TOKYO OLYMPICS ALREADY A GREAT SUCCESS
With a dazzling opening ceremony at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium on July 23, the much-awaited 2020 Olympics got underway after a year-long delay caused by the Wuhan virus pandemic. Since 2013, when Tokyo won the bid for the Games for the first time since 1964, there have indeed been many ups and downs, including ballooning costs and a recent string of scandals involving Games officials. All I can say at this juncture is that we are fortunate to have managed to come this far.
That evening, I invited two experts on the Korean Peninsula as guests to my regular Friday night “Genron” Internet TV news show to discuss the two Koreas for a full hour. Professor Tsutomu Nishioka is a prominent specialist in modern Korea and Hong Hyung a newspaper editor who once was minister at the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo. Turning on the TV almost immediately after finishing my show, I watched the remaining half of the ongoing ceremony and was genuinely moved by what I saw.
What struck me first and foremost were the unspeakably happy faces of athletes and officials who took part in the parade. They all wore face masks, but their eyes were undeniably laughing. And they expressed joy with their whole bodies. I hoped from the bottom of my heart that those who had called for the Games’ cancellation were watching the markedly bright faces of those in the colorful parade.
TV viewership for the nearly four-hour ceremony was 56.4% in the capital and its surrounding areas, according to Video Research Ltd., a ratings firm headquartered in Tokyo. A very large audience indeed viewed the ceremony.
The ceremony was filled with the traditional gentleness of Japanese culture and the innate tenderness of the people toward everyone and everything around them. The breathtaking brilliance of the ceremony—elaborate but far from gaudy—deeply touched my heart, making me feel inexplicably placid.
Then came a particularly stunning moment, as the checkered emblem of the Tokyo Olympics appeared out of the blue above the stadium, emitting tranquil light while slowly transforming itself into a revolving globe. What a beautiful image of the earth’s creation!
The broadcaster explained that a total of 1,824 drones took part in the movement of the checkered pieces as they shifted their positions to form different shapes. The technological expertise in utilizing drones to execute such sensitive and elegant movements was awe-inspiring. More so than an artificial creation, it seemed as though various sources of light had naturally gathered on their own, like fireflies coming together, to form a world incorporating the Japanese spirit of “wa” (harmony).
The drone display portrayed a future picture of a beautiful Japan and an equally beautiful earth continuing to exist, breathe, and survive in the same way as Japan has over the centuries, its nature blessed with rich green forests and limpid water. Tens of millions—hundreds of millions—of people in villages and towns and cities across the globe must have had their eyes glued to the television screen to see this image of the brightly shining globe.
The splendor of the cauldron sitting atop a peak inspired by Mt. Fuji in the center of the 68,000-seat stadium was beyond words. As tennis star Naomi Osaka made her way up the podium with the flame in her right hand, the gracefully and meticulously honed white aluminum sphere opened like a flower to reveal the Olympic torch. Naomi lit the torch, ending the four-month journey of the flame from Greece. The cauldron was so awe-inspiring I felt as if my soul would be sucked into it. There will never be another Olympic cauldron like this.
Hydrogen transported from the township of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture will be used to fuel the flame for the duration of the Games, as I understand it. As a matter of fact, I only recently had the chance to visit Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R), which produces the hydrogen. The non-profit Happy Roads, is one organization that has been working hard toward an early recovery for Fukushima. Ms Yumiko Nishimoto, director of Happy Roads, had this to say:
“All the people in our prefecture view this year’s Olympics as the ‘Recovery Olympics.’ This is a very important matter for us. We are thrilled that the hydrogen, as well as the Turkish bellflowers in the victory bouquets, have been supplied by Fukushima, symbolizing our recovery.”
Overlong Opening Remarks
Toward midnight, Seiko Hashimoto, President of the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee (TOOC), and Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), delivered opening addresses. Hashimoto has done a decent job succeeding Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister forced to resign in February over his sexist comments about women. But her address was simply too long-winded, and so was Bach’s.
