Tokyo threw open the doors of its attractive, just-completed Olympic stadium with the superb slogan “Hello, our stadium”. Discussion over this gem inevitably began to fizz online. The serious words of welcome had plenty of defenders, but the faintly mangled syntax also caused eyes to roll.

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Detractors predicted that, in keeping with a long dialectal tradition (which produced the slogans “Speak Lark!” and “Boil Japan”), the Japanese wordsmiths behind, “Hello, our stadium”, had arrived at their endpoint without stopping to consult. That custom remains Japan’s unshakeable prerogative, but there was a feeling that it should probably have been postponed for an event as big and international as the Olympic Games.

Japan knew exactly what it was trying to say. The discussion over the slogan is a far more complicated and politicized clash over how the government should correctly account for the remorselessly rising cost of hosting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Japan’s government, still appreciating in the rhetoric of a solid Olympic 2020, originally agreed on a reasonable looking ¥150bn of spending from the state purse. That figure is discrete from the ¥1.4tn spending by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the ¥600bn by the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee.

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The government’s figure, say the perfectly thorough analysts at the Board of Audit of Japan, presents the public with a tunnel-vision sense of the games’ true cost. The total of Olympic related spending drawn from state coffers, said the board in its latest guess, will now likely surpass the ¥1tn mark.

Its officials are far too careful to suggest that there is a deliberate deception, but its analysts note the difference between the uncertain splodges drawn by politicians and the much sharper lines of definition favored by government accountants. The massive discrepancy between what the government says it is forking out for the Tokyo Olympic and the Board of Audit’s estimation for the total state outlay around.

Tokyo has undertaken significant infrastructure building, as well as the many structures built specifically for the various events. The Board of Audit valued that the government had chosen to describe $6bn of state spending around the Tokyo Olympic as administrative costs in effect disguising the true price the state was paying as host.

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The government categorized everything into three groups, directly related spending, hard-to-judge-how-related-it-is spending and weakly-related spending. The government then said it would only publicly disclose as Tokyo Olympic spending the items in the first group, which, predictably, produced more or less the same figure it had given before.

The accountants have shown that not just Tokyo Olympic, but the whole country, is paying a stunning sum to host these games and that this figure threatens to turn noxiously political once the torch moves on.  The government confidence, one sense, maybe to accept that taxpayers will probably see through the accounting legerdemain and instead stress at every available opportunity how this spending is not for a few weeks in Tokyo Olympic but for “us”, for Japan. The language, unlike accounting, is unambiguous. It’s ‘Hello, our stadium, not the Olympic 2020.

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