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Tokyo focuses on becoming more global in run-up to Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Interview - October 5, 2015

With a GDP almost as big as Spain, Governor Masuzoe sees enormous potential to increase Tokyo’s global presence and attract more investors and tourists alike to Tokyo.  


Japan is going through an exciting time at the moment. In a period of global economic recession is making the difficult choices to reorient its economy for a more globalized world. Indeed, as Prime Minister Abe has said, these are 'once in a generation' reforms that are happening. How important is Tokyo's role in leading the way and implementing a lot of these pro-growth reforms that Abenomics is aspiring to do?

Tokyo is such a big city. Our GDP is almost equal to that of South Korea or Spain. So this is almost like a big country. The Tokyo government is almost like a national government, it's so big. I served in the national government before, I'm a former MP and former Minister, and of course I've worked with Mr. Abe.

In the first Abe administration I worked with him as Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, so we're very close friends and almost all the ministers are actually all friends of mine. Of course, we have a good relation with the national government.

We've suffered such a deflation and stagflation economy over the last two decades, and fortunately enough with Abenomics, the stock going up, we're making money now.

Another big thing is 2020, we'll host the Olympic Games, and that will give a big momentum to our economy, for people who work very hard.

For example, normally it takes ten years to build a freeway, a bridge, or a skyscraper, but I've said to everyone, "In five years we have such a big international event, why don't you accelerate?" And they are accelerating so rapidly.

So in terms of the economy, according to one research institute, the number one city in the world is London, because of the success of the 2012 Olympic Games. The number two is New York, the number three is Paris, and Tokyo is ranked number four.

Then comes Singapore in number five and Seoul in number six. Singapore is catching up with us, so we have to catch up with Paris, New York and London. Then my promise to the people is that after the 2020 Games, we will be the number one city in the world.

Of course, there is competition between the nations, the big cities with tremendous potential, so now this is a competition between the big cities. The problem we have in this country, in this town, is that we can't make ourselves understood in English, so that is a problem.

In Singapore, the official language is English, in New York and London of course, and in Paris it was very difficult, but now everybody speaks English, even in France, and so in South Korea. I asked everybody to learn English, so the 2020 Games are a very good occasion for the people, the volunteers, to do 'Omotenashi' to the foreign tourists, they need so speak some English.

I already gave the subsidies to the town meetings, so the people can learn, free of cost, English. Another thing is, for example, if you come to establish your own company, please do that, but the problem is the language barrier, you have to write down a bunch of papers in Japanese and submit these papers to the Ministry of Justice.

So we started very recently, just a couple of months ago, we have created a so-called Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment center, where you come to this center, in the center of Tokyo, where every branch of the administration is there.

You stay here and we will help you. So, normally it took 20 days in order to set up a company, and now it takes three or four days and I'm proposing to the government that instead of Japanese, why not in English?

Yes, Tokyo set up the One-Stop Business Establishment Center that you opened with Prime Minister Abe, as an open call to American entrepreneurs. Mr. Abe was in Silicon Valley, and wants to cultivate this entrepreneurism. Why do you think Tokyo is the ideal location in Asia for American entrepreneurs to start operations?

Because of the language barrier, many companies or headquarters of these companies, went from Tokyo to Singapore, so we tried to find out what businessman wanted to come back to Tokyo, so we asked the foreign businessmen, "What do you like us to do?" "English, English!" And of course we can provide very nice apartments, houses, and every aspect of the daily life, but the key point is the English language.

Since you were appointed governor you have made one of your top priorities to position Tokyo as an international financial center. I believe this is one of the reasons you visited London recently and you've said that, "To work towards this, the pro-growth reforms of the Abe administration aren't enough", and that you want to take a step further. How are you making Tokyo an international financial center?

In Tokyo there's a small corner that is called the Nihonbashi, where the Bank of Tokyo is located, and many financial institutions, banks and trading houses are there. So we have just created a center for the global international finance, and we are inviting foreign investors, foreign bankers, so they are setting up operations there.

For example, if you're an American banker, what kind of incentives do I have to give you if you try to open your branch here in Tokyo? You have to make money, but Japanese people normally use Japanese banks, for example. If I have to ask for a loan, I'm not saying that I won't trust you, but it's just that there are so many Japanese banks, so first open the doors to Japanese banks.

So, to give you the chance for business, what we're doing is that the Tokyo metropolitan government creates funds, infrastructure or renewable energy funds. For example a fund that is one million yen, 50% of the total money we would pay, and so foreign investors can invest 10% or 5%.

That means the Tokyo metropolitan government credit worthiness is very high, higher than the national government. That's a high credibility. So many people come to use these funds. We have already started, in Tohoku area, which the tsunami and the earthquake devastated, to create energy funds to help rebuild this area.

You are the gateway for international investors; your government is the facilitator at the entry level, and works between Japanese companies and the international community. How are you attracting investment? The 2020 Olympics is an unrivalled platform to showcase the city and to promote its internationalization. You've said, "The chance of 2020 is the best chance we have, and it won't come again". As this year marks its 5-year countdown, what are some other ways you're working to attract this investment?

For example, with the urbanization of the city. Our city is quickly changing. My office is located here, and Haneda Airport is very close. All the waterfront area where there are many kinds of buildings being constructed. But if you come to Tokyo in five years, in 2020, this landscape will be completely changed.

