For us, the Olympics are a disaster," Misako Ichimura, a spokeswoman for the anti-Olympic group, said on Tuesday. She said the billions spent on the Olympics should be used instead in to rebuild Fukushima, which was devastated by a 2011 earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors.
"The Olympics is scary entertainment for us," she added.
Tokyo organizers have shattered records for local sponsorship revenue, which has passed $3 billion — about three times more than any previous Olympics. Much has been raised by giant Japanese advertising company Dentsu Inc.
There have also been glitches and scandal.
Tsunekazu Takeda, the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee , was forced to quit earlier this year when he was implicated in a vote-buying scheme to land the games. He has denied wrongdoing, but acknowledged he signed off on about $2 million that French investigators allege went to buy votes.
The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are implicated in the same kind of vote-buying bribery.
Tokyo organizers were also forced to redesign their logo when the original draft faced charges of plagiarism, and an international labor union has alleged work-safety violations at Olympic venues, largely regarding migrant labor.
A futuristic design for the new stadium by the late British architect Zaha Hadid was scrapped when costs soared to $2 billion. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma was chosen instead with a design focused on wood lattice and greenery.