Tokyo Olympics in the mature context of late capitalism


  • Raphael Languillon University of Geneva


Tokyo, Olympic Games, Urban renaissance, real estate, spatial fix




Designated three times to host the Summer Olympics in 1940, 1964 and 2020, Tokyo is a city whose development is historically linked to the Olympics. Despite their recurrence, Olympic Games had different impacts on Tokyo according to each session and each context. If Tokyo 1964 appeared to be a true turnaround for the host city at a time Japan was experiencing a high growth rate, Tokyo 2020’s meaning for the city is still unclear, especially because Tokyo has been becoming since the 2000s what Japanese people call a “mature city” – a developmental stage related to late capitalism in post-growth context.

After having faced an unprecedent bubble effect based on a strong land and real estate speculation in the 1980s, and a decade of restructuring after the bubble burst in the 1990s, Tokyo’s development benefited from 2002 Urban Renaissance Special Measure Law in the 2000s and completely changed its urban profile, with a huge verticalization and densification of its centers’ built-up environments. In 2013, with the city’s 2002 urban renaissance policy seemingly having reached its limit, Tokyo won its bid to stage the 2020 Olympics. The city plan was modified, with Olympic clusters replacing the special zones of urban redevelopment. The way the Olympics’ agenda meets the ending agenda of the Urban Renaissance leads to ask the question of any continuity between the two trends and their cumulative effect on Tokyo restructuring as a mature and post-growth city.

In this presentation, we formulate the hypothesis that the highly selective, centrally concentrated nature of urban renaissance and Olympic infrastructures has created a two-tier city in Tokyo, provoking debate over what David Harvey calls the “spatial fix”, i.e. the temporary spatial solutions adopted by capitalists to save their assets from a downward spiral in values. This paper will examine the assumed continuity between the 2000s (urban renaissance) and the 2010s (Olympic development) and discuss the pertinence of the term “spatial fix” in Tokyo. It will formulate the idea of an “event fix” to debate the uneven development associated with the Olympics and their specific destructive consequences in the case of a mature and post-growth global city.


Appert M. & Languillon R., 2017, Impacts des jeux olympiques sur la recomposition des marchés immobiliers matures : le cas de Tokyo à travers ses comparaisons internationales, Advanced Olympic Research Grants, Olympic World Library, 48 p. URL:

Arrighi G., 2006, Spatial and Other “Fixes” of Historical Capitalism, in Chase-Dunn C. et Babones S. J., Global Social Change. Historical and Comparative Perspective, Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press: 201-212.

Augustin J.-P., 2006, Villes olympiques et mutations urbaines : Barcelone, Atlanta et les autres, in Hulbert F., Villes du Nord, Villes du Sud : géopolitique urbaine, acteurs et enjeux, L'Harmattan: 124-138.

Essex S. & Chalkley B., 1999, Urban development through hosting international events: a history of the Olympic Games, Planning Perspectives, 14, pp. 369-394.

Fujii S., Arita T. & Omura K., 2006, The Impact of the ‘Urban Renaissance’ Policy in Japan: the Analysis of Deregulation in the Building Standard Law of Japan, Proceedings of International Symposium on Urban Planning: 451-461.

Gold J. & Gold M., 2007, Olympic Cities, City Agendas, Planning and the World’s Games, 1896-2012, New York, Routledge, 464 p.

Harvey D., 2001, Globalization and the “Spatial Fix”, Geographishe Revue, 2: 23-30.

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

Hirayama Y., 2010, The governance of urban renaissance in Tokyo, Post-urbanization and enhanced competitiveness, in Mok K.O. et Forrest R. (dir.), Changing Governance and Public Policies in East Asia, Londres et New York : Routledge : 303-323.

Languillon R., 2022, The Postponed Tokyo 2020 Games: From Planning Conflicts to Covid, Metropolitics. URL :

Languillon R., 2018, De la renaissance urbaine des années 2000 aux Jeux Olympiques de 2020 : retour sur vingt ans d’intense spatial fix à Tokyo, Ebisu, n°55, pp. 25-58.