Have our worst dreams come true? After ASEAN, will the Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games feature a battalion of skimpily clad, underage girls representing Japan?!
This nightmare came closer to reality with the news that Yasushi Akimoto (55), the influential commercial producer of idol mega group AKB48, has been tapped to become a member of the executive board of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“We do not know whether or not Akimoto will be responsible for directing the ceremonies, but he may be involved,” apparently said a source close to the committee.
Quite what a middle-aged music idol group producer has to do with the world’s most prestigious sporting event is anyone’s guess.
Other rumored board members make more sense, such as gymnast Rie Tanaka (26), hammer thrower Koji Murofushi (39), and swimmer Mayumi Narita (43), all whom have represented Japan in previous Olympic Games.
Our candidates for cultural and entertainment figures to be on the board instead of Akimoto include Ryuichi Sakamoto, the composer, Saburo Teshigawara, the dancer and choreographer, or perhaps even Koki Mitani, the playwright and filmmaker. And rather than the latest teenagers in the ranks of AKB48, let’s have Shiina Ringo, Awa Odori dancers and Aomori Nebuta Matsuri floats!
A football match on Saturday between the Urawa Reds, a major soccer team in the J-League Division 1 based in Saitama, just north of Tokyo, and Sagan Tosu, was marred by a banner hung at the venue with a message written in English — “JAPANESE ONLY”.
The match was a home game for the Urawa Reds and the club’s opener for the league. Pictures of the offensive banner quickly spread on social media over the weekend and the club managed to identify the culprits. Both the club and its players have expressed shocked over the banner and its offensive message.
It was hung at a concourse for an entrance gate at Saitama Stadium. Most people who saw it construed it as a xenophobic message, though it may have had a more esoteric purport — such as criticizing (or praising) the fact that the team did not include any non-Japanese players for the game, which the Urawa Reds went on to lose.
Are we to fear that sporting events — and local ones at that — are being invaded by racism?
This latest chilling incident comes after a series of similar developments that indicate a rise in nationalism and xenophobia in certain sections of Japanese society.
In the February Tokyo gubernatorial election in February, the polling results for far right-wing candidate Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff and prominent ultranationalist, also shocked many. Campaigning on a overtly rightist platform, he got 611,000 votes, finishing fourth out of the sixteen runners, with 12% of the total votes — a third of what winner Yoichi Masuzoe achieved. The candidate who has denied Japan’s aggression in World War II and openly challenges issues such as the comfort women got 24% of the votes of people in their twenties (second to Masuzoe), plus 17% among voters in their thirties.
Tamogami also has a lot of support from the fringe but voluble netto uyoku, ultranationalist netizens. One of Tamogami’s most vocal supporters in the non-digital sphere, though, was writer Naoki Hyakuta, recently appointed by the government to the governing board of the national broadcaster, NHK. Hyakuta has denied that the 1937 Nanjing (Nanking) Massacre took place and a film of his book, The Eternal Zero, has proved a remarkable box office success since its release in December.
The Eternal Zero is a war film about a young man who gets recruited to be one of the infamous kamikaze pilots ( tokkōtai or special attack squad). There have been numerous similarly commercial and sentimental war films in Japan over the last ten years which highlight the heroic suffering and death of the Japanese soldiers, conveniently shunning any focus on the reasons for the war or the moral complexities of the conflict. The Eternal Zero‘s success would be little to get worried about if it wasn’t for all the other developments that might indicate a broader shift in mentality.
The outspoken Hyakuta works for national broadcaster NHK, which has also found itself into hot water through the remarks of its newly appointed chairman Katsuto Momii that seemed to downplay the significance of comfort women.
