Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 68 Oct 1 2013: “Triumph of Tokyo Olympic bid sends wrong signal to Japan’s resurgent right”


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Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 68 Oct 1 2013:
“Triumph of Tokyo Olympic bid sends wrong signal to Japan’s resurgent right”
Courtesy http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2013/09/30/issues/triumph-of-tokyo-olympic-bid-sends-wrong-signal-to-japans-resurgent-right/
Version with links to sources

Blame news cycles, but I’m coming in late to the discussion on Tokyo’s successful bid for the 2020 Olympics. Sorry. The most poignant stuff has already been said, but I would add these thoughts.

Probably unsurprisingly, I was not a supporter of Tokyo’s candidacy. Part of it is because I have a hard time enjoying events where individuals are reduced to national representatives, saddled with the pressure to prove an apparent geopolitical superiority through gold medal tallies. Guess I’m just grouchy about international sports.

That said, this time around, the wheeling and dealing at the International Olympic Committee has been particularly distasteful. Unlike the IOC, I can’t forget Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose’s denigration of fellow candidate city Istanbul for being “Islamic” (conveniently playing on widespread Western fears of a religion and linking it to social instability). This was especially ironic given rising xenophobia in Japan, where attendees at right-wing rallies have even called for the killing of ethnic Koreans who have lived in and contributed to Japan for generations.

Nor can I pretend to ignore the risk of exposing people to an ongoing nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima. Even if you think the science is still unclear on the health effects of radiation in Tohoku, what’s not in doubt is that there will be incredible amounts of pork sunk into white-elephant projects in Japan’s metropole while thousands of people still languish in northern Japan, homeless and dispossessed. When so much work is incomplete elsewhere, this is neither the time nor place for bread and circuses.

All of this has been said elsewhere, and more eloquently. But for JBC, the most important reason why the Olympics should not come to Japan is because, as I have argued before, Japan as a government or society is not mature enough to handle huge international events.

I know, Japan has held three Olympics before (in Tokyo, Sapporo and Nagano), as well as numerous international events (such as the G-8 Summits in Nago and Toyako) and one FIFA World Cup. But with each major event it holds, Japan keeps setting precedents that hemorrhage cash and make life miserable for residents. Especially those who don’t “look Japanese” — Japan’s visible minorities.

Media memories tend to be short, so some refreshers: More money was spent on “security” at Nago’s G-8 Summit in 1998 than at any previous such powwow — by a factor of five (“Summit wicked this way comes,” Zeit Gist, Apr. 22, 2008). Then Toyako in 2008 spent even more than Nago.

When you devote this much time and energy to policing, consider the effects on those being policed. As reported on these pages before (I have gone as far as to call Japan a “mild police state”), Japan’s police forces have inordinate powers of search, seizure, and detention even at the most mundane of times.

Now, bring in the eyes of the world for an international event, and Japan’s general bunker mentality produces a control-freak guest/host relationship, where nothing is left to chance, and nobody will be allowed to spoil the party.

That means Japan’s authorities get a freer hand to smoosh not only alleged threats to social order, but also dissenters in general. Because our media generally ignores contrarians and naysayers for the sake of putting the best face on Japan for guests, they forget their own duty to act as a check and balance against official over-enforcement and paranoia.

But paranoia tends to peak when there are “foreigners” gadding about. Remember the 2002 World Cup, when politicians, bureaucrats and the media declared open season on “foreigners” (popularizing the word “hooligan” among Japanese), justifying enormous budgets and infrastructure to subdue their international guests if necessary? (It wasn’t.)

Years later, Toyako slingshot off that precedent, with “foreigners” equated with “terrorists,” further normalizing the act of subjecting any foreign face to extra scrutiny and racial profiling.

Plus, you might recall, Japan still has no law against racial discrimination, so treating foreigners like crap can happen anytime, anywhere, by any vigilante who can scribble “Japanese Only” on a storefront window.

But wait — there’s something more sinister afoot. In terms of domestic politics, this was in fact the worst possible time to award Japan the Olympics.

