TOKYO — Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, setting off a celebration at dawn in a nation fighting off two decades of deflation and recovering from a nuclear disaster.
The Japanese capital easily beat out Istanbul and Madrid in an International Olympic Committee vote, having portrayed itself as the safer choice amid turmoil in the Middle East and runaway unemployment in parts of Europe.
After two rounds of voting at a hotel ballroom in Buenos Aires, committee president Jacques Rogge walked to a podium and opened an envelope. His announcement — "Tokyo" — was drowned out by a howl of celebration when it was broadcast live to a city of partiers. "Tokyo!" several thousand chanted at an outdoor viewing party as gold tinsel rained down.
Tokyo has hosted international events before, including the Olympics in 1964 and the FIFA World Cup — co-hosted with South Korea — in 2002. But this latest milestone comes at a particularly critical time, as Japan's population grays and shrinks and its younger generations grow more pessimistic and withdrawn.
"These Games can be a turning point for Japan," venture capitalist Yoshito Hori said at one early-morning viewing party, an Olympics-logo towel draped around his neck. "As a nation, we tend to underestimate ourselves — and we've lost confidence. This can be a chance to regain it."
Tokyo beat out Istanbul in the final vote by a 60-36 margin after Madrid was eliminated in the first round. Turkey's largest city has never hosted an international sporting event of such magnitude but was pursuing the Olympics for the fifth consecutive time. Organizers hoped to bring the Games to a Muslim-majority nation for the first time. The bid could have been hindered by the current strife in Syria, which borders Turkey to the south.
Istanbul's bid survived Saturday's first round of voting, which eliminated Madrid. The Spanish city was bidding for the third straight time and pitched itself as the most prepared of the three cities to host the 2020 Games, with most of its infrastructure already in place. But Europe will have hosted two recent Olympics — the 2012 Summer Games in London and next February's Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Japanese officials in recent weeks faced scrutiny about the ongoing leaks of toxic water into the ocean at the coastal Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, where three reactors melted down in March 2011.
Hours before the IOC vote, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking in Buenos Aires, said that the situation at the Fukushima plant is "under control" and "will never do any damage to Tokyo," 150 miles away.
Officials claim that contamination is limited to an area of several hundred yards around the plant, but they face public skepticism both in Japan and beyond, having repeatedly downplayed concerns only to admit to them later.
Back to Japan
Japan has hosted the Olympics three times:
1964: Summer Olympics, Tokyo
1972: Winter Olympics, Sapporo
1998: Winter Olympics, Nagano