DEBITO.ORG
Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle's Home Page

New ebooks by ARUDOU Debito

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • NYT: Violating IOC rules, Tokyo Gov Inose bad-mouths other 2020 Olympic bidders, particularly Istanbul for being “Islamic”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on April 27th, 2013

    eBooks, Books, and more from ARUDOU Debito (click on icon):
    japaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
    UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
    DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
    “LIKE” US on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/debitoorg
    http://www.facebook.com/handbookimmigrants
    https://www.facebook.com/JapaneseOnlyTheBook
    https://www.facebook.com/BookInAppropriate

    Hi Blog.  We’ve talked about Tokyo’s Olympic bids for 2016 and 2020 before on Debito.org (I see them as basically a vanity project for Japan’s elite ruling class to convince themselves that the outside world is still paying attention to them, especially after successful bids in Beijing 2008 and Pyeongchang (South Korea) 2018).  But here’s an interesting development:

    According to the New York Times, Tokyo Governor Inose Naoki (a good writer and analyst (see also here) before he became Vice-Governor then Governor, and from whom I expected more intelligence and sophistication) is taking cheap shots at other Olympic bidders, violating IOC rules.  Particularly at Istanbul for its religious and ethnic/economic composition, Inose has said, “Islamic countries, the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes”.  He also said that other countries lack “Tokyo’s excellent sense of hospitality”.

    Funny, that.  As if Japan does not have classes of its own based upon economic clout or connections to a ruling elite.  And of course, there’s the frequent claim by Japan’s promoters of lack of infrastructure and development elsewhere.  Never mind how that infrastructure doesn’t seem to be taking care of its hundreds of thousands of victims and homeless after the Tohoku Disasters more than two years afterwards.

    (More on how irredeemably broken Japan’s system is in fact hereherehereherehereherehere, and here)

    But you see, we’re not holding the Olympics in Fukushima.  And we’ll take advantage of Fukushima by trying to claim a sympathy vote for Tokyo in their stead.  Also never mind that unfettered discrimination against domestic minorities in a society also violates the Olympic Charter.  So much to see when you scratch the surface.

    There were some subsidiary arguments about Japan’s aging society, which Inose turned on their head to say that healthy seniors are the sign of a healthier society.  That’s fine — that’s just boosterism.  But then he violates IOC rules again by denigrating:  “I’m sure people in Turkey want to live long.  And if they want to live long, they should create a culture like what we have in Japan. There might be a lot of young people, but if they die young, it doesn’t mean much.”

    See what I mean about a lack of sophistication?  I guess the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree (as Inose is an Ishihara Shintaro protege, and Ishihara is a bonafide bigot (see also here).  Or else Inose has been so steeped in the dominant discourse of Japan being a unique and peerlessly rich, homogeneous, developed society, that he actually has come to believe it himself.  Hence the blind spots cluttering his analysis.  Put it down to the effects of being steeped in affluence and power.

    As submitter MH notes about what he calls Inose’s “idiotic, xenophobic and downright racist comments”, “One doesn’t have to extrapolate too far to see how a racist landlord or real estate agency might feel a certain (ingrained) justification for banning foreigners.”  Quite.  So much for Japan’s “excellent sense of hospitality”.  Arudou Debito

    /////////////////////////////////////////

    In Promoting His City for 2020 Games, Tokyo’s Bid Chairman Tweaks Others
    By KEN BELSON
    The New York Times: April 26, 2013, courtesy of MH
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/sports/in-praising-its-olympic-bid-tokyo-tweaks-the-others.html

    With less than five months to go before the International Olympic Committee chooses a city to host the 2020 Summer Games, the three remaining bidders — Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo — are increasing their efforts to win over delegates and the public.

    The Olympic committee’s rules prohibit bid committee members from directly criticizing other bids. Instead, the bidders often highlight the perceived strengths of their bids to note delicately what they believe to be their rivals’ shortcomings, something known in the communications industry as counter-positioning.

    Naoki Inose, the governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and chairman of the Tokyo 2020 bid, has often done that, highlighting his city’s extensive and efficient transportation system, as well as the financial and technical wherewithal to build first-class sports sites and housing for the athletes. He has also noted that, like Paris and London, Tokyo has hosted the Summer Games before, a claim that Istanbul and Madrid cannot make.

    But Inose has also pushed the boundaries of rhetorical gamesmanship with occasionally blunt and candid statements about how his city compares with the competition, particularly Istanbul, which he has suggested is less developed and less equipped to host the Games.

    “For the athletes, where will be the best place to be?” Inose said through an interpreter in a recent interview in New York. “Well, compare the two countries where they have yet to build infrastructure, very sophisticated facilities. So, from time to time, like Brazil, I think it’s good to have a venue for the first time. But Islamic countries, the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes.”

    Asked later to elaborate on his characterization of Istanbul, a spokesman said Inose meant that simply being the first Islamic country to hold the Olympics was not a good enough reason to be chosen, just as being the first Buddhist country or the first Christian country would not be, either.

    The spokesman said Inose did not mean to refer to “class.”

    Istanbul is an Olympic finalist because it is an international city in one of the fastest-developing countries in the region. A member of NATO, Turkey straddles Europe and Asia and is a bridge between Christianity and Islam. With its emerging middle class, Turkey has become a political and economic powerhouse in the region.

    This is Istanbul’s fifth bid to host the Olympic Games. In a statement, the city’s bid committee declined to address comments made by rival bidders.

    “Istanbul 2020 completely respects the I.O.C. guidelines on bidding and therefore it is not appropriate to comment further on this matter,” the statement said.

