2020 Tokyo Olympics

So here we are in the midst of the "2020" Tokyo Olympics...

I've just had a birthday and so many friends have been sending me their birthday wishes. If it weren't for the pandemic I'd be traveling to Europe or America for the summer so I really miss celebrating with friends in person but still, all the messages have really made me very happy. Along with the birthday wishes though, everyone has also asked how I was feeling about the Olympics. It seemed that everyone watching from abroad was enjoying them but was also concerned how we, who live in Japan, were taking it all in. So, I thought it would be interesting to write what has been going on through the minds of many Japanese. Or at least, what my experience of it has been.
(WARNING - this is a very lengthy blog. I must have had lots of thoughts on the subject!)

When Tokyo was chosen to be the host for the Olympics a few years ago, most of us were very excited. (The last one held here in Japan was in 1964, which is quite a long time ago! ) Our economy hasn't been great and I think many people wanted something to look forward to as we still have many things we have to deal with concerning the 2011 earthquake and tsunami - especially Fukushima. There was a real sense of celebration and the government in particular seemed SO enthusiastic. It was to be the catalyst for a brighter future for Japan. As the event grew nearer and nearer we would see so many parts of Tokyo become "fixed up". Stations and public spaces were under construction for quite a long time but I think it's fair to say that all were ready by the spring of 2020. The one thing that was not a worry here in Japan about the Olympics was that we wouldn't be ready in time. How ironic...

I would say the biggest concern for many Japanese when we were selected as the host a few years ago was the heat. EVERYONE who lives in Tokyo knows how hot it is. We were all saying that when Tokyo described the summer here as "mild" for it's presentation for the Olympics, that it was simply a lie. (I'm often asked now whether it's cooled down a bit as they're seeing on TV what extreme heat we're experiencing. It never cools down in the summer! And unlike the U.K. we have a SOLID summer. The extreme heat lasts for at least a month and this is normal for us!!!!) Apparently they tried to get it moved to a later date (which they had done for the previous Olympics in 1964) and also moved the marathon to the most north of Japan (which obviously is not Tokyo!) and were trying to come up with various ways to cool down the venues. It is only after we had started the Olympics that I remembered that this was a big concern for us.

By spring 2020, Japan (in the eyes of the average Japanese) it seemed like we were very ready. The streets were lined with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics banners,and you would see the logos everywhere - on taxis, posters, and most of the towns which would host the Olympic teams. I hadn't heard any problems about the tickets going on sale and by spring All the tickets that were allocated to the Japanese had been sold out. ( Obviously they were sold through a lottery as there was so much demand. My father entered the lottery for a few events but sadly didn't win any. He told me that he had tried to get tickets for the 1964 games as well but didn't have any luck then so I was very sad for him too.)
The keyword here is sold OUT. All those tickets had already gone out to people. Everyone who got a ticket must have been really excited...

And then....
Feburary 2020, is when we started to here about the Corona virus and the government was VERY quick in reacting to it. By the end of February they immediately announced the "State of Emergency" for the whole of Japan and we were in our strictest "lock down" then (compared to what we've experienced since). There weren't that many cases yet, but the unknown factor played a huge part. There was a bit of time before they decided to postpone the Tokyo Olympics for a year, but when they did make this big decision the whole of Japan was relieved. It was like - "Now we can concentrate on dealing with this pandemic". Our priorities were in order.

Even in June 2020 I didn't doubt that I wouldn't be able to go to Europe for the summer. Everyone thought that by the summer this pandemic would've gone away. Who knew that it would still be here even now...?

As the months had gone by and the pandemic not showing any signs of disappearing, the Japanese started to get really worried. It was really a very gradual shift of feeling. The government kept on issuing the "state of emergency" which restricted everyone's daily life and many business and people being put into financial difficulty. We have seen so much coverage of protests and rallies held around the world against the governments forcing restrictions on their people but I have to say I've not heard of a single one happening in Japan. I think we're quite obedient as a nation when it comes to rules (which can be frustrating at times!) and I think the feeling was that everyone's making a sacrifice so we just have to suck it up until things get better.