333 items from the Chiran Peace Museum in Minami-Kyushu have also recently been submitted for entry in the UNESCO’s Memory of the World, the register of important international documents that includes the Magna Carta and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
The Chiran Peace Museum is located on a site where the kamikaze pilots took off to attack the US navy. The museum houses around 14,000 items, such as portraits of the 1,036 pilots who died in the suicide missions towards the end of the war. The collection of documents submitted to UNESCO are last letters written by the pilots before they set off for their final sorties. Every year between 400,000 and 700,000 people visit the museum.
Memorialization can also be construed as celebration or even approval, which is especially troubling in the case of the kamikaze pilots, who were often forced into their suicide missions and whose last letters were likely censored. While films like The Eternal Zero glorify their role, the true context of the events is lost to yet another generation, who needless to say do not study it properly on the national curriculum. Nanjing has responded with submitting its own documents recording and proving the massacre that happened at the city in 1937.
Recently there has been a surge in hate rallies organized by groups like the Zaitokukai, attended by very different sorts of people to the usual ultranationalist black van fringe. They are a small minority but a disturbing one nonetheless.
There have also been an increase in cases of discrimination and other signs of hate against Koreans and Chinese, such as graffiti on vending machines in Shin-Okubo in Tokyo, an area with a visible Korean population.
The western media was also quick to pin the recent strange case of 300 copies of Anne Frank’s Diary being vandalized in public libraries in Tokyo on the racists. (Japan has a tradition of anti-semitism on both the right and the left fringes.) But should we be worried? It is too early to tell, though coupled with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to change Japan’s military’s constitutional role and his visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, any incident, no matter how minor, is going to rattle the nerves of Japan’s neighbors and western allies.
With Japanese businesses expected to post another record January trade deficit, things look grim for the economy. And when a society faces a fiscal crisis, its people resort to extremes. It is worth remembering that in the turbulent years running up to Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany, only two parties won increases in votes during the frequent elections — the Communist Party and the Nazi Party. The task now is to get the nation out of the doldrums before the extremists can take advantage of vulnerable citizens.
Scuba divers ordinarily use hand signals to communicate underwater but thanks to Casio Yamagata’s Logosease, now they can talk to each other almost as if they are walking on dry ground. All you need to do is face towards your fellow diver(s).
The Logosease modulates your voice into ultrasonic waves. You just tap once to start transmitting. Then you speak into the bone conduction microphone and tap to finish your transmission through the water. Your fellow diver then receives the ultrasonic waves and their Logosease unit will demodulate them via the speaker into an audible voice.
Typically if divers want to talk to each other they have to wear special face masks which are heavy and expensive. The Logosease, though, is affordable and easy to wear, and does not cover the whole face. Simply attach the device to your diving mask and you will be able to talk through the air regulator in your mouth.
The Logosease has a range from 50 to 100 meters (164-328 feet) and can function as far as 40 meters (131 feet) underwater. Of course, voice quality is not going to be as good as when speaking regularly on land but Casio still hails this as a world-first for an instrument of its kind.
It has also been approved recently as a distinctive specialty by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and promises to be an indispensable item for scuba divers around the world.
Thank God for hipsters. When all else fails and the media is amok with already notorious reports (supported by dubious stats) that Japanese people apparently no longer have sex, you can always at least rely on the fashionista to still find ways to enjoy themselves.
Tweed Run Tokyo took place on October 14th, featuring some 150 tweed-dressed cyclists going for a ride around the city. No, they weren’t out on some stag hunt, nor was this a Sherlock Holmes fanatics’ event. It was actually part of Fashion Week and is a spin-off from the original Tweed Run in London. The British version started in 2009, while the Tokyo “run” happened first in 2012 and with the amount of publicity it generated, surely next year’s edition is a sure thing.
“It’s so Tokyo, I would say,” one of the participants told the media. “We are using this traditional fabric in many modern ways. It’s part of the diversity of fashion.”
“So Tokyo”? Well, I wouldn’t say that. Except for the odd bit of Aoyama backstreet tomfoolery, you’d be hard-pressed to find many regular folk dressing as dapper as this. Still it makes a change from the usual exquisitely, expensively decked-out runners and cyclists that can be glimpsed around the Imperial Palace.