    The International Olympic Committee does not look kindly on overtly harsh attacks by bidders, and occasionally it sends letters of reprimand to those who break with protocol, former bidders said.

    According to Article 14 of the Rules of Conduct for bidders: “Cities shall refrain from any act or comment likely to tarnish the image of a rival city or be prejudicial to it. Any comparison with other cities is strictly forbidden.”

    Though untoward comments rarely disqualify a bid, they could raise doubts in the minds of I.O.C. delegates about the trustworthiness of a bidder.

    “The reason the rule is there is that if someone deviates from it, it triggers a chain reaction,” said Mike Moran, chief spokesman for the United States Olympic Committee from 1978 to 2002 and a senior communications counselor for New York’s bid for the 2012 Summer Games. “The I.O.C. is very serious about their protocols.”

    Moran added that negative comments by bidders would probably not hurt a bid, although “you never know how a comment might influence those I.O.C. members.”

    At several points in the interview, Inose said that Japanese culture was unique and by implication superior, a widely held view in Japan. He noted that the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote in his book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” that Japan was unlike any other culture.

    Inose also pointed to polls that showed 70 percent of Tokyoites in favor of hosting the Summer Games, up from 47 percent last year. The well-received London Games, he said, have helped generate enthusiasm and confidence that Tokyo can host a similarly successful event.

    Tokyo, he added, is exceptional because the Imperial Palace, which is largely off-limits to residents and visitors, forms the city’s core while bustling activity surrounds it. “The central part of Tokyo has nothingness,” he said. “This is a unique way that society achieved modernization.”

    Inose brushed aside the notion that Olympic delegates may favor Istanbul’s bid because Turkey has a far younger population than Japan and thus is fertile ground for developing the next generation of Olympic enthusiasts. While population growth has stalled in Japan, the population of Tokyo has grown because of an influx of younger people, he said. He added that although Japan’s population is aging, its elderly are reasonably healthy.

    “We used to say that if you are poor, you have lots of kids, but we have to build infrastructure to accommodate a growing population,” Inose said. “What’s important is that seniors need to be athletic. If you’re healthy, even if you get older, health care costs will go down. The average age is 85 for women and 80 for men, so that demonstrates how stress-free” Japan’s society is.

    “I’m sure people in Turkey want to live long,” he added. “And if they want to live long, they should create a culture like what we have in Japan. There might be a lot of young people, but if they die young, it doesn’t mean much.”

    Inose has drawn distinctions between Japan and other cultures in other settings, too. When he visited London in January to promote Tokyo’s bid, he said Tokyo and London were sophisticated and implied that Istanbul was not.

    “I don’t mean to flatter, but London is in a developed country whose sense of hospitality is excellent,” Inose told reporters. “Tokyo’s is also excellent. But other cities, not so much.”
    ENDS

    35 Responses to “NYT: Violating IOC rules, Tokyo Gov Inose bad-mouths other 2020 Olympic bidders, particularly Istanbul for being “Islamic””

    1. Johnny Says:

      Hardly surprising. Someone had to put their foot in it sooner or later.

      My money is on Istanbul.

    2. Roppongi082 Says:

      Turkey is a secular country with an Muslim majority, and there has been a growing trend in the ruling party to be more associated with the religion. But “islamic”is a but of a stretch, in the sense that it is not a theocracy (like Iran), nor a country with it’s legal system based in Islamic Sharia law (like Saudi Arabia). Turkey has a life expectancy rate, based on the sources I checked (CIA World Factbook, etc.) that varies, but lower 70’s for men and mid to upper 70’s for women.
      Debito – I remember you telling us something about the merits of (or lack thereof) Japan holding these kind of global events back when the Soccer World Cup was here in ’02; the logic still applies.

      – Yes I did. That series of essays on World Cup 2002 from here.

    3. Jim di Griz Says:

      Inose sounds like a typical Japanese Oyaji; insensitive and tactless, narrow minded and supremely arrogant, unsophisticated and blissfully unaware of his own shortcomings. Yes, Japan has so much to be proud of doesn’t it?

    4. j_jobseeker Says:

      Oh no, Inose, You really didn’t say those things did you? (smell the sarcasm?) So much mouth but so very little knowledge…especially given this National Geographic article touting how futuristic and contemporary today’s Istanbul is, written by an author based—gasp—in Nara, Japan! (cue suspense drama music)

      http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/istanbul-traveler/

      I love the fact that he justifies Japan’s aging population on its social structure which, considering the pension follies of the last few years and the problems & (ahem) solutions it is creating —including talk about increasing mandatory retirement age all the way up to 70!—really has nothing to do with it. It’s more or less Japan’s or should I say the older generation of Japan’s preferred diet of fish and vegetables that has provided such longevity. There doesn’t seem to be anything in its social structure that directly contributes to long life and given as I mentioned earlier Japan is considering working people into their graves, I say a society that doesn’t encourage and support a senior’s “second life” after retirement, isn’t one worth bragging about.

      I’m with Johnny on this…rooting for Istanbul all the way.

    5. Norik Says:

      Is this the definition of the expression “foot in mouth”? I wonder what he will think reviewing this speech a year or two later? “I couldn’t have said all this BS all at once .Someone put it in my mouth!”

      I wonder if he realizes how illogical and ignorant and plain ridiculous what he said is.

    6. Kimpatsu Says:

      “Hospitality”?!
      I’ve said it before: You can have a tourist industry, or you can have racist border fingerprinting, but you can’t have both.

    7. snowman Says:

      Disgraceful comments from the Tokyo governor. I sincerely hope Istanbul gets the nod.