As the months went by, and the number of cases went up and down, the debate started on how many people would be allowed into the venues. 50% capacity, 5000 maximum, 20% - it changed every few weeks. It must have been a nightmare for the people in charge of tickets. (By the way, initially, all the people who had won tickets in 2020 had the right to their seats in 2021.) I have to say it is heartbreaking to see the empty stadiums and venues - for all the people who had won the tickets and for the athletes and for the families and support teams who weren't able to come and share their moments of glory.

As we entered 2021, people started to doubt that this pandemic would not be going away. There were more and more cases, and the government made no effort in increasing our medical capacity to cope with such numbers. I think because our initial numbers weren't as bad as the US or Europe in the beginning of the pandemic that they had thought that they would be able to cope and I think it's also why we were so late in starting our vaccines. We only started the vaccinations in May!!!!

By spring, there started to be a feeling of resentment towards the government. The PM never gave us the reassurance that everyone was wanting that our health and well-being came first. He kept on insisting that the Olympics would be held safely but never came up with a concrete or specific plan which would convince us that it would not make our situation worse. When the government asks us to restrict us from going out because they're worried about the burden it will bring on the hospitals, doctors and medical staff for months and months and then tells us they will need over 700 medical related staff for the Olympics, people are not going to be happy. Of course, we are willing to do what we are told to make sure we're not putting anyone at risk, but to have the Olympics seemed to be too much to be asked for.

SO many people wanted it to be cancelled. SO many people were trying to find ways to postpone it. It's not that we didn't want the Olympics anymore, we just didn't want it NOW!

The torch which was to be passing through the whole of Japan was mostly cancelled. (They tried a few places but too many people came to watch along the road so they had to decide not to do it. ) Many places all around Japan were chosen to host the teams from around the world so, training grounds were built, lots of merchandise was made to root for their teams and many events were planned to create a bond with that country. In the end, most of the athletes had to go directly to the Olympic village so they had no chance to even welcome them to their towns. There has been so much disappointment all around Japan.

I would say, the majority of the Japanese thought these Olympics would not actually happen. That at the last minute the government would at last hear our voices and would plead to the IOC to cancel it or at least find a way to have them at another time. Our situation was becoming worse and worse and no one believed that it was possible to put on such a world event when no one's heart was in it.

It was almost with disbelief that people watched the opening event. I couldn't bear to watch it as I thought it would be really awful. There was no excitement or anticipation before the games started and I was really worried that it wouldn't be well done (as they must have been so restricted in getting ready for it!) nor would it truly be able to capture the feeling of what the world is going through. ( I did watch a bit of the rerun the next day though and thought it was very well thought and did capture the sentiment of the times.)

Once the games started though, there're been a real shift in how I and so many others are feeling about the Olympics. It's been giving us lots of joy and it's so nice to see something on TV which is positive and uplifting after months and months of bad news. (The U.S. and Europe have been lucky enough to have had their glimpse of freedom after having most of their population vaccinated but the vaccination ratio here is still very low so we haven't seen the light at the end of the tunnel yet. ) A common thing I hear is that it is truly moving to see all these athletes who must have been training all around the world through this terrible pandemic to come all the way to Japan for these Olympics, and feel almost guilty of having wanted these games to be cancelled.

It's really comforting to hear how people around the world are enjoying the Olympics and to hear nice comments on how Japan is doing a good job considering all the difficulties it must have had to overcome.

It's an emotional roller coaster still for us as while we watch TV we're so moved by what the athletes are doing (especially because of all the investment we've put into the event in the past year) and then flip the channel to the news with the face of our PM with bad news...

How do I feel about the Tokyo Olympics? Very confused - joy, worry and sadness...