Given that this is the nation that created the culture of cosplay, we shouldn’t be in the least surprised that 150 cyclists jumped at the chance to dress up for a group bike ride.
This year’s event saw the costumed bikers tour leisurely from Gaienmae to Ginza over a couple of hours, and the participants seemed like a reasonable mix of ages, though it was clearly male-dominated.
We wonder whether they could introduce some sort of Japanese flavor to the proceedings. How about cycling around in kimono? Oh, hang on…
Anyone who lives in Nagoya can check out the city’s own version of the Tweed Run — remember, it’s cycling, not jogging — on October 26th (barring another typhoon).
For some people, the best reward in life are sweets. Pleasure-seeking as we all are, marathon runners are no exception. Sponsored by International Sports Marketing, Sweets Marathon might sound like a contradiction in terms but it started in August, 2011 as a one-of-a-kind marathon that encourages runners to complete the race with a wide variety of “sweet” rewards.
Runners can taste more than 200 kinds of bite-size sweets at the aid station while completing either a 10 kilometer (solo) or 42.195 kilometer (relay) round race. There are some rules to follow (they can’t give sweets to non-participants, carry them around with them on the race, or take them home), but runners are free to try everything.
The basic concept is the same as regular hydration points where runners stop to supplement energy just enough to get to the next point, so they are advised to consume the sweets the same way. In other words, it’s not an all-you-can-eat buffet, though it may certainly look like one!
The entry fee varies a little at each venue, but is around 5,000 yen for anyone above high school age and 3,500 yen for kids. The best part of the sugary marathon is that runners can actually purchase their favorite sweets at retail booths, established near the race route. Admission is free, so both participants and non-participants alike can get a real taste of featured sweets at each marathon in merchandise forms.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, girls apparently make up over 50% of the participants in these saccharine sports, and overall 30% are first-time marathon runners.
Here’s the video clip from the 13th Sweets Marathon which took place in Osaka in December, 2012.
The next Sweets Marathon takes place in Chiba in November, followed by other events in Aichi and Osaka. The next Tokyo race is in January at Odaiba.
The ever growing popularity of Tokyo Marathon which will take place at the end of February, 2014, shows that marathons are now big public spectacles. The results of the lottery were announced just a few days ago, and applicants had approximately a 1-in-10 chance of winning!
Sweets Marathon might seem more like a fun and relaxing event as compared to a hardcore, full marathon race, but why not use this opportunity to promote business?
In general, most Japanese people are known as hard workers. While work, by definition, is something we do to make a living, the great majority of salarymen in Japan seem to consider their work to be the whole purpose of life itself. In a way, they have a rather complicated relationship with work which would probably make them all admit that they both love and hate their jobs.
Given that, perhaps it was this fear of losing oneself in work that urged two particular individuals, Sota Amaya and Shiina-neko (this is definitely a nickname but Sota Amaya could be a pseudonym too) to establish such a unique organization called Japan Extreme Going to Work Association.
Their mission is to promote the idea of finding the extraordinary out of the ordinary by encouraging people to commit themselves to the most unusual, extreme, and often tiring activities — all before going to work. They believe that such activities would distract people from harsh reality (i.e. that they have to go to work), help them relax and eventually boost morale – it’s two hours of summer vacation on a weekday morning, they say.
You might choose sightseeing, swimming in the sea or mountain climbing. A morning picnic in front of Tokyo Tower? An a.m. wander around backstreet shrines in Ginza? You’re free to do anything as long as it’s extreme enough to make you feel that you are out of touch with reality, but NOT to the point where you forget about work. At the end of the day (or maybe I should say, at the beginning of the day), you still have to get to work on time. This is ironically the most “unusual” part of this activity because no matter what you do and how you spend the couple of hours before going to work, the ultimate goal is to get to work as usual as if nothing unusual happened.