    8. Loverilakkuma Says:

      This adds one for the book “The Idiocyism of Japanese Politicians.” Tokyo governorship must be a golden ticket for the Dumb Club.

    9. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Debito #7

      This is in reference to the record number of politicians who visited Yasukuni last week;
      http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/24/national/record-168-lawmakers-visit-yasukuni/#.UXygqBwSGkM

      And Sick-notes decision by implication that there is no international agreement that Japan was ‘aggressive’ due to his apparent lack of dictionary skills;
      http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/26/national/buoyant-abes-true-colors-emerging/#.UXygRRwSGkN

      Not directly relevant here, but it helps set the framework in which Inose flaps his lips.

      – I will be getting to this Yasukuni shindig in my next blog entry in three days, barring nothing more interesting.

    10. Karjh12 Says:

      @ Roppongi082

      Abe and his ruling party lawmakers appear to be more strongly aligning themselves with nationalistic Shinto as demonstrated by the recent visit to Yasukuni of the 168 lawmakers
      and Abe’s response to the international reaction.

      “The definition of what constitutes aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the
      international community.”

      “Things that happened between nations will look look differently depending
      on which side you view them from”

      Abe also added that one of his roles was “to protect the pride of the Japanese people built on history and tradition and to protect national interests”

      !?!?!?!?..but then all countries tend to do it to certain extent but perhaps with not so much inward looking vigor.
      …OK North Korea

      So I wonder how all this will be considered by the IOC ,given all the sabre rattling going
      on in the region.
      Turkey at least is taking in refugees from Syria.

      Sources:
      http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/abe-defends-ministers-visit-to-yasukuni-shrine
      http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2013/04/24/japan-war-shrine-visits-abe-remarks-slammed-in-seoul/

    11. j_jobseeker Says:

      Sorry, I first skimmed the article when I posted earlier, concentrating mostly on finding that National Geographic article I bookmarked, but now that I have read it better, this caught my eye: “The average age is 85 for women and 80 for men, so that demonstrates how stress-free Japan’s society is.

      Uhhh, yeah, that’s why Japan has the highest suicide rate of any developed country… all those folks (and children) throwing themselves in front of trains or off rooftops. Sure Inose, you keep on flapping those lips which has obviously been suckling off of Ishihara’s teets.

      – I can’t find that quote in the article you cite.

    12. Joie Says:

      @ Jim
      “Inose sounds like a typical Japanese Oyaji; insensitive and tactless, narrow minded and supremely arrogant, unsophisticated and blissfully unaware of his own shortcomings.”

      You’re becoming obsessed with oyaji. Just like the Nazis (and no, I’m not comparing you yourself to a Nazi, merely your methods), created “the Jew”, a hook-nosed, grotesque, covetous imagining designed to stir up the populace, you’ve created “the oyaji”.
      Another of your recent posts:

      “Out of touch, self-entitled, 50 something man-children politicians will elevate this instantly from a local debate about the city of Kyoto’s relationship with it’s international students, to one of ‘tiny Japan under siege; protect the beautiful country!’ ensuring a massive knee-jerk grassroots popular opposition to the idea.”

      Seriously, how many “oyaji” have you spoken to”? There are literally millions in Japan. How can you say “typical” until you’ve personally met at least half of them?

      Why is this important?

      1) It devalues Debito’s site. Unsubstantiated ranting merely provides fodder for the apologists and Uncle Toms out there.

      2) Your health. Seriously, I’ve only met two people with an attitude as hostile as yours towards “oyaji”. One went insane and had to be helped back home to the States, the other, after years of fist-fights and slanging-matches (with oyaji), drank himself to a spectacular, painful death. Leave soon, for your own good.

      3) You’re doing just what the racist Japanese, do. They create “the gaijin”: blonde, goofy, loud, clumsy and unable to speak Japanese, and ridicule him/her. You create “the oyaji”.

      I wish you could meet my father in law: he’s had a miserable, impoverished life, never left Kyushu till he’d retired, undergone horrible family problems, married an orphan (not popular back when), undergone massive brain and heart surgeries, but never anything but a kind word and a smile for his gaijin son-in-law and his “half” grandkids. 100% oyaji, 100% super bloke.

      They’re out there, Jim. Go and find them.

    13. Markus Says:

      @Joie I am not sure if you see the irony in your own argument, i.e. give anecdotal evidence of a single “oyaji” in your family who’s different from the norm and at the same time blame Jim for not having had a big enough sample group.
      The gender and age group in charge of all areas of Japanese society is that of the “oyaji” – with no real change in sight, so it is fair to blame them for what we perceive as wrong in this society (and not, for example, 20-30 year old female freelancers).

    14. Baudrillard Says:

      Sorry Joie, I am with Jim on this one; there is, unfortunately, a typical kind of “oyaji”. Though We could perhaps add a suitable adjective at the front of the word, such as “ganko”. Any other suggestions?

      “Oyaji” cannot equate jew as its not a race so you cannot cry racism here however convenient a jibe that might be, this is just a moan at the empowered class in Japan; overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly old(er), overwhelmingly prejudiced and revelling in their power while making arubaiters and hostesses of the younger generation.
      We have had recent empirical evidence on this site that 1. as people (males) in Japan get older, they become less international minded and 2. retirees get a favored lifestyle and “golden” benefits/promotion by seniority in age, not talent etc while the young must increasingly pay a larger tax burden to support them.

      These are facts.

