Kalani M. Fujiwara
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Tökyö, Japan, July 2021. (Photo by U.S. Department of State Photo)

The Tökyö 2020 Olympics, held in the months of July and August 2021, was considered a huge success from the rest of the world. But for those of us living in Japan during those horrible months of the Delta variant wave, the Games were a clear example of greed, corruption and outright entitlement. In the backdrop of the deadly Delta variant wave that I wrote about in the last dispatch, the Games were held without any concern for public health concerns of people of Tökyö. COVID-19 mitigation efforts for the games were only implemented when there was a public backlash by the Japanese public and media. Basically, the Games were shoved down the throats of the people of Tökyö, regardless of the possibility of cluster infections or the pandemic state of emergency which Japan was under during the Delta variant wave.

The Tökyö 2020 Olympics games were already flawed and maybe cursed for failure from the time when the International Olympic Committee picked the city and Japan to host the 2020 Olympic games. The Games were scheduled to be held in July and August, which is the hottest and the most humid months in Japan and conditions detriment for athletic activity. In contrast to the fabled Tökyö Olympics of 1964, which the organizers were always fawning over, held in the mild weather month of October, where the weather is like Hawai‘i. The reason that was given was the fact that NBC (a major sponsor broadcaster of the Games), with a huge veto on Olympic site selection, would reject candidate cities, which could not host the games during the July and August summer months due to the NBC sports broadcasting schedule in the United States for the fall. Therefore, the Japan Olympic committee willingly “fibbed” on their site application by stating the months of July and August in Japan offers an “optimal weather conditions” for Olympic sporting events, just so their application will not be rejected outright by the International Olympic selection committee. A lot has changed to the Olympic Games since 1964. What I witnessed during this pandemic in Japan and during the lead up to the Games in 2021 was that the business interests of the games trumped any concerns regarding the well-being of the people of Japan and even the athletes.  

As the preparations for the Tökyö 2020 Games commenced, there were other controversies such as cost overruns of construction of new and unneeded athletic facilities and framing the Olympics as recovery programs for the tragedy of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster. The Tohoku region did not receive any economic benefits from the preparations leading up the Games. These and many more bad controversies before and after the Games started can be looked up on Google.

 What I witnessed was the “Squid Games”-like attitude of the IOC, Japan Olympic Committee and Prime Minister Suga’s administration toward the Japanese people during the Delta variant pandemic wave. Like the “Squid Games” VIPs, the members of the IOC basically ran Japan in the months leading up to the Games and during the Games. Nothing is going to get in their way of making sure the Games go on and whatever income that can be made from the pandemic-stricken Japan. The Japanese media unflattering called them the Gorinkizoku, Olympic aristocracy. The Gorinkizoku opening flaunted Japan’s state of emergency rules and demanding audience with the emperor and empress of Japan. Haughty and arrogant attitude of the entire Olympic apparatus rubbed the people of Japan the wrong way. As one head of the Japanese opposition party commented bitterly that the arrogant Gorinkizoku were acting like the colonial masters of Japan. At one public opinion poll, 80% of the response was either against having the Games or having serious misgivings of having the Games during the fifth wave of the pandemic. Everyone from Emperor Naruhito, all the way down to Hiroshi Tanaka (Japan’s version of Joe Public), voiced their negative views of the Olympic Games during the pandemic. But the “Squid Game” VIPs just steam rolled any concerns of public health and safety of the Japanese public during the pandemic. As the Games approached, a myriad of scandals regarding the games and people involved with the Games erupted with the misogynic comments of the Japan Olympic Committee Chairman, who only resigned after almost week of public backlash; an Olympic composer, who abused disabled children; an art director, who wanted to make a spectacle of a famous female Japanese comedian during the Olympics by calling her an “Olympig;” and ceremony director, who made Holocaust jokes. One of my clients commented that “a wrong generation (in Japan) was running the Tökyö Games.” The list of negative scandals goes on and on that lead to more negative feelings about the Games by people of Japan.  

On the eve of the Games, major sponsors such as Toyota, NTT, and Fujitsu pulled out of promotion campaigns at the last minute due to the myriad of bad publicity. But the Games began and the attitude I felt from the people in Japan was “Just get it over with…” The Games went on as scheduled and much to the celebration of the sports world and all the moneyed interests of the Games in Japan and abroad. However, there was really nothing to celebrate about the Olympic Games in Japan held during the pandemic. All the Games did was to provide a temporary distraction to the deadly Delta variant wave that was ongoing at the same time.  

Emperor Naruhito expressed it rightfully during his short speech at the opening ceremony. It was customary by all heads of state in their speech opening the Olympic Games to state that it was a “celebration” of the Olympic Game. Emperor Naruhito adlibbed this customary speech by replacing “to celebrate” and instead he stated “to commemorate” the games. Emperor Naruhito in an indirect way required by his position conveyed what much of the people in Japan felt about the Tökyö 2020 Olympic Games. It was not an event to be celebrated about at all and instead to remember the pain and suffering of the ongoing pandemic. Just with those two words, his majesty infused empathy for the need to be mindful that people are dying of COVID-19 alone in their homes, people unable to receive help from the overrun Japanese medical system, and to people, who lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic in Japan. These two words alone were much more powerful and genuine than all the false platitudes and flattery written and said from the “Squid Games” VIPs and Prime Minister Suga’s administration during and after the Games. 

Games ended, “Squid Games” VIPs got their money and scurried away from Japan. The fifth wave of the Delta variant infections and suffering continued into September 2021. The Games were quickly forgotten among the Japanese public. Many Japanese athletes were successful and won a lot of medals, that was applauded. However, in the back of my mind and I am assuming other people in Japan had questions such as:


“How many people alone died during that time?” 

“How many people during the pandemic had to suffer to their health and livelihood while the Games were going on?” 

“Were the Games worth the cost of public money and attention that could have gone to mitigate the suffering during the Delta variant wave?” 

That will be the true legacy of the Tökyö Olympic 2020 Games during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have now acquired a huge distaste for the Olympic Games after witnessing firsthand the corruption, greed and the hypocrisy of the values that the IOC profess to champion. 

 At the writing of this Dispatch, there is another huge scandal erupting about the Tökyö Olympic games one year after it was completed. A senior member of the Tökyö organizing committee was arrested for allegedly receiving bribes from a sponsor company, which received his favorable endorsement and was selected as the official provider of goods for the Games. 

Kalani M. Fujiwara was born in Japan and raised in Hawai‘i. He formerly taught political science at Kapi‘olani Community College and Honolulu Community College for 20 years. He lived in Japan off and on altogether for 12 years. He is currently living in Japan for the third time.


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