Over the past year, this column has charted the re-ascendance of Japan’s right wing into power, and its rout of the more liberal elements who tried to rein in Japan’s endemic corporatism and bigotry.

Now we have government once again run by and for Japan’s ruling class — i.e., the political families, entrenched bureaucrats, corporate conglomerate heads and hereditary elites.

These types can only see the world in terms of power. Their forebears cheered loudest when, for example, Japan triumphed in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. It showed both them and the rest of the world that Japan had become mighty enough to defeat a world power!

This victory transformed Japan into a colonial empire, cocksure that it was on the right track because it could beat white people. This hubris led to enormous suffering worldwide, as the elites led Japanese society to a destiny of total war and utter defeat.

Three generations later, these elites still have not learned their lesson. The biggest reason why Japan’s ruling class respected and once emulated America is because they lost a war to them. Now that postwar Japan has rebuilt and re-enriched itself, they believe it’s nigh time to re-militarize, restore Japan to its rightful place in the geopolitical hierarchy and rally Japanese society behind repeating a glorious (yet ultimately tragic) history.

If you read the subtext of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposals for constitutional reform closely, you’ll realize that this is precisely what Japan’s ruling politicians are calling for. From that will flow the restored trappings of a prewar-ordered Japanese society.

And now, these jingoists have had their mind-sets rewarded with an Olympics. What a windfall! Even if Abe were to step down tomorrow (he won’t — he’s got a good three years left to machinate if his health holds up), he will be remembered positively for bagging the 2020 Games. But now he and his ilk can leverage this victory into convincing the general public that Japan is still somehow on the right track.

Even when it’s not. For the fallout still remains: Abe lied about how “safe” and “under control” Japan’s nuclear industry is. And Japan’s already massive public debt will balloon further out of control. And once again, the invisible slush monies available to fund elite projects will remain unaccountable.

After all, Japan won its last Olympics, according to Time magazine (“Japan’s sullied bid,” Feb. 1, 1999), through blatant corruption and bribery of IOC officials. How much corruption? We don’t know, because Japan burned all of the Nagano Olympics financial records!

Slush clearly didn’t bother the IOC this time either, as they seated themselves at the trough. I guess we can’t expect corrupt bedfellows to police each other. So anyone who outspends, outbids and outdoes their rivals, even to the detriment of their respective societies, gets rewarded for it — precisely the wrong geopolitical incentives for societies in flux.

In Japan’s case, the damage will be political as well as economic: Everyone must get behind the Olympic effort or else. Then, when the party’s over, remember those who got steamrollered: The people living outside of greedy Tokyo; our non-Japanese residents, who will once again be targeted as a destabilizing force; and the rest of Japanese society, who will have to live under illiberal regimes where individual rights will be further subordinated to the maintenance of social order.

In sum, international events undermine Japan’s democracy. Shame on you, IOC, for being a party to it.


Arudou Debito’s updated “Guidebook for Relocation and Assimilation into Japan” is now available as a downloadable e-book on Amazon. See www.debito.org/handbook.html. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community pages of the month. Send your comments on these issues and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

18 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 68 Oct 1 2013: “Triumph of Tokyo Olympic bid sends wrong signal to Japan’s resurgent right”

  • ‘Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.’ Coined by the Roman poet Juvenal in the first Century in his Satires lamenting the continuing slide of his former Roman Republic into dictatorship.

    The term refers to entertainment or offerings intended to foil discontent or distract attention from a situation. In ancient Rome, bread and circuses were used to keep the underprivileged poor people quiet. (From wikianswers)

    and (could be applied to modern Japan)…

    “The America of my time line is a laboratory example of what can happen to democracies, what has eventually happened to all perfect democracies throughout all histories. A perfect democracy, a ‘warm body’ democracy in which every adult may vote and all votes count equally, has no internal feedback for self-correction. It depends solely on the wisdom and self-restraint of citizens… which is opposed by the folly and lack of self-restraint of other citizens. What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it… which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses.’