      Where are the young, the women, the NJs? Not in government and when they are, they tend to get their Japanese nationality questioned by, you guessed it, the oyaji.Look at Hashimoto’s electoral power base; overwhelmingly male and middle aged.

      So I think a bit of stereotyping based on these facts and figures, is in order, and ironically Japan is the country where stereotypes are loved and cherished, so why not do things “the Japanese way?” (lol).

      Thats a great way to stay sane.I think your acquaintance who did not manage to was taking postmodern Japan a bit too seriously and not the joke it is. But I think there were other factors in his subsequent death from alcohol poisoning.

      I am sorry your father in law had a hard life- he is not the typical oyaji we are taling about as he is one of the have-nots, not the haves, the 1%, the blinkered, blinky, power elite oyaji we are referring to. But his exception proves the rule.

      Stereotypes may not age well, but this is one that is currently accurate. And it is fitting that the demographic is refers to has not aged well either!

    15. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Joie#10

      I agree, oyaji are a pet hate of mine. For me, they represent the very embodiment of all that is wrong with Japan, and Japan’s inability to change, whilst at the same time poisoning any effort to discuss real solutions to real problems.

      I generally substantiate those claims I make on Debito.org, with the exception of when I am stating nothing more than my opinion (in which case I will say so, and readers may take it or leave it as such).

      I am indeed leaving quite soon! I don’t want my daughters to grow up in a society where children are represented as titillation for men old enough to be their fathers (never mind AKB, ever looked at the ages of the girls in the ‘sports’ magazines?), amongst other fears and concerns I have about Japan as a place in which to live.

      As for your point #3, I didn’t create the ‘oyaji’, what an absurd statement. Even should I have done so, ‘the gaijin’ you refer to was long in existence before I was even born! What’s good for the goose, no?

    16. Joe Says:

      “Joie” was a typo. I’m still the same old “Joe”.

    17. j_jobseeker Says:

      @debito

      Fourth paragraph up from the bottom, it starts with: “We used to say that if you are poor, you have lots of kids….” The quote I mention is the final sentence of that paragraphy.

      – This link you provided? http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/istanbul-traveler/ Still don’t see it.

    18. Joe Says:

      @Jim, Baudrillard, Markus.

      Okay, I misunderstood. I took “oyaji” to mean any Japanese guy over sixty or so. If we’re just talking about the Ishihara-type, then I agree 100%.

      Come to think of it, “Ishiharas” might be a better word for them, with less potential for confusion.

    19. Todd Says:

      “Seriously, how many “oyaji” have you spoken to”?

      how many have you spoken too? Unfortuanetly, this type of “oyaji” behavior is very common and annoying here. I see no harm in the statement that Jim made.

      “You create “the oyaji”

      Yeah just like I create the incidents on the train when people refuse to sit next to me or when I walk by Japanese and hear mumblings about “gaijin…”

    20. Baudrillard Says:

      A survey’s findings are generally considered accurate if based on figures of a thousand people interviewed or more. I have easily met more than 1000 oyaji in the last 20 years, and I bet Jim has too.

      Alternatively, base our findings on the demographic that elect Ishihara and Hashimoto. They get the Oyaji vote.

    21. Chris Says:

      Yes whatever the merits of Japanese culture over Islamic ones (and there are many merits IMHO), these comments were grossly unsophisticated, almost entirely incorrect, tactless, out of place and completely counterproductive to Tokyo`s bid. It`s all embarrassingly pathetic – Must try harder.

    22. j_jobseeker Says:

      @debito

      Oh! That article. Strange, I just clicked the link in your response and the article shows up for me. Here’s the text then:

      By Pico Iyer
      From the October 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler

      Beloved for its complex, layered past, Istanbul, where East meets West, may also offer a vision of what’s to come.

      I don’t think I’d ever stepped inside a cinema restroom to see little video screens along the wall projecting fashion runway footage until I went to Istanbul a few months ago. But then—my life is so sheltered!—I’d never seen mini-screens lining an elevator on the way to the movies, either. The hit song from Slumdog Millionaire, “Jai Ho,” was pulsing through every floor of City’s Mall in Istanbul’s Nisantasi district when I visited, and the restrooms next to the cinema lobby were marked by life-size cutouts of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (starring in Mr. and Mrs. Smith).

      On sofas overlooking the lights of the city, salon-tanned kids stretched out before a blue-lit cocktail bar—not to be confused with the espresso bar (offering tiramisu) in another corner or the regular popcorn counter serving up Pepperidge Farm cookies and tubs of Häagen-Dazs. It took me a while to realize that these glamorous teenagers weren’t here to see Public Enemies or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past; they’d come to the cinema lobby just to make the scene.

      I’d heard for years that Istanbul, one of the official European Capitals of Culture for 2010, calls itself “Europe’s coolest city.” It’s certainly one of the most complex—the center of a country that is 98 percent Islamic yet increasingly famous for its watermelon martinis. Here is a place whose Blue Mosque has an LCD screen flashing the time in Paris and Tokyo. Turkey’s most cosmopolitan metropolis has more billionaires than any city but New York, Moscow, and London, and when I went to the Istinye Park Mall there, it was to see Aston Martin DB9s and Bentleys jammed outside a gilded avenue of fortresses labeled “Armani,” “Gucci,” “Vuitton,” “Dior.” To my friends in business in New York, and to many proud Istanbulians, this city is where the Islamic world meets the global order, serving as a bridge—literal and metaphorical—between Europe and the outer edges of Asia.

