/ |

After the bid, critics sound off on Olympics

by Philip Brasor

Special To The Japan Times

During the week following the announcement in Buenos Aires that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympic Games, the Japanese media was saturated with news of the capital’s celebratory reaction. NHK, which will broadcast the Games, was particularly enthusiastic, leading every news report with a long Olympic-related item regardless of more pressing stories, such as the situations in Syria or Fukushima.

But mixed in with these upbeat dispatches was low grumbling from people who were never really behind the Olympic push, and as the week ended the grumbling became louder and more coherent to the point that anti-Olympic sentiments were almost as prominent as the self-congratulatory ones. Prior to the International Olympic Committee vote the media formed a united front of positivity to ensure that the Tokyo bid committee’s efforts wouldn’t be undermined by the perception that the city might not be completely behind the Games, since it is believed that is was the lack of local support that doomed Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. But there are a number of prominent media figures who did not and still do not support the Tokyo Games, and now that the hosting job has been secured they are free to express their views.

Several, in fact, appeared live on TBS’s “Sunday Morning” talk show on Sept. 8, less than an hour after the happy news was revealed. While the guests admitted they were glad that Tokyo was selected, they did such a thorough job of qualifying their feelings that one Twitter user commented the program “was like a wake.” World affairs expert Jitsuro Terashima said he had “complicated feelings” about the announcement but was happy since the Olympics might force Japan to address “international diplomacy” more earnestly. Critic Eiko Oya also welcomed the news, though she said she originally thought Istanbul should have been chosen as the host city “in order to build a bridge between the East and the West.”

Though Oya’s remark was mild, it received a great deal of negative attention on the Internet. She was labeled a hikokumin, which means “non-citizen” and is often used for people whom nationalists consider to be han-nichi (anti-Japanese), including Asians who complain about Japan and even Okinawans who oppose U.S. bases. But Oya wasn’t the only person who earned that specific term of opprobirum because of her stated reservations with Tokyo hosting the Games. Even the victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami — who still cannot return to their homes — were accused of “throwing cold water on the festive mood” if they fretted to reporters that the government might forget them in its frenzied preparation for the Games. In a survey conducted by Tokyo Shimbun some respondents said the evacuees should just be quiet if they didn’t like the Olympics. “Who do they think they are?” one person answered. “How long do they expect to be pitied?”

This theme was taken up by journalist Minako Saito in the inaugural essay for Asahi Shimbun’s new Hihyo (review) column, in which a revolving group of writers critiques the newspaper’s performance. Saito said that the Asahi was not as aggressive as it could have been in reporting the controversy over a Hiroshima school district’s restrictions for the anti-war manga “Barefoot Gen” and should have connected the government’s weak response regarding the Fukushima crisis to its refusal to sign an international anti-nuclear weapons pact. However, she mainly talked about the Olympics. Through her regular column in Tokyo Shimbun, Saito was one of the few voices in the mainstream press to question the bid effort. (In reference to the ongoing nuclear crisis, she said you don’t invite people to your house when the toilet is broken) In the Asahi essay, she wrote that the editors had allowed themselves to get caught up in the Tokyo promotional campaign without giving space to “minority opinions.” Moreover, the gist of the campaign was to “enhance national prestige,” which, inadvertently or not, reinforces “right wing interests.”

Saito’s essay was representative of the questioning mood in that it didn’t dwell on the more common materialistic complaints regarding the Olympics—the cost to taxpayers or the predicted congestion or even the neglect of disaster victims. Mostly, this mood was connected to unease with the general attitude toward the Olympics, especially at this moment in time. Tokyo Shimbun sampled comments made by prominent media persons who were known to be opposed to the games. Some, like the commentators on “Sunday Morning,” tried to look on the bright side now that Tokyo had been chosen. Cartoonist Mitsuru Yaku thought that since Tokyo is susceptible to earthquakes, meaningful disaster preparedness would finally be carried out.

But some were plainly angry. Columnist Takashi Odajima despaired at the censorious attitude toward Olympics skeptics, saying that it was the height of cynicism for local authorities to promote the Games’ economic advantages when it hadn’t even come up with a viable plan for reconstruction in the Northeast. Kobe Women’s University Professor Tatsuru Uchida stated that he found the whole idea of the Tokyo Olympics hypocritical and “repugnant,” what with exclusionary tendencies being exacerbated by the Liberal Democratic Party’s belligerent national defense policy and extremists demonstrating on the streets of Tokyo and calling for the expulsion of foreigners, particularly resident Koreans. Though the Olympics could provide the greater citizenry of Japan with an opportunity “to mature,” he didn’t sound as if he expected that to happen.

That is the real irony of the Olympic excitement. The same people who endeavor to safeguard Japan against alien workers and other undesirable foreign influences now accuse those who don’t want the Olympics of being un-Japanese. Someone should carry out a close study of this mind-set, because it makes no sense at all.

  • Guy DE LA RUPELLE

    The last paragraph is interesting. Indeed, this seems to be a contradiction in terms. I wonder if those so-called nationalists would like Japan to stop trying to be a “kokusai no kuni”, something which I’ve seen advertized for the past 20 years or so.

    • Kazuhisa Nakatani

      Is it a contradiction?
      The logic behind the conservatives’ behavior is this:
      Receiving favorable comments and/or winning prestige are welcome, but criticisms of any kind are not.
      Right wingers and nationalists are very simple and straightforward.