By Arnie Leshin
Not to pass it on to somewhere else, it’s sad to say that the weight of these upcoming 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games falls on Japan, a skilled, educated nation that envisioned piecing together a state-of-the-art two-week event.
The host city, especially, was eager to show the world its charms. It’s a beautiful, well-mannered piece of art land. This is what it wanted and this is not what it will get when the opening ceremonies begin Friday.
Restrictions wipe out what would have been, as in no fans in the stands in Tokyo or the surroundings areas. Visitors will not be allowed to walk through these streets, paying for a hotel room is useless when there’s no where to go, restaurants, gift shops, and other stores will be closed.
And there’s no way you can blame Japan. If anything, the blame falls on the coronavirus pandemic that has been a world-wide disaster. Lives have been lost, good times have taken a back seat, face masks are still being worn, and about every state in the good old USA has its own rules, like it or not. There’s also politics surrounding this, and poor old hospitable Japan has had to map out restrictions it would normally toss into the trash can.
Now, will the normally hospitable Japanese people warm to the visitors or become increasingly infuriated as they watch fully vaccinated guests enjoy freedoms they haven’t experienced since early 2020?
The answer to that is easy, knowing these people and living among them since World War II ended in 1945, they will remain the same. They are peaceful since their people were insulted and tossed in prisons after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. They visit here, they are always welcome, and no doubt the leading ally of the red, white and blue.
I go way back to VJ (Victory Japan) day when street parties were celebrated throughout the states. I was told that Japanese people even joined in, some waving the American flag, and lo and behold, they have been about our closest friends since then.
That settles that and makes you realize that it’s a crying shame that Japan has had to go through this. After the 2000 Olympics scheduled for Japan was cancelled due to the pandemic, it didn’t take long before it declared it would be back at work building what it had envisioned.
But that’s where the bottom falls in. Build it and they will come? No, build it the best you can and whatever will be, will be. Instead of giving up and wishing it on another country, it was Japan and only Japan that decided to go for it.
Now, will the Olympians and others play by the rules meant to protect the country they are visiting? Will they bring in variants that will spread through Japan? Will the effort to vanquish the coronavirus be impeded?
One thing appears certain. These games will have far less of what the world has come to expect from the Olympics, with its attractive mixture of human competition at the highest level amid celebrations and cultural exchanges on the sidelines by fans, athletes and local people.
Tokyo is a charming place, very little crime, friendly people, picturesque sites, a perfect place to show its charms. It teams with tourists and all the fun that an exotic locale and interesting visitors can bring.
Except this go-around will be strictly choreographed for television, with the skeptical people of Japan largely isolated as yet another state of emergency places more constraints on their daily lives. The story that foreign visitors focus on for these Games will also be very different from the reality on the nation’s streets.
Barring catastrophe, the IOC (International Olympic Committee), local newspapers, of which many are also sponsors, Japanese TV, and rights holders like NBC will likely be unified in their message, as in just getting through will be cast as a triumph.
Not many visiting journalists, however, will linger in ICUs or chase down interviews with angry residents who feel these Games were hoisted onto the nation so that the IOC could collect its billions in TV money.
As Tokyo grapples in these coming weeks with the intrinsic oddness of these pandemic Olympics, the disconnect between sports and sickness, rhetoric and reality, visitor and local will be difficult to miss for many here.
Just how a reluctant Japan will weather a high-risk experiment that might come to define the coronavirus pandemic in future years, however, must wait until the visitors pack up and go home. Only then will the true price that the host nation must pay for these surreal Games into focus.
Good luck Japan, you deserve it, but you didn’t deserve to play host to such a prestigious event that has brought nothing but trouble, but none by you.
The bottom line? Tens of thousands of visiting athletes, officials and media descend on Japan for a Summer Olympics unlike any other.