      But still nothing had prepared me for the flash and glitter of it all. After I’d taken in Matthew McConaughey mumbling sweet nothings at the Citylife Cinema, I went across the street to the Sofa Hotel, and, setting foot in its elevator, found myself inside a kind of psychedelic light show, new colors coming through the transparent wall at every stop. When I started walking back toward the center of the city, I saw a woman in head-to-toe chador entering Starbucks to buy an espresso-flavored version of the jellied candy known as Turkish delight. In the Grand Bazaar earlier that day, I had even seen carpets inscribed with the mystical words “University of Baltimore.”

      We foreigners like to recall that Istanbul is the only city on Earth with one shore in Asia and one in Europe. But its real heart, according to its eloquent native son, Orhan Pamuk, in his evocative memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, lies rather in the division between the old (which is usually the local and the Islamic) and the new (generally the Western and the secular). The relation between the two is still tense: I had to walk through a security machine just to go to the movies. And Pamuk himself, though Turkey’s most famous modern citizen, was brought to trial in 2005 simply for mentioning his country’s brutal treatment of Armenians in 1915 (the next year, perhaps in response, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature).

      But the fascination of Istanbul today is that it seems as compressed and vital a model of the larger globe as you could find; one morning, when I awoke just before dawn, I could hear the call to Islamic prayer from every minaret, even as I could faintly make out the sound of the latest hip-hop music pounding along the streets. When I went to sleep after nightfall, it was to the accompaniment of the same unlikely duet, the competing sounds now coming together, now seeming to clash.

      I’ve always been something of a global creature: I was born in England to parents from India, and I grew up in California, though I live now in Japan—and so, for much of my life, I’ve been seeking out global places that are trying to piece together, as I am, disparate cultures and identities, to make a stained glass whole.

      Istanbul is most attractive to many for its complex, layered past—its harems and mosques and cemeteries and bazaars; but for me it’s intriguing as an image of the future. It was no surprise, I thought, that President Obama visited the city within three months of taking office (a picture of the President, head respectfully bowed, greeted me as I walked into the basilica turned mosque turned museum, Hagia Sophia).

      The minute I arrived in town—my first trip back in more than 20 years—I could feel the contemporary excitement that makes Istanbul one of the hottest destinations around. The narrow, cobblestoned streets around Ortakoy Mosque were so crowded on a Saturday evening, close to midnight, that I could hardly walk. Little boys were letting off neon-blue paper dragonflies, like homemade fireworks, and local girls whose tiny skirts and wild blond tresses suggested Shakira—in triplicate—were slipping past black-clad doormen at the Angelique nightspot. A small stall was offering tarot readings and tattoos, and behind it the Bosporus Bridge was bathed in red hues, then blue, then yellow, so it seemed more a giant Slinky than a thoroughfare between two continents.

      The particular promise and confidence of the city today lies to some extent in the fact that it has been three times the center of the world; for centuries it has known how to talk and trade with Russia to the north, Iran to the east, Central Asia just behind, and Europe all around. Unlike a Dubai or an Abu Dhabi, say, it can be in tune with the future precisely because it has so rich a sense of the past and such seasoned wisdom about the cycles of culture and history. I walked into the Spice Bazaar one day and found LCD signs in Japanese (though the merchants there were fast-talking in French and Portuguese and Spanish, while calling out, “Excuse me, lady, it’s almost free!”). The minute a few drops of rain began to fall one morning, I saw resourceful locals at the doors of the tourist buses near the Hagia Sophia flogging umbrellas. And the most commonly seen couples in the backpacker area of the old district of Sultanahmet were beaming young Korean women on the arms of leather-jacketed young Turks who’d just won them over.

      Around them, the handful of restored Ottoman boutique hotels that had greeted me in 1986 now numbered 200 and counting. Everywhere there seemed to be a natural savoir faire that reminded me of cities like Mumbai and Shanghai, able to rise from every setback to put themselves in sync with the moment. Even the sixth-century caverns at the Basilica Cistern are lit now in nightclub colors with “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy” piped incongruously around its Medusa columns.

      Yet for all the racy Italian fashion ads (on the Asian side of town) and for all the enterprising salesmen laying down carpets on the streets at 9 p.m. from which to sell toys and electric shavers (on the European side), the city can seem to the anxious as if it’s on its way to becoming the next trendy but perennially torn Beirut. To this day, more than 97 percent of Turkey is Asian, which makes Istanbul an anomaly—as well as a beacon. And a city of 500,000 souls in 1920 now has to contain up to 25 times that many, as people flood in from the Anatolian heartland, perhaps unsure themselves whether the economic opportunities that their biggest city offers are worth embracing if they also bring with them secular European values. The newspapers were all talking, when I visited, about a new “hip” mosque in the Uskudar area, said to be the first such building designed by a woman. But it seemed a fair guess that the silent majority across the country, away from the imported surfaces, still saw “hipness” and mosques as pointing in opposite directions.

      To go to Istanbul today is to see in bold strokes the conundrum that confronts all the fast-growing old cities in the world as they try to remain simultaneously global and themselves. And in Turkey’s biggest city, the setting seems more charged (and more allegorical) than anywhere. “It’s the most eastern part of the West and the most western part of the East,” a Turkish student said, when I asked a class in the smallish town of Isparta (through its American teacher) what they thought of Istanbul. He didn’t add that that could result in collision as much as in collusion.

