How Japan prepared to Host the FIFA World Cup 2002

Japan’s successful bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2002 was a watershed moment for the country. The tournament kickstarted a decade-long process of upgrading regional stadiums and training grounds, as well as renovating airports and improving hotels. These preparations were substantial, given that Japan had never previously hosted an international sports event on this scale, let alone one of such significance and visibility. With so much riding on its success, it is reassuring to see how thorough the planning was. The detailed bid document was only the beginning. The following article looks at how preparations for hosting the FIFA World Cup went from good intentions and months of meetings to a fully-fledged national strategy with realistic targets and timetables for implementation.

The road to FIFA World Cup 2002

The story of Japan’s successful bid to host the FIFA World Cup goes back to the late 1980s. There was a growing recognition within the country that hosting major international sporting events, and the tourism they would bring in their wake, was an issue that needed to be addressed. Tokyo had previously bid to host the 1984 Olympic Games but lost out to Los Angeles after an intense, high-profile campaign. With the experience of that bid process as a backdrop, Japanese football associations and government agencies began working together to formulate a bid for the FIFA World Cup. Tokyo was the obvious choice to be the host city, but the bid document had to be comprehensive. It had to outline the country’s readiness to host the event, including stadiums, training facilities, hotels, transportation, and other areas of infrastructure and service.

Everything must change!

The first step was to conduct a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s readiness to host the FIFA World Cup. This meant taking a frank look at the country’s sporting infrastructure and tourist hotels, as well as its airports and transportation networks. With the help of experts from FIFA and other international sporting organizations, the country’s strengths and weaknesses were identified, and a detailed modernization plan was drawn up. This would provide the basis for later discussions with FIFA about the country’s readiness to host the tournament. The findings of this assessment were sobering, but they were also liberating: There was much that needed to be done to put Japan on a path to hosting the FIFA World Cup, but there was also the flexibility to choose which areas to prioritize.

Building new stadia and renovating old ones

One of the most discussed elements of Japan’s preparations for the FIFA World Cup was its decision to build eight new stadia, including one in Tokyo that would be used for the Olympic Games in 2020. The decision was made to avoid the risk of having to renovate or relocate stadia due to the potential to disrupt the tournament schedule. It also allowed the country to spread the hosting costs over a longer period. The decision to use a mix of newly-built and renovated stadia proved to be a wise one. While it made hosting the tournament more expensive, it was also more efficient. It created a better fan experience and was more sustainable over the long term, since many of the stadia built for the FIFA World Cup have remained in use.

Upgrading airports and train stations

There were other areas of infrastructure that received significant attention during the preparations for the FIFA World Cup. One of these was the country’s airports, particularly in Tokyo. Japan’s capital was expected to receive more than three million tourists during the tournament, and the capacity of its two main airports was clearly inadequate. This meant that improving their capacity and efficiency was a high priority. Other areas of infrastructure that were upgraded as part of the preparations for the tournament included rail networks and ports. Other areas, such as roads and tourist hotels, were given a lower priority, as they were expected only to be used by domestic visitors during the tournament.

Improving hotels and other tourist infrastructure

Given that the FIFA World Cup was expected to bring a significant increase in tourists, much attention was given to improving the country’s tourist infrastructure. This included increasing the number of hotel rooms available in Tokyo and other host cities, improving the language skills of staff at tourist sites, and improving tourist information. The latter was a challenge since there was a push to improve services in English, as well as other languages, spoken by tourists. This meant that Japanese tourist infrastructure needed to be upgraded to meet the needs of the domestic population as well as foreign visitors.


As the above article shows, the preparations for the FIFA World Cup in Japan were extensive. It was a massive undertaking that required extensive collaboration between government agencies and industry sectors. Preparations were not limited to the years immediately preceding the tournament. They were a decade-long process that involved significant investment in infrastructure and human capital, including training for local workers and language assistance for tourists visiting the country. The successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup was a watershed moment for Japan. It kick-started a decade-long process of upgrading regional stadiums and training grounds, as well as renovating airports and improving hotels.