TOKYO – If anything can make the busy citizens of Tokyo take notice of their city's bid to host the 2016 Olympics, it's a robot large enough to take on Godzilla.
A fitting symbol of the technology for which Japan is famous, the moving, talking 60-foot robot was part of a promotional blitz to drum up support for Tokyo's campaign after an International Olympic Committee poll in February found only 55 percent of residents supported the effort.
A replica of the popular character Mobile Suit Gundam, from a Japanese anime series created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, the robot towered over the man-made Odaiba island overlooking Tokyo Bay and prominently displayed the Tokyo 2016 logo on its shoulder.
Organizers say public support has increased in recent polls, and that more than 20 million people in Japan's capital now support the bid. A rally through the streets of the city on Wednesday attracted more than 400,000 people, testament to the improved public opinion.
"Tokyo 2016 is about the passion of 34 million people in our dynamic capital and more than 100 million supporters across our nation who know this is our chance to create a better future for Japan through sport," said Hidetoshi Maki, deputy director general of Tokyo's bid.
Tokyo is competing with Chicago, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro for the right to host the 2016 Summer Games. The IOC will choose the winning city in a vote next Friday in Copenhagen.
Japanese organizers say Tokyo is the best choice in the midst of a global recession.
Tokyo has the largest metropolitan budget in the world — if the Japanese capital were a country, it would have the 15th highest GDP in the world. That kind of economic might, Tokyo's organizers say, makes it the safest choice for a post-recession Olympics and the Paralympic Games that follow.
"No other 2016 bid city is offering the same level of guarantees to the IOC," Tokyo bid chief Ichiro Kono said. "These include the greatest possible commitment of both our national and local government and $4 billion already set aside in the bank to cover all infrastructure development."
Conscious of the Barack Obama factor — the U.S. president's adopted hometown is Chicago and he has given his support to the city's bid — Tokyo organizers are pulling out all the stops to match the stars lined up by other candidate cities.
Newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been asked to attend the IOC vote. Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara also has requested the attendance of Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, and there were even media reports that Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki could be called in.
Hatoyama, who took office on Sept. 16 after his Democratic Party of Japan defeated the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in elections at the end of August, wrote a letter to the IOC members assuring them that the government "remains as strong as ever" behind Tokyo's bid.
Tokyo is the only city among the four candidates with a proven record of frequently staging major international sporting events.
Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964, played a major role in the 2002 World Cup, which Japan co-hosted with South Korea, and was home to the track and field world championships in 1991. Japan also hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano and the 1972 Games in Sapporo, and the 2007 track world championships in Osaka.
Some worried Tokyo's bid was made too close to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the IOC would be reluctant to bring the Olympics back to Asia so soon.
But Tokyo bid organizers play down that notion, saying the IOC has no rotation policy and that by the time the games would come back, Europe would have hosted them twice (London 2012, Sochi 2014) and North America once (Vancouver 2010).
Still, some aren't convinced the timing is right.
"The Olympics should go to areas that haven't had them before," office worker Masa Kikuta said. "I think Rio should get them. Besides, we have more important things to spend our taxpayer money on."
An IOC report earlier this month praised Tokyo's compact venue plan.
Tokyo says 23 of its proposed 34 venues already exist and that land has been secured for the 11 new facilities with a proposed, futuristic 100,000-seat stadium on a pier in Tokyo Bay at the center of the games. Just four minutes away by car lies a barren strip of landfill that would be home to the athletes' village.
Several of the existing facilities, such as the National Stadium, were used for the 1964 Games — a nod to the IOC's fondness for legacy. Tokyo organizers have said those facilities will get a facelift, but the IOC's evaluation report said some will need major upgrades to meet Olympic standards.
Tokyo also is touting its effort to stage a green games that coexist with the natural environment. The Olympic village, built in the Ariake area bordering Tokyo Bay, would feature an array of eco-friendly systems such as solar and renewable energy, and aim for total waste recycling. After the games, they would be converted to rental apartments and condominiums in a greenery-rich area.
In addition, Tokyo plans to promote the use of low-emissions buses and other vehicles in order to reduce traffic congestion and help curb carbon dioxide emissions.
Japan used the 1964 Games to establish its place as a respected and peaceful member of the international community just two decades after World War II. The games were instrumental in the postwar economic and social reconstruction of the nation, which has now grown into the world's second-largest economy.
The goals may not be as grandiose this time, but Tokyo wants to use these games to redevelop a rundown area previously used for industry and shipping, revitalizing the waterfront with housing, retail, and entertainment venues, some from land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay.
"Tokyo needs the 2016 Games because we are in pursuit of a dramatic modernization that will transform our city forever," Kono said. "The greatest transformation in a city's history will be complete by 2016 in time for the games to act as a beacon of hope for a greener, brighter future for us all."