      It’s a bit perverse, I realize, to go to one of the planet’s most historic and enigmatic cities just to seek out what can as easily be found in Santa Monica or Tokyo. So in the days after my night in Ortakoy I took pains to pay homage to as many of the sights of old Istanbul as I could. I took a taxi out to the holiest spot in the area, the Eyup Sultan Mosque, and felt something inside me tremble as I saw pious women sobbing outside the place where the Prophet Muhammad’s friend Abu Ayyub al-Ansari is said to be buried. I went to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum beside the Hippodrome, across from the Blue Mosque, and realized that the 500-year-old palace in which it is housed is as remarkable an artwork as anything inside it. More than once, while killing time before a ferry, I stole across the street to the Spice Bazaar and slipped through the narrow shopping lanes nearby to the almost hidden flight of stairs that leads to the exquisite—and largely unvisited—Rustem Pasha Mosque, one of the treasures of the city.

      One morning I took myself to Topkapi, arriving early so I’d have the harem and the dazzling gardens almost to myself, and I was so stunned by the place that I went again, at the same time, four days later. And in the evenings, staying in Sultanahmet, I found nothing more magical than just strolling through the dimly lit alleyways, looking in on the Sokollu Mosque minutes before it closed, losing my way in a maze of streets that, even close to the tourist section, retain something of the withdrawn power and mystery of an old and very foreign place.

      Yet for all these moments of ancient beauty, I kept trying to remember how Istanbul might look to a Turk, for whom it is an invigorating model of the future. If foreigners are always drawn to what is “Turkish” about the place, the Turks who pour in from the interior are, for equally good reason, drawn toward everything that seems cutting-edge and international. One of the students I’d questioned told me: “People in Turkey say, ‘The earth of Istanbul is made of gold.’”

      It certainly can seem that way around the boutiques and cafés of the privileged quarters. After staying across the street from the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, I moved one day over to the Bentley Hotel, near Nisantasi, and walked into a minimalist white-and-black lobby with fashion magazines from Sweden laid out on a table. A framed letter next to the front desk expressed the thanks of a cardinal who had stayed here recently while traveling with the Pope. And after checking into a designer room there, I took a taxi down to the Istanbul Modern, whose in-your-face canvases shout out that Turkey today refuses to be boxed inside a foreigner’s quaint notions of it.

      Since the summer day was buoyant and warm, I got onto a cruise ship traveling up the Bosporus, and as we passed the yali summer houses set along the water, I was forcibly reminded that affluence and style are nothing new here; novelist Gustave Flaubert, visiting in 1850, had said that Istanbul, a century hence, would be the capital of the world. Then, after catching my breath as the shoreside mansions drifted by, I got off the boat at Yenikoy and took a bus back toward the city, along the single-lane coastal road that runs along the water.

      I might have been near Nice and St.-Tropez, I thought, winding through a series of jewel-like villages set against the scintillant blue. At the Sakip Sabanci Museum, I got out to find much of fortunate Istanbul reclining on the museum’s lawns, listening to live jazz as men in Polo shirts picked nonchalantly at slices of watermelon; the museum’s Getty-worthy restaurant had, in 2007, been named by Wallpaper magazine as one of the hottest new eateries on the planet. Walking down to Bebek, a little farther south, I stepped into a Starbucks and found a beautiful terrace on the Bosporus itself, a copy of Wired draped across one table. Now I might have been in Sausalito, it seemed, or one of the gorgeous small towns around San Francisco, as I watched boats bob among the white pleasure domes and cars pass across a great suspension bridge in front of me. In the old wooden houses of Arnavutkoy, not far away, trendy couples were dining on terraces filled with bright flowers, as if posing for a vision of what many young Turks in the countryside might see as the good life.

      “Turkey managed to live through, in 2007, the paradox of an elected party rooted in Islamic tradition stating that it wishes to maintain the secular republic set up by Kemal Ataturk in 1923,” Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, a political science professor in California, told me, and it survived the further paradox of the nation’s military, determined to protect that secularism, refraining from taking over the new government by force. If Turkey could maintain such a balance, my friend, an expert on the Middle East, had said, he had high hopes for it. But, culturally, the whole country seemed to be perched upon a tightrope.

      Just three weeks before I arrived, in fact, the city had placed a ban on smoking in its coffeehouses and eating places; this seemed about as plausible as banning red wine in Paris or noodles on the streets of Beijing. By the time I began walking around, angry proprietors were already launching loud protests in the streets, claiming that the ruling had stripped them of up to 80 percent of their business. And for those who love Istanbul, the small change seemed symptomatic of a city that was eager to show how European and modern it was, even though its heart—and character—lie in its very pungency and closeness to its Eastern roots.

      “Istanbul has always been about raw life, from the murderous driving and yawning potholes in the roads to the physical street brawls and the smoke-filled teahouses,” Nigel McGilchrist, a sometime resident of Turkey and author of the Blue Guide to the Greek Islands told me of the city he has known for more than 30 years. “It’s not Belgium or suburban Gloucestershire; it’s the nearest thing to India in the West.”

      Certainly, even as Turkey cherishes its almost half-century-long wish to become a formal part of Europe, it seems reluctant to leave behind the ancient identity it still so proudly maintains. For centuries Istanbul has taken in Greeks and Armenians and Jews, and in areas like Balat and Fener the echoes of their presence are what give the streets their savor. Yet none of those groups seems to have affected “Turkishness” at the core or colored the city’s sense of itself. After a week visiting every corner, I realized I had not seen a single woman working in a hotel or restaurant or café.

      “I worry,” McGilchrist went on, “that Turkey wants to become European in all the stale, bureaucratic ways, without truly embracing any of the important, deep-rooted values of Europe, such as respecting the rights of dissenting writers to express their views.”

