MANIPULATIVE FORCES BEHIND CALLS FOR CANCELLATION OF TOKYO OLYMPICS
The mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun front-paged a report in its May 17 morning edition entitled “Support for Suga Administration Slumps to 33%.” Its subhead read: “73% of Nation Not Convinced of Administration’s Pledge for ‘Safe and Secure Olympics.’”
The liberal daily has consistently been critical of the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga for his handling of the Wuhan virus, including the state of emergency declarations, the prevention of the spread of the pandemic, and the belated acquisition of vaccines. The daily’s May 17 report read as though it were rejoicing at a steady increase in anti-Olympic sentiment among the Japanese public.
A plot has apparently been formed under which Kazuo Shii, head of the Japan Communist Party (JCP), is calling for the cancellation of the Games. That appeal has been endorsed by Yukio Edano, his Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) counterpart, with the Asahi and another major daily, the Mainichi, favoring it vigorously. Many magazines have come out against the Olympics. The popular Weekly Bungei Shunju recently ran a special feature entitled “Japan’s Sad Olympics” by well-known nonfiction writer Kotaro Sawaki. With the Games only two months away, pressure for its cancellation is consistently getting stronger in Japan. But I wonder if there is proof that holding the Games in Tokyo this summer would really cause a further spread of the virus.
We will know soon to what extent spectators will be limited, or whether the Games will be staged completely spectator-free. Meanwhile, a decision has already been made on how to manage the athletes from overseas: throughout their stay at the Olympic Village—from the time of their entry to departure—they will be protected inside a “bubble,” so to speak. They will be required to basically confine themselves to their living quarters, refrain from leaving them except for competitions, and use specially assigned vehicles when going out to practice or compete. Under this format, the athletes will be asked to return to their respective countries as soon as they are done with their competition, rather than waiting to attend the closing ceremony as has traditionally been the case.
Speaking on May 14 of the restrictions foreigners here for the Olympics or Paralympics will be subject to, Suga noted:
“In case anyone ignores (the arrangement reached among the participating nations), tough measures such as deportation are under consideration. Throughout their stay, Tokyo Olympic authorities are taking measures to have foreign visitors operate outside the range of the activities of average Japanese citizens so they will not come into direct contact with each other.”
The Prime Minister also stated that his government is coordinating the medical service system for the Games with local health authorities, making sure community medicine across Japan will not be affected by the Games.
Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc., headquartered in New York, has pledged to make available its COVID-19 vaccine free of charge to all athletes and officials participating in the Games. The U.S. National Institute of Infectious Diseases reports that in the U.S. the Pfizer vaccine has been highly effective in reducing news infections. In Japan, of some 1,100,000 medical workers inoculated by April 11, only 281 new infections have been reported. Vaccinations have been picking up speed across the nation as of this writing (May 17), and continued favorable results can be expected.
Tokyo Governor Allegedly Seeking Premiership
On May 16, JCP lawmaker Ms Tomoko Tamura asserted during NHK’s “Sunday Debate”: “The government has no choice but to decide to cancel the Games.” Her remarks reflect the party’s determination to oppose the Games by toppling the Suga administration. Tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori have expressed their concern about staging a safe and secure Olympics at this juncture. Against such a backdrop, I empathize most with ace Paralympic swimmer Keiichi Kimura, who stated on February 24:
“I firmly believe the efforts we have been making to prepare for the Games will be sure to lead to a restoration of social mobility and unity, which should almost equal the nationwide efforts being made to contain the coronavirus. Our efforts to ‘stage a safe and secure Olympics to prevent any sacrifice to COVID-19’ should be able to help our society advance in the right direction.”
Opposition to the Olympics appears to be falling in step with the assertions made by the JCP and the CDP. Appearing on my “Genron” Internet regular news show as a guest on My 14, political journalist Fumito Ishibashi observed:
“An increase in coronavirus infections and a drop in the cabinet approval rating are directly proportional. Shii started voicing opposition to the Games when he saw the correlation, but that is to be expected as the JCP and the CDP are opposition parties after all. What is worrying are the moves Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (69) has been making.”
Following the stretch of “Golden Week” holidays, on May 9, members of Tokyoites First—a regional political party formed by Koike in 2016 when she ran for governor—reportedly started collecting signatures to appeal to Suga to enhance the government’s anti-COVID-19 measures at ports and airports. Explained Ishibashi:
“Behind the alleged signature collecting campaign, I suspect Koike likely is plotting to bow out of the Games on the grounds that, as head of the host city, she is not confident enough to stage a ‘safe and secure’ Olympics under the government’s countermeasures against the pandemic. On May 11, Koike called on “the shadow shogun” of Japanese politics—Toshihiro Nikai, who serves as Secretary-General of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Koike explained to the press that the visit was specifically to seek the government’s assistance to cover the costs of the massive vaccination program and mounting compensation for businesses that have suffered during the pandemic. But I don’t think she was telling the truth. She is very quick on the uptake. I suspect she went to see the LDP kingmaker in order to get a read on whether or not a dissolution of the House of Representatives is imminent.”
Since becoming governor five years ago, Koike has consistently been maneuvering to assume a confrontational posture toward the government as a means of increasing her power. But her recent request that the number of commuter trains be decreased in the metropolitan area to limit the flow of people amid coronavirus flareups turned out to be extremely unpopular, with Japan Railway East quickly restoring the daily runs to normal during the “Golden Week” national holidays. Earlier, she had attempted to lead the governors of the three prefectures neighboring the Greater Tokyo area (Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama) in consultations on COVID-19-related matters at the Prime Minister’s official residence. But Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa revealed later that Koike “lied” to him about the intent of the meeting. Her leadership has suffered as a result of this manipulative type of behavior. Ishibashi surmises that Koike may have decided to return to the national political area (her last ministerial post was defense minister in 2007) with the intention of making a bid for the premiership rather than dying on the vine as Tokyo governor. Ishibashi continued:
“If Koike is aiming for the premiership, it would not be too far-fetched to view a cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics as the kiss of life for she. She could pass the buck to the government by asserting that the government’s flawed preventive measures against the pandemic have made it impossible for the head of the host city to go ahead with the Games. Popular criticism will then be aimed at Suga alone, who in fact should not be to blame but he may be forced to resign in the worst case.”
Lacking in Virtue
That would seem to be a highly unlikely development in my opinion. Who would go along with Koike? But Ishibashi says politicians can smell blood in the water when incumbents have low approval ratings and chances of a successful challenge increase. Koike is well versed in such calculations and the mindset of politicians.
“Koike and former LDP secretary-general Ichiro Ozawa are fundamentally very much alike,” noted Ishibashi. [Editor’s note: Ozawa, another “shadow shogun” at the time, left the LDP in 1993 over the question of political reform and formed a short-lived eight-party coalition which toppled the LDP in 1993.] “First and foremost, the duo have a keen sense of who will take a grip on power next. In the mid-1990s, Ozawa was instrumental in striking a knockout blow to the LDP to form a new non-LDP coalition administration led by Morihiro Hosokawa of the New Frontier Party (Shinseito). Ozawa today has close contacts in both the JCP and the CDP. Koike has witnessed the struggle for power in Japanese politics over the years by keeping in close contact with Ozawa.”
Ishibashi said the duo share another common characteristic: political pundits cannot figure out what they wish to achieve once they take power. I can’t agree with him more.
In 2016, Koike ran for governor of Tokyo after having failed to fulfill her dream of becoming Japan’s first female prime minister. I suspect she made the move as she had come to the realization that she almost completely lacked the support of her LDP colleagues, with no possibility of ever becoming head of her party or prime minister so long as she belonged to the LDP. If staging a comeback in national politics is what she has in mind, she may very well consider taking advantage of the Olympics. If the signature collection campaign Ishibashi referred to is a strategic move toward this seeming goal, it is simply outrageous. After all, she is governor of the host city that invited the 2020 Olympics to her city. It would absolutely be impermissible that she should plot to cancel the Games merely because she wants to return to national politics. She has aroused such suspicion because as a politician she is fundamentally lacking in virtue. As a Tokyoite, I wish to see her focus more wholeheartedly on the people of Tokyo—and on Japan for that matter.
The fight against the Wuhan virus is demanding, but more citizens are being vaccinated daily across the nation under the government’s vaccination program. And people are diligently washing their hands and avoiding the “Three Cs”—closed spaces with poor ventilation; crowded places with many people nearby; and close-contact setting such as close-range conversations. I believe we Japanese will be able to bring the deadly virus under control if we continue to try hard enough. I think the meaning of Paralympian Kimura’s words introduced earlier is worth pondering: “…the efforts we are making to prepare for the Games will be sure to lead to a restoration of social mobility and unity. These efforts will contain the virus and help society advance in the right direction.”
I earnestly hope that Governor Koike will spare no effort in coming through with flying colors with the Olympics instead of utilizing them for her political gains.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 951 in the May 27, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)