Artist Hibino drums up Olympic bid support with five-colored ‘mikoshi’

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff writer

About 140 people paraded through Tokyo’s Ueno Park Saturday with handmade portable shrines as part of the events designed to support the city’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics.

Tokyo is, along with Madrid and Istanbul, one of three cities vying for the chance to host the world’s largest sporting event. The host city will be announced in Buenos Aires on Sept. 7.

People of all ages participated in Saturday’s event, which was titled “V Colors — Go to 2020.” Divided into five groups, participants jointly shouldered bamboo globes, 2 meters in diameter and representing the multicolored Olympic rings. The constructions were inspired by mikoshi, the portable shrines believed to house deities and traditionally paraded around shrines for Shinto festivals.

Katsuhiko Hibino, well-known visual artist and Tokyo University of the Arts professor, served as the project’s chief director. He explained that the common association of mikoshi with festive occasions and their participatory nature made them a perfect fit for the campaign.

The creation of the giant globes, which was open to the public, began in Ueno Park in early August and was lead by Hibino and volunteers from the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Over the course of the project, Hibino encouraged others — his students, passersby and even tourists — to help with the decoration of the globes.

Perhaps unbeknownst to many, the Olympics have their origin in art, Hibino said, with the ancient Olympics Games being, first and foremost, a celebration of the human body’s aesthetics. Athletic competition, Hibino said, was considered secondary.

But as time passed, sporting elements become the focus, while the event’s artistic connection faded into oblivion. By leading the project, Hibino said he wanted “to remind people what the Olympics were originally supposed to be about.”

Hibino added he is an big supporter of Tokyo’s endeavor to host the games. Winning the bid, he said, could spur widespread soul-searching and scrutinization of society, which will go a long way toward improving the status quo.

He also noted that children would benefit from the large influx of foreign guests.

“The Olympics are something both children and parents can think about together,” Hibino said. “When I was a child, Tokyo hosted the games (in 1964), and I remember people across Japan becoming closer to each other and there was a great sense of unity.”

Tokyo University of the Arts student Morie Tanaka, 20, who played a leading role in constructing the mikoshi, said he hopes Tokyo will win the honor of hosting the 2020 Olympics.

“Being an art student myself, I believe the Olympics bid, if realized, will do a lot to inspire art communities,” he said, adding that it will hopefully inspire Japan’s young people, often criticized for being introverted, to be more open-minded.

Tanaka noted that the interior of the globes are primarily composed of used bamboo brooms, which are believed to have the spiritual power to ward off evil and invite happiness, a fitting motif for Tokyo’s ambitious bid.

Another participant, Tatsuya Ito, 36, said if Tokyo wins the bid it will show the world that Japan has overcome the destruction caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

“It’s one thing to hear about it, but it’s another to actually visit and take a real look at what the situation is like,” he said.

The Saturday parade caught the attention of a throng of park-goers, including overseas tourists.

“I think it would be amazing (if Tokyo hosted the games),” said Rob Harvey, 26, a tourist from England. “All seems very organized. The transportation system seems set out for it. So I don’t see why not.”

Gary Lutz, 50, an American who was visiting Japan on business, said the prospect of Tokyo hosting the Games will be “fantastic,” describing the city as “very welcoming and clean.”

Praise for the city’s well-maintained facilities and people’s affability was echoed by Andy Karel, 22, who is working in Tokyo as an English tutor.

“Tokyo’s metropolitan aesthetic is very globally appreciated. So as far as the beauty of the city is concerned, it could be a perfect location,” said the American. “Also, people here are very hospitable. No matter if you speak English, Japanese or any sort of language, even if they can’t communicate directly, they’re always willing to help you.”