Tokyo/ Olympics 1964/ (1) The olympic games, an instrument of power to propagate urban transformation

Before looking into Tokyo specifically, I believe it is important for us to first outline the relationship between the games and its host city, and it’s role as an instrument of power. This will illustrate for us, how the 1964 Olympics served as a tool for the post-war Japan government  to execute its conscious decision to ultimately shape Tokyo into a mega-city.

The olympics is a major event, a spectacle that takes years to prepare and plan. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics for example, began its planning in 2013. After a long period of anticipation, the games doesn’t just happen in a city, they remake and transform the city in important and permanent ways. As an event the games actively participate in the process of urban change/transformations (hiller, 2006). This is described as the “makeover effect”, a process where planners uses the occasion to induce significant changes to a city. These transformations imposed onto the city ensure the city to be seen as more than just merely a site for the event (hiller, 2012).

In the olympic plans, urban spaces are categorised in terms of their relationship to the Olympic plan. Some areas are improved, with functions transformed periodically/temporarily. Infrastructural planning and constructions that accommodates such transformation however, posts a permanent and multi-generation impact to the area.

Tokyo Game Venue Plan, 1964, Source Unknown
Tokyo Venues Map, 1964, Sports Illustrated

It has also been stated, that the Olympics can be viewed as an “instrument of power”, a tool utilised by government leaders to shape how people and citizens think of the city (Harvey,1989). City leaders themselves do not consider the Olympics as just a sport, but as an opportunity to propagate goals on their own urban agenda (hiller, 2012).

This is the very much so the case for Tokyo, where the olympics acted as a watershed for its urban transformation post-war, allowing Tokyo to re-emerge on the International stage only 10 years after the World War II ended.



Harvey, David, (1989), “The condition of Postmodernity”, London, Blackwell

Hiller, Harry H, (2006), “Post-event Outcomes and the Post-modern Turn: The Olympics and Urban Transformations.”, European Sport Management Quarterly 6(4): 317-332.

Hiller, Harry H, (2012), “Host Cities and the Olympics, An interactionist approach.”, New york, Routledge


1 Comment on “Tokyo/ Olympics 1964/ (1) The olympic games, an instrument of power to propagate urban transformation

  1. It is with no doubt that the Olympics is a key event to a city development. It is when the city receives most spotlights from all over the world. The city planning is in great cruciality that the city image showcases the power and status of one country. In your articles, you have clearly pointed out the infrastructural and social development upon Olympics 1964. This reminds me of the Beijing Olympic in 2008 that the Chinese Government also put great efforts in reconstructing a new and more developed city. However, many historic features were taken down for the development. I wonder if Tokyo was also under the struggles between the new and old, for example the expressway above the historical Nihonbashi bridge or any traditional housing being replaced. Is the sudden development for Olympics upsetting the city or promoting it in a good way?

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