      And as I walked past the Robinson Crusoe bookstore, boasting as good a selection of English-language books as many a counterpart on Sunset Boulevard, as I sat in a little room in the orthodox area of Fatih where a sheikh was leading 50 followers in passionate Sufi chants of “Allah, Allah, Allah,” to the sound of a tambourine, I did begin to feel that the power of the city lay precisely in the fact that its next move could never be anticipated. The true nature of Istanbul seems always in dispute—or in passage, at least, like the boats constantly crisscrossing its waterways.

      I had seen more chadors and head scarves here than I had noticed in Syria or Egypt, I thought, as I prepared to leave—but the women with blond ponytails were still sipping $20 cosmopolitans among the trendy cafés of Asmalimescit. There were few signs of the poverty I was used to in places like Jakarta or Marrakech; yet, outside the glamorous areas, Istanbul did not seem a wealthy city, especially for the millions who stream in and end up in drab apartment blocks without the new lives they dreamed of. Statistically, it claims to be one of the safest cities in Europe, but it didn’t strike me as particularly friendly or ebullient. Watchful and guarded, for all its dazzling surfaces and cries of discounts in the bazaar, Istanbul looked to be the place where the age-old reserve of Greece runs into the very different kind of foreignness of Pakistan.

      Pamuk had been similarly circumspect in his evocation of the hometown he has been exploring all his life. “This is indeed a city moving westward,” he had written, “but it’s still not changing as fast as it talks.” One day while I was there, phone lines back home to Japan went down for 24 hours. In the Internet cafés I found that Turkish-language keyboards prevented me from logging on to AOL. And as I checked out of my fairly fancy hotel in Sultanahmet, a gracious desk clerk asked me to write in a tip (a first, in my 30 years of travel). I did so—but when he gave me back the bill, I saw that he had doubled the amount, on the sly, because my ten percent didn’t strike him as sufficient.

      My very last night in Istanbul, I decided to put all my ideas and thoughts of a global future away. I wouldn’t check out another dervish show, I decided; I wouldn’t look in on another dance club. What really excited me about the place, I came to realize, was simply the sense of ceaseless movement, the way the energies of an Asian metropolis pulsed through largely European streets, so that the whole place seemed, intoxicatingly, a work in perpetual progress. And nowhere was the habit of making hard-and-fast distinctions dissolve more apparent than on the water.

      So I stepped onto a ferry in Eminonu, in Europe, and went across to Uskudar, in Asia. On arrival, I passed through the turnstiles, turned around and bought another dollar token for a ferry passing through the Golden Horn, back to Europe. The sun was just beginning to set, and the late afternoon light turned every face to gold. Lovers were courting shyly on the hard white wooden benches, waiters jounced past us carrying trays holding glasses of orange juice and of apple tea. I watched secretaries in high heels teeter home from the office through the sharpened dusk and giggling schoolgirls try out their French on captive tourists on the boat. From every bridge we passed, men had thrown down fishing lines, as I’d never seen from the ferries of Hong Kong or New York.

      As darkness began to fall, the sloping streets and minarets turned into a kind of fairyland, the Istanbul of paintings. I got off at the last stop, near Eyup Sultan Mosque, and bought another jeton to go back to Kadikoy, in Asia. Eighteen boats were crisscrossing the water now, some of them lit up with dinner-cruise dances, others steered by grizzled, stocky men whose hard faces and dark clothes seemed to speak for a truer, less imported Turkey.

      To one side of us, the Bosporus Bridge was turning red and blue and yellow again; to the other, the minarets and mosques of Sultanahmet looked more unearthly than ever, illuminated against a blue-black sky. I got off in Turkish Asia for the last time and looked across the water to head back. As soon as you begin to know a place, I thought, all talk of “old” and “new” or “East” and “West” becomes redundant. Just the movements inside it, the way it comes closer and then slips away: That’s all the excitement you need.

      Author Pico Iyer, based in Nara, Japan, has written extensively on both East and West. Dave Yoder, who lives in Milan, Italy, last photographed “Three Faces of Rome” for our January-February 2010 issue.

      – This is getting tedious. Again, for the third time, THERE IS NO MENTION OF THE FOLLOWING QUOTE YOU CITED, “The average age is 85 for women and 80 for men, so that demonstrates how stress-free Japan’s society is.” ANYWHERE IN THE TEXT ABOVE. I can’t make my point any clearer than that.

    23. john k Says:

      We used to say that if you are poor, you have lots of kids, but we have to build infrastructure to accommodate a growing population,” Inose said.

      So that explains why the Japanese have no kids. They consider themselves to be “rich” :)

      By inference, this means he must admire the “old enemy” China. They only have 1 child each…rich or poor. (Although some ‘rich’ get around this).

    24. japan Says:

      Although I am a Japanese, holding in Istanbul is supported.
      If held in Tokyo, I am glad, but being held at the crossing of the culture of Asia and Europe is very gladder.

    25. j_jobseeker Says:

      @debito

      It’s not in the text I quoted and/or linked to, it’s in the text YOU posted. The NY Times article. Fourth paragraph from the bottom. Sorry if there’s been this weird misunderstanding based on the way I mentioned it the first time, but I was always referring to the NY Times article and not the one I was citing. I thought when I wrote “concentrating on finding that National Geographic article…” I was making a clear distinction, but I should have been more specific. But I was sure you would have been able to recognize Inose’s nonsense. Apologies for being “tedious.”

      – So it is. Gomen gomen. So much for my reading comprehension. The tedium is obviously mine. Thanks for your patience.