For example, the question of traffic jams, in Moscow just to go to the airport, how many hours does it take? But we have the kind of loop freeway. Before, from my office to Haneda Airport it took 40 minutes, which wasn't that much. Now it takes only 19 minutes.

The total number of cars which penetrate in the center is reduced only by 5% but the rate of traffic jams is reduced 40%, so we have already completed the second and third one. So, instead of going to Jakarta, to Seoul, to Beijing, come to Tokyo where there are no traffic jams, there's no pollution, the air is very clean the water is good, and also the Japanese cuisine, the food is so good.

I can't understand why people go to Singapore, you can enjoy your dinner one hundred more times in Tokyo than in Singapore. There's only the question of languages. Also we have so many historical sites, for example there's Asakusa Temple, there's a Kaminarimon.

If you stand at the gates, in front of you there's a very traditional temple, and at your right side Tokyo Skytree. This is the ultramodern and ancient traditions. These things are attracting people.

2014 was a milestone year for tourism in Japan, a record 13.4 million tourists came to the country, which represents a 30% increase from the previous year. And more importantly, tourism expenditures raised by over 40% ($17.2 billion) with of course the majority of this spending happening in your city. What are your strategies to capitalize on this wave, and to make Tokyo a major tourism destination that would rival Paris or New York?

Before answering the question I'd like to add something. Last year in February I became governor. We have many sister cities as I said, like Beijing and Seoul. But before me, there was no official visits of the Tokyo Governor to these cities, I thought, "That's not normal".

So I decided immediately to go to Beijing and I opened that door, because, of course I consulted Mr. Abe, and he could not do that, but in terms of nation to nation relations between Japan and China, even now there's a very difficult situation, the same with South Korea.

But as a governor and city mayor of the sister city I can go everywhere, to Europe, to Paris, even to Moscow.

You've become an ambassador for Japan?

Yes. So I went to Beijing, and not only the mayor of Beijing but also I had a dialogue and a discussion with the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, and they said, "We welcome you, and from now on we open the gates to the local communities and private sectors".

And since then, many Chinese tourists came to Tokyo, they bought many things, and brought money to Tokyo, all the department stores and supermarket in Tokyo were very happy and they pay the taxes to me. So, the city diplomacy that I'm leading are means to attract tourists.

Also, very recently, in February, Prince William from the UK came here, and before he was a guest of the national government he met me here in Tokyo. He asked me, "Let's do something extravagant".

So, instead of going from the Haneda Airport by car to a guest house or something in downtown, we switched the transportation to a boat on the Tokyo Bay and we landed in the very beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens, near Ginza, and there I served at the head of the Japanese tea ceremony in this traditional garden, which is our metropolitan garden.

This is the same place, the same house, where the US president Grant, when he came to Tokyo, met with Emperor Meiji. So, after Prince William, the Prince and Princess of Denmark ask me the same thing, so now we need many boats to invite people.

What I'm trying to say is that Tokyo is really like Venice, it's a city of water, it's beautiful. This is our charm. So instead of going to Beijing, where the air is so polluted, and there's traffic jam and no sea, come to Tokyo.

There are no traffic jams, the air is clean, the cuisine is great, and you can enjoy our special boat, this is our sales point. This is 'Omotenashi'. Fortunately enough, I really owe it to him, he sold a very good image of Tokyo to everyone.

I try to explain these kinds of things to the foreign tourists who come here, and also another very important thing here is safety and security. Is the best in the world, incredible. A young lady can walk alone at midnight with no problem at all.

Trust and confidence are really essential to the success of Abenomics and the continuing development of Japan, and I think it can be said that maybe there's a question mark in the international community on Japan’s economy. What would you say to these international investors who are hesitant about investing in Tokyo or setting up companies here? Why should they not be worried?

One of the concerns of the outside is that, after the 2020 Games, Tokyo will become a ghost town. This is a mistake. 2020 is just only the passage point, we will make these games successfully, but even after the games, I have all kinds of plans, like urbanization and so on.

For example, Japanese Railways will construct a direct train from Tokyo Station to Haneda Airport, it will take only 17 minutes to get there. But this line will not be completed by 2020, intentionally, because this is a public work.

So after 2020 Tokyo will expand more, we'll have cleaner air, less traffic jams, Tokyo will continue to develop. You can be sure that you can continue to make money when you have opened your company here, and that you can live in Tokyo apartments, and you can enjoy traditional festivals and cuisine.

This is the message I'd like to give. This is the ten year long-term vision for Tokyo. This year we will start to make another plan, for thirty years. Maybe if you come back in two years, I'll be able to show you the Tokyo of the 2040s.

We have a continuing urbanization plan, we have a long-range ambition. Also, as you mentioned earlier, this is our best chance. But if we fail in this occasion to revive the Japanese economy, Tokyo and Japan in the near future.

So I've said to Mr. Abe, that we must work together, Tokyo and the national government. Of course in the national government there are many invested interests and lobbies. Tokyo is opening many doors, especially deregulation is one of my best policies.

If you go to the Toranomon Hills, a very big skyscraper, it is funny because there's a street, and all along the street there are skyscrapers. Normally, even in New York, there's a street and there are skyscrapers but on the top, and this is a highway.

So, why did I do this deregulation? The land price is zero, this is our land. So, instead of making a 10 or 20-storey building, we can make a 30 or 40-storey building, without paying any money.