Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the quixotic movement to cancel the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The downside of the Games that is mainly discussed in the column has to do with the cost and, to a lesser extent, the virulent nationalism that turns so many people off, but there are other reasons given by anti-Olympics advocates to call off the event. On the surface, these other reasons may sound desperate, but in actuality they could really have a negative effect if they happened. One is earthquakes. Japan, not to mention the Asia-Pacific region in general, seems to have entered a long period of increased seismic activity, and the likelihood that a major temblor could hit the Kanto area in the next four years is high. Of course, that likelihood is greatly diminished during the two weeks that the Olympics actually takes place, but if a major quake happened in the year or so leading up to it, it could undermine preparations to the point where the Olympics might have to be moved somewhere else. Another, less mentioned reason is the Emperor’s health. Some reports have said that the Emperor’s desire to abdicate before he dies came about partly as a response to Tokyo winning the right to hold the Olympics in 2020. Those who were living in Japan when Emperor Showa died in 1989 will remember that a six-month period of mourning ensued, during which events of a celebratory nature were cancelled or otherwise frowned upon. The Emperor himself knows that if he died during the months leading up to the Olympics it would cause all sorts of problems for the Games. For sure, they would go on, because the world has too much at stake, but a substantial portion of the Japanese population would say that it is disrespectful and would call for them to be cancelled. However, if his son had already ascended to the throne, his death would not have the same effect. It seems the Abe administration, which would just rather not talk about such things, is willing to take that chance and is working against early abdication.
On another note, a word that has been tossed around liberally in relation to what Tokyo, and Japan in general, can get from hosting the Olympics is “legacy.” Some years ago the IOC adopted the term in its charter as a kind of intangible benefit of the Olympics–a host city “inherits” the infrastructure, culture, and national prestige that accompanied its decision to hold the Games, and these things will always be a part of its intrinsic makeup. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has already said that the infrastructure portion of the Olympic legacy is problematic, that Tokyo will need a lot of money to maintain the buildings that are being specially constructed for the Games. They could very well turn into a “negative legacy” (funo isan). The various associations who are lobbying to have new venues dedicated to their respective sports have tried to turn the meaning of the word to their favor by saying that “legacy” is not about money, but rather about the soul. One JOC representative told the Asahi Shimbun that harping on the negative legacy distracts people from the positive aspects: the volunteer spirit that is inculcated by the Olympics and the “international exchange” that will nourish Japan’s cosmopolitan profile. What’s interesting about this debate is that legacies by definition are not formed until after the fact. Whether they are good or bad is up to history, but in this case proponents of the Games are already telling Tokyo that they can look forward to basking in the glow of having hosted the Olympics in perpetuity. It’s an odd means of reassurance.