Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Olympics

Newspapers this week showed groups of elated Japanese when the decision  of the IOC to give Tokyo the Olympics was announced.  While I can't say the pictures were contrived, it's fair to say that the degree of ambivalence is considerably higher than such pictures indicate.   The same is no doubt true of any Olympics where there are concerns about whether the city and country can afford the massive  expense that the Olympics requires.

Tokyo is not a young city, and Japan is not a young country; there is more demand for nursing homes than there is for sports stadiums.  The pools are set to hydotherapy temperatures presumably to cater for stroke rehabilitation, not for the local wanna-be lap nazis.  Misgivings about spending on the Olympic village are highlighted by photo comparisions of the very basic temporary housing of forced evacuees from the area around Dai-ichi. (thanks Ru).  Dumps of radioactivity into the Pacific are disconcerting at the very least, even though New Scientist apparently says it's not much of a problem,     PM Abe's assurances during the bid that "Tokyo has never been affected by radiation and never will be"  seemed particularly callous - as much to say it doesn't matter if the people who live near the plant or up and down the coast from the plant  face ongoing raised levels of radiation and have their livelihoods destroyed, so long as Tokyo is OK.

The disparity is not just geographical, it's also socio-economic.  Yesterday walking through Akihabara I was shocked at the condition of many of the homeless people there.  Homeless people in Tokyo used to be  essentially normal people by the standard of a contemporary post industrial society - well dressed, clean, socialized.  The men in the park yesterday were emaciated, absolutely filthy and presumably incontinent based on the stench. They were atomized in their mental illnesses, with no sense of camaraderie that used to characterize (and still does in some places) homeless people.  One man who had a trolley of rotting garbage had clearly just wet himself. He was wandering, unable to walk in a straight line, as as far as I could see it was not from drugs or alcohol.  If I see desperate looking homeless people, I often buy them a lunch box and coffee, but this man was so far gone I wasn't game to approach him.  It's extremely rare for me to feel like this about a homeless person. Social welfare is limited here and there isn't the same network of churches and charities that look out for people.   The health and wealth gap is becoming increasing stark. It's hard not to feel discomfort with the Olympics.

And yet  the Olympics, are here now ( according to Andrew de Wit  because Tokyo's was the best of three weak bids). And  there is an onus on Tokyo and Japan to make the Olympics good for the country.  TEPCO and the National Govt. will be under a lot of pressure to do a better job with Dai-ichi with the increased international scrutiny.  The bid was about being a green games, and more than ever Japan needs to be imaginative with new energies. There is a growing realization that it's no longer OK to be relying on nuclear.   Being entrusted with the Games presumably will also force Japan to be less antagonistic to its neighbours and rein in the ugly right.  Japan will also be faced with other cultures en masse and will have to accommodate.  Last week a Hokkaido onsen banned a sixty year old Maori woman who was presenting at an indigenous conference because she had tribal facial tattoos.

I hope the Games will be Japan's Games and not simply consolidate the Tokyo centric nature of government here.   I hope the Olympics will give Japanese the chance to reflect on Japan and develop a positive and outward looking sense of national identity, rather the inward looking, defensive victim-mixed-with-contrived-superiority narrative that characterizes much of the way Japan sees itself in relation to other countries.  I hope that the country can gain vigour and the young people who have never known anything but a recessed economy can find confidence and re-energize the country, for it is sorely needed.

It's too late now to ruminate about whether or not we should have them, the onus is on us, and not just the government,  to make sure they benefit the country.

Olympics poster at Tokyo station

Olympics poster with a "WE WON" stuck across the bottom
The Rainbow Bridge in Olympic colours.  Tokyo tower which is just visible is also in rainbow colours.
The Rainbow Bridge.  Will Japan manage to have it's metaphorical Statue of
Liberty looking out to the Sea to welcome visitors?
Reflection of a commuter  in the rainbow bridge.
Enthusiasm is tempered by anxiety.
An Olympic poster at a university with a very liberal leaning
faculty.  The closest I came to seeing graffiti across an
Olympics poster.  


Rurousha said...

The best article I've read yet about the Olympics and the clashing emotions many ordinary residents feel.

As you know, I've decided to support it despite my initial cynicism, but I find it really hard to suppress my doubts.

PS: I wonder what will happen to Akihabara. Homeless and sex establishments all kicked out?

Cecilia said...

Olympics are very good at kicking out the homeless.
I have lots of doubts too, but I don't see any alternative. Since we're both imbued with lashings of reality, as well as being inherently positive people, I am sure we'll retain both a healthy cynicism & positive spirit (perhaps with an emphasis on the former...)

It needs people to get behind it at a grassroots level for it to be a success...

Cecilia said...

PS It would be a whole lot better if I wasn't such a lazy proof reader, but for a change I am going to go back and refine it and see if I can make a decent job of it.

Rurousha said...

You've got a whole rainy day for proofreading! (Though I didn't spot anything that bovvered me.)

Mind you, it's stopped raining again. Was the deluge a delusion?

Cecilia said...

Don't tempt fate!

The pictures of Kyoto are very wet... I think it's a good day for river huntings :)