    26. Becky Says:

      I find this comment, from the NYT article, intriguing:
      “When [Inose] visited London in January to promote Tokyo’s bid, he said Tokyo and London were sophisticated and implied that Istanbul was not. “I don’t mean to flatter, but London is in a developed country whose sense of hospitality is excellent,” Inose told reporters. “Tokyo’s is also excellent. But other cities, not so much.”

      Just what kind of “hospitality” is he talking about? Perhaps this kind:

      “Investigators of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics bid discovered that tens of thousands of dollars per IOC member were spent wooing them. While Salt Lake City was giving committee members cheap disposable cameras as souvenirs, the Japanese were handing out pricey video cameras like they were candy. In fact, at a time when the limit on IOC gifts was $200, the Japanese contingent spent an average of $5,700 on each committee member. When all was said and done, Nagano spent about $24 million on their bid, five times as much as Salt Lake City spent. Not that all of this information was immediately transparent, since Nagano destroyed their spending records before anyone could get a hold of them.”

      Read more: http://www.cracked.com/article_19733_5-things-they-dont-want-you-to-know-about-olympics_p2.html#ixzz2RqFS9IHh

    27. Welp Says:

      This NYT article was just up on the news here (6pm Asahi news) and they were going over it in a very critical tone. Looks like once again the media is just going along with the government because team Japan takes priority over impartiality, objectivity, or anything that actually matters in an independent media.

    28. john k Says:

      He’s made the BBC news now..it’s going global!!…so he’s been forced to retract his comments:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22352067

      “..The governor of Tokyo has apologised for comments he made about rival Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Olympic Games…”

    29. Jim Di Griz Says:

      And here’s the backtrack!
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-22352067

      “I am apologising as my remarks could be misinterpreted by people in the Islamic world, so I am clearly apologising for this,” umm…’could be misinterpreted’? seriously? How about ‘My remarks were uninformed and bigoted, so I am clearly apologizing for that’, rather than apologizing for the possibility that he was mistranslated? Ahh, the ‘unique’ qualities of the innocuous Japanese language which are lost in translation into crude western languages routine again? Sounds like the kind of thing Blinky has been getting away with for years.

      Still, proves one thing; international media attention that embarrasses Japan is the most powerful tool for curbing racist Japanese outburts.

    30. Jim Di Griz Says:

      Actually, I’m seeing a disturbing ‘anti-Japanese’ behavioral pattern emerging amongst Tokyo Governors.

      First Blinky irritates the Chinese, and in retaliation, the Chinese give J-products (eg automobile manufacturers) a massive spanking.

      Now Inose insults the muslim world just as Sick-note is due to arrive in Saudi to sign an oil deal that Japan needs, and a Japanese/French consortium is planning to build a nuclear plant in….you guessed it…Turkey!

      Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up! Tokyo Govs are about the biggest liability to the J-economy this decade!

    31. j_jobseeker Says:

      Watching TV-Asahi’s Morning Bird now and their trying to find some positive spin on this; trying to find “experts” who’ll say that this won’t have too much of an affect on the final decision; interviewing people-on-the-street edited to make it seem that most people don’t think it isn’t much of a big deal; and now looking into other past faux pas made by other governors or official of other cities as if to say, “Hey, Inose is not unique. It’s happened before.”

      I also find it odd that the media has concentrated mostly on Inose’s comments on Islam and Muslims when he’s made other disparaging remarks against Turkish culture and people as well.

      But I am glad that this has caught on around the world, and especially in Japan—for what it’s worth. As Jim Di Griz says, “embarrassing international media attention is the most powerful tool” for real change in Japan.

    32. Bitter Valley Says:

      Sorry to be so slow. Now that’s why Yoyogi Park has been turned into a construction site (or was for most of last year) with new bogs and tarmac. But what about the homeless village?

      Given it’s the Olympics, should Japan “win” (i.e. pay off the right people both on the committees and third party countries looking for ODA AKA payoffs for J construction and mining/ logging companies etc.) hen I guess standard practice will be followed and they’ll be kicked out.

      It’s all becoming clearer.
      What next, plant a few more trees?
      A special Olympic high-tech TOTO toilet bowl that plays Chariots of Fire when you toxic dump for a mascot?
      (Following on from the theme of an overweight boozer puking up in the gutter, which seems to have been the mascot for London 2012 anyway)

      But really the Tokyo Gov’s comments are awful.
      Does anyone get the sense that he’s going through the process of clarification for media purposes? You know, he makes a clarification because big wadges of biz are at stake…but it’s one of those frustrating cases (for Japanese people) when they just want to throw their hands up, shake their heads in sorrow and suck through their teeth about having to put up with all these irritating gajin and their silly different sensibilities and points of view (i.e. the rest of the planet).

    33. Adam2 Says:

      Back to Europe to freedom and away from circus called Japan.
      Nothing to miss out there. Getting to the point, when I read this news which first my Japanese wife showed me I was like what? again? She got pi**ed off as well and we both agreed that Tokyo should loose and Turkey must get. If IOC get corrupted by Japanese and choose Tokyo, it will be like taking away life of hundreds people who still live in “containers” after Tsunami in 2011.

    34. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      I thought that after the earthquake Tokyo and then-mayor Ishihara would have had the sense and dignity to withdraw their application in favor of one in Sendai. If Japan is getting the Olympics again, that’s the city that deserves it.

    35. Adam2 Says:

      Old post but guys Abe has hope in spite of Fukushima ticking bomb.
      They don’t see any problem and looks like have money for Olympic.
      Let’s write to IOC to stop J land from getting privilege to get in 2020

      Abe to lead group at Olympic vote

      http://www.newsonjapan.com/html/newsdesk/article/104164.php

    Leave a Reply