This group of people below decided to go mountain climbing before work. Their ultimate goal was not to reach the top of the mountain but to arrive at their office on time. In this kind of situation, mountain climbing is no longer a leisure activity but proof of their willingness to show just how “tough” they can be.
A few weeks ago, there was even a competition to decide the most extreme commuter in Japan. The winner of this competition boasted of his adventure to Japan’s longest stone stairway in Misato Town, Kumamoto, which consisted of 23 kilometers of bike riding from home to the site, climbing 3,333 stone steps and 30 kilometers of bike commuting to work. Sound extreme enough? Maybe.
The whole idea of extreme commuting reminds me of one TV commercial I saw a few months ago. The depiction of a working mother in this Ajinomoto’s food commercial shows yet another group of overlooked extreme commuters in Japan who never get to boast about their early morning “activities.”
Japan has got its knickers in a twist over a French newspaper’s satirical cartoon that shows two emaciated wrestlers facing up for a bout in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with the Fukushima reactors ominously in the background. A commentator is saying, “Thanks to Fukushima, sumo has become an Olympic sport.”
Le Canard Enchaine poked fun at the announcement that Tokyo would be hosting the 2020 Olympic Games. The sumo wrestlers have extra arms and legs.
The Japanese government is said to be very upset over the “regrettable” satire and plans to make a formal complaint via the Japanese embassy in Paris.
“This kind of cartoon hurts the feelings of those who suffered in the disaster and gives an incorrect impression of the problem of contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo.
During the final Olympic bid’s presentation on September 7th Prime Minister Abe claimed that the Fukushima leak in the sea was “under control”. The wording of his claim has since been contradicted even by TEPCO and it seems obvious to all that the leader’s bullish statements were disingenuous to say the least.
We would argue that, more than a French cartoon, Abe’s over-confidence — or bald-faced lie — is more upsetting to those who suffered in the disaster, not to mention the hypocrisy of the PM now claiming to take responsibility for the region’s problems only when it was crunch time for the Olympic bid.
France was one of the most vocal countries at the height of the Fukushima crisis and was accused by some of alarmism when it told its citizens to flee Japan. Though in the end Tokyo was never in danger, its strong reaction to the disaster seems in hindsight not to be so disproportionate given that, approaching three years after, we are still seeing massive radiation leaking out from the crippled plant.
One issue here is that satirical cartoons are not common in Japan so people are not used to such caricature in the media. Le Canard Enchaine is not anti-Japan but it is here exposing the farce of the authorities, and their failure to truly deal with the problems.
The Japanese government is overly sensitive to foreign jokes and pokes from overseas media. There was a similarly ridiculous and pompous response when British comedy quiz show QI used the example of double A-bomb survivor Tsutomu Yamaguchi (“the unluckiest man in the world”) in one brief section of an episode in early 2011. Although it was perhaps insensitive and dangerous to bring up the tricky subject of nuclear war in what is essentially a light-hearted show — but what is the job of comedy if not to be daring and break taboos? — the actual butt of the quips made by the show’s panelists was British rail service. It was a case of a joke lost in translation.
France’s media has been particularly bold in criticizing the Olympic decision. A program on TV channel France 2 showed a doctored photo of Eiji Kawashima, the goalkeeper of the Japanese national football squad, with four arms. The joke was that a “Fukushima effect” had allowed him to be such a good goalkeeper in Japan’s shock defeat of France.
With tens of thousands still living in temporary housing in Tohoku, there is a bitter irony in Tokyo spending millions on developing its bay area for an Olympic Village and other facilities for its citizens to revel in the festive euphoria of the Games.
Here are some examples of temporary housing.
Here is what the Olympic Village will look like.
Which would you rather live in?
While the weekend was all about the announcement that Tokyo would host the Olympic Games in 2020 — the city’s second bid and ultimately its second time to host — some netizens and keen-eyed manga fans have been noting an interesting parallel to the situation today and one that was predicted in the Eighties.
