Mr. Inose does not understand

In an interview appearing in The New York Times on April 26, Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose sullied Tokyo’s chances for hosting the 2020 Olympic Summer Games by violating one of the key rules of the International Olympic Committee — not to directly criticize competitors.

Mr. Inose spoke ill of Istanbul, one of the other finalist cities bidding to host the Olympic Games. His uninformed and unconsidered comments reveal a lack of sensitivity to other cultures and a poor understanding of Japan’s own culture.

Trying hard to promote Tokyo would be no disgrace, but Mr. Inose moved far past the boundaries of courteous conduct by claiming that Istanbul was under-developed and ill equipped to host the games. Mr. Inose’s comments tarnished the image of a rival city, breaking the rules and protocols in competing for the games. Those rules are taken seriously by the IOC Committee and the rest of the world.

No Olympic athletes would brag about themselves or belittle competitors, as Mr. Inose did. Athletes understand the hardship of training and pressure of competition. Their hard work teaches them respect for other athletes and the importance of following rules for fair conduct.

Judging from Mr. Inose’s comments, Tokyo’s physical infrastructure may be ready to host the games, but the governor’s understanding of sportsmanship is still in need of construction.

Other comments by Mr. Inose in the interview were even more reprehensible. He stated that for Islamic countries, such as Turkey, “the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes.”

One expects a more refined, developed understanding of other cultures from the governor of the largest urban economy in the world. Istanbul is a rapidly growing city, while Turkey is perhaps the most secular of all Islamic countries. Mr. Inose seems to suggest Japan has no socioeconomic classes. He was wrong on all counts.

Mr. Inose also blundered through a series of questionable comments about Japanese culture. He quoted the long lifespan of Japan as an indication of a “stress-free” society here and condescended to the Turkish people by suggesting that they should create a culture like Japan’s if they want to live longer lives.

He also proclaimed Japan’s cultural uniqueness and superiority by bizarrely remarking that Tokyo is exceptional because the Imperial Palace is a “nothingness” in the center of the city, around which bustles a hive of modernized activity.

After the article came out, Mr. Inose tried to retract the content by claiming that Japanese is a unique language impossible to translate or contextualize. The New York Times answered that the two reporters who conducted the interview were fluent in Japanese, and that besides the governor had his own translator along with him. Perhaps Mr. Inose believed such comments would help promote Japan and Tokyo on the world stage.

Unfortunately they did just the opposite. His small-minded competitiveness lost face for the city and for the country. In addition to speaking badly about a vibrant and impressive city like Istanbul, the governor showed through his remarks that he is not yet quite ready to participate in international society, much less compete for the right to host the games.

The Olympics is a truly international event that prides itself on excellence, respect and friendship. Perhaps the governor could study up on what the genuinely competitive spirit of the Olympic Games really means.

His comments show he does not understand that yet.

  • Daniel

    The editorial is to the point and well written. Reading between the lines, Mr. Inose does not deserve to be even the head of a small village let alone the governor of of one of the greatest cities in the world. Mr. Inose’s tiny frame of mind disqualifies him from governorship of Tokyo.

  • TokyoStory

    “One expects a more refined, developed understanding of other cultures from the governor of the largest urban economy in the world.” –> Sure, but isn’t this simply a continuation of Ishihara-san’s line of thinking/speaking, and isn’t it actually quite popular among the Japanese people? After all, Ishihara-san was wildly popular among “average” Japanese citizens and held office for over a decade, yet he continuously made openly xenophobic, racist, condescending comments throughout his terms in office. How does this not reflect what your “average” Japanese actually agrees with?

    • Neruson-san

      I would tend to agree with your comment but it has the fallacy of a sweeping generalization and use of anecdotal evidence to prove fact. Although it may sound, it is an assumption that cannot stand as as fact. The connection between Ishihara-san and the current governor is far fetched, they are different persons. The connection between the “wildly” popular ex-governor and his deplorable comments and how the “average” Japanese agrees with him is a fallacy of Composition – an assumption assuming that the characteristics of 1 in a group applies to all members of the group. For what we know, the current governor might be very good in management and macro Economics and that is why he was elected to office. Here is what you are saying: X is a racist, Y replaced X, therefore all ‘average” Z are racist.
      I would be really interested on how the Japanese citizenry has taken this issue, and I’d rather see the response through statistics or population sampling.

      • Ray

        The sad truth is that the average Japanese has not learned how to think critically about such issues.

      • TokyoStory

        Actually, I believe the logic is sound. It goes like this: Judging by their words as elected officials, both X and Y are either xenophobic, racist, condescending, or some combination of those traits. If–in the case of Ishihara–they remain in office for over a decade whilst continously receiving high (70% +) approval ratings (here are some stats for you), this would imply that the general population either agrees with those words or feels that those words aren’t so much of a problem that the highest elected official in Tokyo should resign or be voted out of office.

        As you said, ‘For what we know the current governor might be very good in management…{etc.}’. You are actually on a slippery slope here, as you are building a relativist argument, which goes something like this: “Well, even if he makes racist comments, he might be a good leader in some other areas, so we shouldn’t assume that the general population supports a racist governor–they might be supporting his other attributes which might make up for his comments.” –> I don’t think that excuses anything; I believe xenophobic/racist/condescending types of comments are absolutely wrong and cannot be overlooked.

        Finally, imagine if the Mayor of another great metropolis, New York City, said the following publicly regarding Mexicans’ complaints about U.S. immigration policy: “Those wetbacks always complain and are ungrateful for the fact that we civilized the states like California and Texas.” –> Would you really be uncritical of your average New Yorker if they expressed strong support for him simply because New York’s economy was growing under him? Is that excusable?

      • Neruson-san

        Thank you for the good explanation of your point. First off I wanted to make sure that it is understood that I do not condone Inose or the former governor’s behaviour, it is despicable by any standard. Now, taking it from your argument, I assume you are implying that the “average” Japanese – matter of factly (based on their 70%+ support) agree with Inose and the former governor that being xenophobic , racist and condescending is acceptable.

        To fully rationalize that the general population of japan “agrees with those words or feels that those words aren’t so much of a problem” – is quite stretching it too far. It will take more than the assumption that; if the governor has an ill character, and still the people voted for him, and is not asking him to resign, therefore the people share the same character. It is just improbable and wrong to lay judgement on a general population through the acts of the leaders they have elected.

        Missing into account are some crucial analysis of a society’s culture. Japanese culture, for one, can be silent but does not mean they agree. They have a tendency to stick to the status quo (elect same parties) and take whatever there is – good or bad than take risks, they place their choices only on extremes, no middle (based on market study). They do not criticise nor speak up to authority, … and on and on.I have been in Japan quite long enough and I have yet to fully comprehend the Japanese mindset. I do not believe, and perhaps have not experienced and learned enough to be convinced that they support the ” xenophobic/racist/condescending types of comments” made by the infamous Tokyo governors – voting for them does not simply make them such.

  • The damage has been done. I would be really surprised if Tokyo gets the Olympics now.

    • karelbotha

      How did he become governor of Tokyo then?

      • Frank Thornton

        Because he was next in line to Ishihara and, Ishihara would have said the same, if not worse…

  • marimari3

    It is often said that the Japanese are modest, but it does not applly to Mr. Inose. Somehow since he became Tokyo governor, he has shown off his power and looked very arrogant. Some Japanese could expect that he would comment on something with haughty tone sooner or later. The efforts that Japanese Olympic members have made so far for 2020 Oympic Game were ruined by Mr. Inose’s irresponsible comment. How should he take a responsiblity for it?

    • leftlite

      Do the honourable thing: make an unreserved, unqualified apology and quit.