Meanwhile, Emperor Naruhito’s opening declaration was crisp, ending in a blink of an eye. That perhaps could not have been helped in light of the nature of the circumstances. But I do feel Olympic organizers should have shown more respect for the Emperor by giving him a more extensive and proper introduction.
The Emperor is known to have yet to get his second vaccination. The government should have arranged to have him safely inoculated before requesting his presence at the opening ceremony. The government should show more respect and consideration in its posture toward the Imperial Family.
Various competitions began the following day. I should have been at work writing, but couldn’t help watching the TV to see what was happening. The performances of the two Abe judo siblings—Uta and her brother Hifumi—were superb. A gold medal on the same day from both of them! Who would have thought it possible? And as if that weren’t enough, they made brilliant post-victory remarks.
“I am extremely grateful,” said Uta (21), “that I won a gold medal thanks to everybody who has worked so hard to stage the Games under difficult conditions.”
With beads of sweat dripping from her forehead and neck glistening like the gold medal she just won, a happy Uta spoke, using every word properly. Equally impressive was her brother Hifumi, two years her senior.
Let’s get back to what the press said on Sunday, July 25. While all other dailies front-paged Naohisa Takato winning the men’s 62kg judo to give Japan its first gold medal, the liberal daily Asahi was alone in headlining the utterly unexpected fall of the legendary gymnast Kohei Uchimura. It was characteristic of the left-wing daily dying to find fault with the Games and the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
That day, I had the galley proofs of my coming book to check, but decided to spend what time I could find on watching the first half of the opening ceremony that I missed while hosting my news show. My teenage niece Kei said to me excitedly:
“The first music they played during the opening ceremony was Dragon Quest by
(Koichi) Sugiyama. The minute I heard it, I felt like an electric current was running through me. I was almost crying.”
Kei is a big fan of Sugiyama’s. She grew up with the Dragon Quest series, so to speak. My secretary Maya Suzuki chimed in:
“This is it, I thought, as I heard the music. I bet all Japanese shed tears of joy.”
Phone Chat with Dragon Quest Composer Sugiyama
And yet, NHK, which aired the opening ceremony, made no reference to
Sugiyama or the Dragon Quest music he composed. My niece and my secretary looked displeased with that. But they eventually agreed it was probably “no a big deal,” as every TV viewer must have instantly recognized the music and who composed it. Sugiyama, a renowned composer, conductor, and orchestrator, is a board member of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a privately-funded diplomatic, political, and public policy think tank I head in Tokyo.
I called him on the phone on the spot to see how he reacted to the NHK coverage. Apparently, many people had already been in touch with him about the matter before me. Sugiyama sounded well, jovially thanking me for the call. He is a truly respected popular figure in Japan.
How should we view the 2020 Olympics? The first thing that all of us can learn from the event, I feel, is the importance of thinking positively, obvious though it may sound. Anti-Olympic media outlets, such as the Asahi and the Mainichi, as well as commentators on tabloid TV shows take great pleasure in pointing out any slight deficiency or shortcoming, never ceasing to be critical.
But those involved in the Games who are committed to making tough decisions and striving to achieve their goals single-mindedly look ahead without complaining. Since Japan won the bid for the Games, many people have silently made tremendous efforts to make the second Tokyo Olympics a success, determined to live up to domestic and international expectations. There is no question that all of these efforts have led to such a splendid Olympics.
Many parts of the world are still at the mercy of the Wuhan virus. Japan itself is still facing difficult challenges, but in general has brought the virus under control. The government has rolled out an aggressive vaccination campaign, although it is being unnecessarily delayed due to the unenlightened method of vaccine procurement pursued by Taro Kono, minister in charge of the scheme. Imagine how uplifting to Japan and its people it will be to consummate the Games despite such circumstances. The effects will be the same for all the other peoples across the globe. The important ingredient to secure is an unflinching resolve to overcome difficulties. We Japanese should learn the importance of holding fast to this mindset and treasure that as our “gold medal.”
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 961 in the August 5 issue of The