Okay, so we were hardly jumping with joy over the prospects of the Olympics — and not least for the government’s hypocrisy (Abe flies off to South America and promises to clean up Fukushima — now finally taking responsibility for a disaster 2.5 years ago and only because it might affect Tokyo’s prospects?!).
This is the Reuters photo that everyone has been posting.
But it’s happened so we need to move on. We’ll be interested to see how much the municipal government tries to “clean up” the city — there are rumors that the days of convenience store pornography magazines may be limited — or how much talent goes into the design side of things. And then there’s the whole opening ceremony to think about. Will mascots like Funayssi be making an appearance? Or just AKB48? With this kind of boondoggle, the actual sports runs a not-so close second.
Regardless, it has now come to people’s attention, belatedly, that the manga AKIRA was already ahead of the curve.
In the Katsuhiro Otomo comic series (1982-1990) and the subsequent film in 1988 — the film which basically launched Japanese anime on the international circuit — the setting is Tokyo in 2019 on the verge of an Olympic Games.
Of course, the Tokyo in the film is very much not Abe’s Utsukushii Kuni Nippon (Japan, the Beautiful Country). It is a dystopia of motorcycle gangs and is suffering from the fallout of radiation from another war, leading to monstrous mutations (an ironic reference to the “glorious” 1964 Games when Hiroshima had been banished from the memory but was actually less than twenty years old). What has usually been seen as a very Eighties cyberpunk vision might not be too far from the truth.
With Fukushima still pumping out radiated water into the oceans and the authorities talking about building an ice wall (WTF?!) to contain the fiasco, AKIRA is starting to sound very prophetic — and the new Olympics’ optimistic slogan “Discover Tomorrow” might just be a very bittersweet ideal indeed…
In less than two weeks, we will find out the host city for the 2020 Olympics. Will Tokyo make it?
With each city holding its own strength and weakness, I still don’t think that we have come up with a good, solid answer to the question of “Why Tokyo?” While it might be true that Tokyo is the easiest choice in terms of its finance and public safety, I don’t see much excitement in the actual people who run the city.
As a Tokyo resident myself, I can’t help questioning the city’s boast of 4.5 billion dollars as a ready-to-use fund for the event. Money is important, of course, but is the Olympics just about spending billions of dollars to bring people from around the world and providing places to compete in sports?
Plus there is the question of the millions spent on advertising the campaign… to Tokyo’s own citizens. This is a bit bizarre, since Tokyoites don’t get to decide, so why spend so much money expensively filling entire commuter trains with posters, and blanketing major train stations with billboards? Sure it raises awareness but for a city with a lack of facilities like nursery schools, there needs to be some realism in who tax is spent. (The campaign also made use of geinojin and other celebrities, all of whom were no doubt paid handsomely for their contributions.)
The tone of the advertising was all very nationalist too (“This emotion — next time in Japan!”, “now in Japan the power of this dream is necessary”), which might well please Prime Minister Abe but is counter to the concept of the Olympic Games.
If we look at the Olympics as a way to promote the host city, though, Tokyo’s campaign might make more sense (at least to those public officials who would do whatever it takes to win this race). This year marks the tenth anniversary of Visit Japan Project, a long-term promotional campaign of Japan Tourism Agency, an organization that serves as a national travel agent on behalf of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
They aim to bring 18 million visitors to Japan annually by 2016, 20 million before 2020 and 30 million by 2030. Ten years ago, in 2003, the number of visitors was a little over 5 million. While facing the fact that Japan as a nation is still living in the aftermath of the 3/11 earthquake, we will definitely need a big catalyst to help the country become the ultimate tourist destination.
Still, they probably could have made a better promotional video. Going back to my first point, most viewers are probably left with the key question — so, why Tokyo?
What do you think?
The host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics is announced on September 7th. Will it be Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul?