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In early April, the Mainichi Shimbun ran two articles about the permeation of wartime terminology into everyday language. How far should this wartime terminology be tolerated, it asked. Should reporters be referred to figuratively as “heitai” (soldiers)?

Mainichi offers such examples as referring to reporters without a specific assignment as “yūgun” (reserves). Or, when reporters are split into separate groups to cover the same story, they are referred to as “ichi-banki” (squad 1) and “ni-banki” (squad 2). And when breaking news takes place, on-the-scene dispatches are issued by the newspaper’s “zensen honbu” (front-line headquarters.)

Waseda University professor Reiko Tsuchiya, an authority on media history, traced the practice of using military jargon back to the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5, a time when Japan’s armed forces fought large-scale battles at sea, and the use of new weaponry like machine guns put the conflict at the technological forefront of warfare.

“Perhaps the newspapers felt there was something appealing about using cutting-edge military terminology,” she says, adding that the military analogy might also relate to longstanding issues in the newspaper industry, such as the culture of long working hours and limited numbers of female staff.

In any event, when two weekly magazines that went on sale April 26 both made figurative references to World War II in relation to the Tokyo Olympics, the Mainichi’s story struck a familiar chord.

The headline in Shukan Post (May 7-14) read, “Forcing the Tokyo Olympics to be held is a nightmare akin to having Japan’s entire population engage in gyokusai.”

Gyokusai, literally, means “shattered jade.” In military terms, it means an honorable death without surrender, to fight to the last person, or total sacrifice such as with a suicidal “banzai” charge,

Having met with rensen renpai (a string of multiple defeats) in battling the

COVID-19 pandemic, Japan, the magazine asserts, is heading for such an outcome.

Historian Susumu Shimazaki went so far as to compare the upcoming Olympics to the infamous Imphal Campaign. In March 1944, over objections of the general staff, commanding Lt. Gen. Renya Mutaguchi ordered an attack on the Allies at Imphal, from Myanmar (then Burma), and attempted an invasion of British India. The ill-planned attack turned into a debacle, with over 50,000 men killed and wounded due to starvation, disease and exhaustion. Military histories describe Imphal as a classic failure of planning and logistics.

In a similar vein, the article asserts, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has failed to learn from the lessons of history, adopting an incremental approach to the pandemic by only adding tougher countermeasures after earlier efforts failed to stem its spread.

In Shimazaki’s view, Suga’s tactics resemble the military’s during the 1942-3 Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. When the army managed to evacuate its surviving troops, newspapers at the time obligingly parroted the army’s explanation of the defeat as a “change of course.”

In Weekly Playboy (May 17), meanwhile, a headline proposes an “exit strategy of takeyari Olympics.”

Takeyari are bamboo shafts with sharpened tips — crude makeshift weapons of the kind wielded by civilians in a last-ditch line of defense when soldiers and military weapons are unavailable.

Applying this analogy to the Olympics would mean a vastly scaled-down, but not cancelled, games.

The article is not entirely unsympathetic with the game’s organizers; the games’ unpopularity aside, to cancel them at this point would result in a chain reaction affecting other major sports events, such as next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Cancellation would also raise a multitude of problems, including monetary claims by corporate and media sponsors.

“The host organization has also pledged to arrange for 10,000 medical staff to attend to the athletes, but as they’re currently swamped with the pandemic, this appears unrealistic,” sports authority Masayuki Tamaki tells the magazine.

So downsizing might be the only solution.

Rather than events without spectators, Tomoyuki Suzuki, a visiting professor at Kokushikan University, proposes filling the stands with elementary and middle school students — this on the presumption they are less likely to contract the coronavirus.

“Athletes could meet the kids in person and sign autographs,” Suzuki says. “This would give meaning to the games and become part of Tokyo Olympics’ legacy.”

A director at an unnamed video production company also sees events without spectators as a “great opportunity” to create a new means of enhancing the Olympics’ appeal.

“A ‘video Olympics’ could flaunt Japan’s most advanced technology,” he says. “Events staged in comparatively confined areas, like table tennis, gymnastics and so on, can be captured with a centrally positioned 8K (ultra-high resolution) camera, and streamed to smartphone applications.”

In a scaled-down games, however, victories would not count for much.

“The Japan Olympic Committee has targeted Japan to win 30 gold medals, but with fair competition unlikely, that figure becomes meaningless,” says retired judo champion Kaori Yamaguchi, a JOC member.

“The reason the JOC is so hell bent on the number of medals is that more medals will bring in bigger subsidies,” she says. “But as long as people believe in victory for victory’s sake, sports in Japan won’t mature as a culture.”

Holding a “bamboo spear Olympics” that reverts to the basics might be the only way to achieve radiance and world acceptance, Weekly Playboy concludes.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.

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