The officials who organized Nagano's bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics were zealous about keeping track of expenses. As they directed a massive lobbying drive to win the Games for their town, they maintained careful records of it all--90 volumes to be exact, enough to fill 10 large cardboard boxes. Inside was a window on what it takes to woo members of the International Olympic Committee--luxury hotspring resorts, first-class air tickets and geisha, to name just a few entries.
But it seems Nagano's bidding committee was better at compiling records than preserving them. In 1992, after a citizen's group demanded disclosure of the Olympic spending, the 90 volumes mysteriously disappeared. Their fate remained a mystery until the controversy over Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Games erupted in December, prompting a bid committee member to come clean: "I ordered them burned," said Sumikazu Yamaguchi, former vice secretary-general of the Nagano Olympic Bid Committee. "I didn't want the I.O.C. members to be uncomfortable."
Now it's Nagano's turn to be uncomfortable. Just one year ago, Nagano was earning kudos for hosting a tightly run, feel-good Olympics, a welcome contrast to the crass commercialism of Atlanta two years earlier. Now a tackier side of its Olympic bid is emerging. After Yamaguchi went public two weeks ago, Nagano's mayor delivered another bombshell, admitting his city paid $350,000 to a Swiss company "to gather information on the I.O.C." Mayor Tasuku Tsukada had earlier denied Nagano had hired such an agency. It didn't help that the agency in question was run by Goran Takacs, whose father Arthur Takacs is reported to be on close terms with the I.O.C.'s president, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
The lid on Olympic corruption may have finally blown off in Salt Lake City. But the U.S. town learned back in the early '90s that it had to play hardball to land the Games. At that time it was battling with Nagano for the 1998 spectacle. Competition between the two cities was so intense that the Japanese press dubbed it the "yen-dollar war." Salt Lake City had superior facilities, more convenient venues--and better snow. But Nagano outgunned them. Fumes Kim Warren, an international-relations coordinator for the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee: "We were giving out saltwater taffy and cowboy hats, and they were giving out computers."
I.O.C. members who came to inspect Nagano were put up in ritzy hotspring resorts, where they washed down expensive sushi with sake poured by kimono-clad geisha. They went home laden with "souvenir" gifts and expensive paintings. But red-carpet treatment for I.O.C. members wasn't Nagano's only tactic. The city's lobbying effort reached a crescendo in the week before the final vote on the games took place in Birmingham in 1991, according to Masao Ezawa, representative of the Anti-Olympics People's Network, which was the first to question Nagano's Olympic spending. Nagano sent a squad of 1,000 to the English town, including performers dressed as ninja warriors and Japanese dancers, says Ezawa, who traveled to Birmingham to track the lobbying effort. The real schmoozing took place, he says, at an English estate where I.O.C. members were treated to elaborate banquets with sushi piled on miniature boats--a traditional serving style known as ikizukuri--all prepared by a chef brought in from London. Says Ezawa, who figures Nagano spent as much as $66 million on its bid (the city says $18 million): "We got the Olympics because of money."
But more than ninjas and sushi boats were needed to clinch the deal. Behind Nagano's drive to win the games stood Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, one of Japan's most influential businessmen. His Kokudo Corp., a sprawling empire of railroads, ski resorts and golf courses, stood to benefit nicely if Nagano won the games. For one thing, a government-built bullet train line designed to speed visitors from Tokyo to Nagano greatly improved access to his ski resorts in the region. As head of the Japan Olympic Committee, Tsutsumi played a key role in gathering backers for Nagano's bid. Now Tsutsumi is under fire for rounding up millions of dollars in corporate contributions to help build an Olympic museum in Switzerland while the bidding race was going on. "The timing was totally coincidental," maintains Tetsuo Oyama, a spokesman for the J.O.C. "The donation would have happened even if Nagano hadn't been bidding."
There is no joy in Nagano these days. The little city in the Japanese alps got the tone just right last year, from the sumo wrestlers piggy-backing smiling youngsters in snow suits at the opening ceremony to small details like the little souvenir origami cranes for the athletes. But in its scramble to win the games, Nagano authorities seem to have forgotten about the rights of average citizens, critics say. Just as speaking out became impossible under Japan's military governments in the 1930s, criticism of the games became taboo in Nagano, says Ezawa, who makes his living as a weaver. Once a voice crying in the wilderness, Ezawa today is deluged with interview requests. Says Sister Monica Nakamura, an activist Catholic nun helping foreign workers in Nagano: "At last, people are finally listening to him."