Japan’s celebration of culture leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will “deliver something inspiring for the people of Japan and the whole world,” according to London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Director Ruth Mackenzie.
“Each Olympics has the chance to celebrate the culture of their country,” Mackenzie told reporters after meeting with the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee earlier this week.
“Japan is known worldwide for the beauty and richness not just of your heritage, but also of your contemporary artists, your popular artists, your supremacy in the creative industries and your supremacy in digital innovation. So I am sure that your festival and your Cultural Olympiad will beat London’s.”
A Cultural Olympiad is a program of cultural events held across an Olympic host country during the four-year period leading up to a games. The Tokyo 2020 Cultural Olympiad began on Oct. 7 last year with a ceremony in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district and performances fusing traditional arts with modern technology.
London’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad attracted over 40 million people to one or more of an estimated 180,000 activities held across Britain. The program culminated in the London 2012 Festival, a huge nationwide extravaganza of music, dance, art and theater that ran from June 21 through Sept. 9, 2012, and involved more than 25,000 performers and 12,000 events.
Highlights of the festival included the World Shakespeare Festival, an exhibition by artist David Hockney, and a mass event that encouraged everyone in Britain to ring thousands of bells at the same time.
“For us in the U.K., when we asked people what they understood by Cultural Olympiad, a lot of them were not so sure,” said Mackenzie, who previously had stints in charge of Scotland’s national opera company and the Manchester International Festival.
“Which is why we thought it was good to have a festival in the program of the Cultural Olympiad, because everybody understands the word ‘festival.’ It’s a way to bring the magic dust of the Olympics to everybody in the country, because the cultural program can go all around the country whereas the sporting program cannot.”
Mackenzie was parachuted into the 2012 director’s chair just two years before the start of the festival, and she believes the early start that Tokyo 2020 organizers have made on preparations will see them deliver a festival that leaves London’s in the shade.
Tokyo has yet to appoint a director to oversee the program, but Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto is keen to find someone as tenacious as Mackenzie.
“We got a lot of valuable advice from Ruth,” said Muto. “She gave us three main pieces of advice. The first is that planning is important, and that you have to decide what kind of message you want to send. Second, the budget is important. And third, you have to have faith in the artists.”
He added, “What we heard from Ruth today has inspired us and it would be great if we could appoint a director as good as her. It could be one person or maybe two or three working together. We’d like to get something in place as soon as possible and make the Tokyo 2020 cultural festival something as great as what went before it. We will ask experts their advice and try to put something in place.”
London’s Cultural Olympiad was hailed as a huge success, but the economic crisis gripping Brazil took a severe toll on cultural plans for last year’s Rio Games. An estimated 50 percent of the program surrounding the games was scrapped, although events such as street theater and dancing still went ahead on a smaller scale.
Masanori Aoyagi, chairman of the Tokyo 2020 Culture and Education Commission, is determined not to let the opportunity that 2020 offers go to waste.
“What we heard today was very informative, especially the importance that was placed on culture at London 2012,” Aoyagi, emeritus professor at the University of Tokyo, said at the meeting on Tuesday.
“Sports and culture have different characteristics, but they work in synergy to produce something bigger.
“London 2012 was the first digital Olympiad, but Tokyo 2020 will be even more so and that’s something we need to grasp. Japanese culture will be in the spotlight, so we need to take that on board and produce a great Cultural Olympiad.”
Mackenzie agreed that the global cultural showcase that comes with hosting the Olympics can benefit the whole of Japan, not just its capital.
“Tokyo 2020 is very passionate about the need to involve partners in the whole of Japan and not just in Tokyo,” she said.
“That was one of the areas that we worked on a lot. Although I was working on London 2012, I worked in Scotland and Ireland and Wales and Cornwall and in every city around the U.K.
“So I know that already they have great plans. They don’t need me to advise. They are ahead of us in saying that this is a vital priority to work with every city in Japan, and also with the small communities that live outside the cities.”