JIN-437 -- Olympic Japan

J@pan Inc Newsletter

The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 437 Wednesday October 24, 2007, Tokyo

Olympic Japan

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Anyone living or working in Tokyo will probably have noticed
Tokyo Tower's most recent addition: a neon sign displaying
'2016' in red, yellow, blue and green, shining in support of
Japan's bid to become the Olympic city in that year. No matter
how slim Japan's chances, the bid is of course being taken
extremely seriously with an estimated campaign cost in excess
of 5.5 billion yen. Tokyo has also enlisted PR heavyweight
Weber Shandwick to handle their bid. A visit to the official
campaign website (http://www.tokyo2016.or.jp/en/) proudly informs
us of the 'highly symbolic logo' created in support of the bid:
a traditional Japanese knot with threads in the Olympic colors.
All very impressive, but does Japan stand a chance?

According to Jack Gallagher in The Japan Times, no. Among the
reasons his gives, he claims that the timing is wrong given that
Beijing is being a host city for Asia next year, and that the
competition is too stiff from cities such as Chicago, Madrid and
Rio de Janeiro. Gallagher also believes that Japan's reneging on
its offer to pay athletes' transportation costs in the 1998
Nagano Olympics is a point against the Tokyo bid in the
eyes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, it
is perhaps a bit too bold to dismiss the Japanese bid entirely.
For one, Japan has a good track record with international events
holding a high reputation for cleanliness, efficiency and
well-behaved supporters. Also, concerns have been raised over
Brazilian fans' behaviour, prevalence of street crime and
terrible traffic. One UK betting site places the odds for Japan
at 8-1, after 2-1 for Rio and 4-6 for Chicago. But, with two
years to go until the decision, it is far from a closed contest.

Japan has an interesting connection with the Olympics. For one,
it was a significant moment in modern history when it hosted the
Games in 1964. According to a recent paper by Rio Otomo, a
scholar at Tokyo University, the event was:

'marked in the minds of ordinary Japanese as the beginning of
Japan's rise. And this 'rise' was imagined communally though
the images of athletic bodies, which we watched through the
mediation of TV cameras, and through the stories that were
brought to us by the media en masse.'

We do not have to go along with her full postmodernist
deconstruction to take on board this main point, that the
the Olympic Games are of symbolic importance to Japan's postwar
integration with international society. The 1964 Games saw
Japan look history boldly in the face by having Yoshinori Sakai,
who was born on the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima,
light the Olympic Flame. This event is recalled in the current
campaign literature by triple jump athlete Teruji Kokage who
expresses that Yoshinori was chosen 'in order to symbolize
Japan's postwar reconstruction and peace.'

Japan also performed relatively well in the '64 Games, partly
because of the introduction of judo in which Japan took three
titles. It was also the year that Osamu Watanbe won a gold medal
in freestyle wrestling without conceding one point. In recent
years, Japan has improved its Olympic record, particularly at the
last Olympics in Athens where it swooped a record 37 medals and
equalled its 1964 triumph of 16 golds. According to one
observer, this is due to a conscious national effort to improve
that has led to advancements in training in terms of a shift
away from support from sports associations and towards
personalized training teams, often facilitated by major
private companies such as Toyota.
(see http://web-japan.org/trends/sports/spo041006.html)

[Continued below...]

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This option for foreign nationals is possible only until
October 31, 2007.

After this date, Transamerica Occidental Life will not accept
any new applications from expatriates in Japan.
A sample monthly premium for a 35 year old male for
US$1 million is US$35.88.
For the same coverage for a 45 year old male is US$61.25,
and for a 55 year old male is US$154.88.

E-mail today for a full, personalized illustration of the
policy's costs and benefits.

For more details: Response@pacificbridge.net
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[...Article continues]

However, as Otomo points out, while Japan's interest in the
Olympics has been to build bridges and interact with the world,
it has also been a source of national pride to Japan to perform
at the Olympics and, in this sense, it somewhat resembles
Japan's bid to become a permanent member on the UN Security
Council. Otomo connects the current Olympic bid to a deep
nationalist sentiment and sees a focus on the body of the
Japanese athletes as fostering a growing culture of
individualism. This is apparently illustrated by the fact that
President of the Tokyo 2016 Olympic Games Bid Committee is
Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo's controversial right-wing governor.
( http://rotomo.net/papers/olympics.pdf)

Yet all countries participating in global sporting contests face
the same tension; these events naturally stimulate patriotic
responses, which at some extremes can be unhealthy. But
ultimately Tokyo's bid is probably more benign that it is
sinister. In fact, like most other cities, the main motivation
probably lies in the money to be made by local businesses.
Although public spending would be high, it would also force
local government to ensure public services are up to scratch and
that new facilities are built. London has the Olympics to thank
for any hope that its underground rail system will improve and,
the LA Games, of 1984, were famously lucrative. However, it is a
contested point that hosting the Olympics always yields
financial benefit for the host city. On the other hand, many
companies perceive a value in Olympic sponsorship opportunities
and the city's hospitality industry must be licking their lips.
Rakuten have already got a hand in by having their CEO Hiroshi
Mikitana on the bid advisory board. So, while Japan may be an
outsider in the bidding, its determination should not be
underestimated and the stakes are high enough for even a defeat
not to merit being called a wasted effort.

By Peter Harris
Chief Editor

Want to comment? It is now even easier to voice your opinion
than ever before! Simply visit www.japaninc.com/jin437 and
post a comment below the article. Alternatively, you can email
it directly to the author at peter.harris@japaninc.com

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