    ‘Bread and Circuses’ is the cancer of democracy, the fatal disease for which there is no cure. Democracy often works beautifully at first. But once a state extends the franchise to every warm body, be he producer or parasite, that day marks the beginning of the end of the state. For when the plebs discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.”

    ― Robert A. Heinlein (From goodreads.com)

    “This is neither the time nor place for bread and circuses.” Truer words, Debito, were never spoken.

  • Peter McArthur says:

    Heinlein is not the best guy to quote if you want to be taken seriously. An interesting writer, but politically jejune.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Heinlein may not be politically adept but I could help thinking that “in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader—the barbarians enter Rome.” predicts a Chinese(?) takeover of a self destructing or enfeebled, de populated Japan in lets say, 100 years time.

    Remilitarization of Japan is not the answer. Revitalization might be, but this means meaningful immigration.
    Oh, and clean up Fukushima.

  • “Triumph of Tokyo Olympic bid sends wrong signal to Japan’s resurgent right”

    what signal, though ? If you mean with “resurgent right” the party bigwigs and business complex that facilitated getting the Olympics, I think they have no illusion as to how they got it – as you mentioned, probably the most corruption money. It’s not really any approval by the world that your country is an oh so great and awesome place that they just want to reward you for it with that event – of course however japanese officials may want to spin it that way to the people (in fact, they have to, to justify the costs by reaping PR effects).

    If you want to short-circuit and deflate any illusions that getting an Olympics has anything to do with international acclaim or positive recognition, just remind any japanese where the games were held in 2008 (or 1936, or 1980, etc.. but Beijing works best, for obvious reasons). You know, unless party-pooping is a made a criminal offense under the new constitution by then?

  • In the meantime in Tokyo…

    “Elevated radiation claimed at Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues”
    South China Morning Post
    Saturday, 12 October, 2013, 12:00am
    Julian Ryall in Tokyo

    Citizens’ group carries out tests at sites for key Tokyo Games facilities, but expert cautious about findings and organisers see no problem

    A citizens’ group in Tokyo has found elevated levels of radioactivity at sporting facilities that will be used in the 2020 Olympic Games and is warning that competitors and the hundreds of thousands of people expected to flock to the city for the event will be putting themselves in danger.

    The Citizens’ Group for Measuring Radioactive Environment at Facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics claims wind-borne radiation from the four crippled reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant has contaminated a number of future venues.

    We found caesium-137 at almost every place we carried out tests, and there was no caesium here before the accident at Fukushima Activist Mitsuo Tanaka
    Measurements were taken at 39 sporting venues that have been earmarked to stage events in seven years’ time, including the Kasumigaseki Country Club, which will host the golf tournament, the Asaka shooting range and the site of the planned National Stadium, which will stage the opening and closing ceremonies and a number of other events.

    The tests were also carried out at the planned site of the Olympic Village and the media centre, with the highest radiation reading – 0.484 microsieverts per hour – detected in undergrowth close to Yumenoshima Stadium, where the equestrian events will be held.

    Soil samples collected at the site had 3,040 becquerels of caesium per kilogram.

    Some experts point out that the context in which the tests were carried out is crucial.

    “It is difficult to have this debate unless we know for sure whether this radiation is from Fukushima or whether it is naturally occurring background radiation,” said Pieter Franken, founder of the Japan office of the environmental monitoring organisation Safecast.

    While the readings do not pose an immediate threat to human health, members of the group say they are still significantly higher than the level of 0.23 microsieverts per hour set by the government as the standard for decontamination work going on in the exclusion zone around the nuclear plant.

    “We found caesium-137 at almost every place we carried out tests, and there was no caesium here before the accident at Fukushima,” Mitsuo Tanaka, a member of the group, told the South China Morning Post.

    In July, the group wrote to Jacques Rogge, the then president of the International Olympic Committee, and members of its evaluation committee and urged them not to select Tokyo as the host of the 2020 Games.

    Tanaka’s group received a brief e-mail message to confirm that their letter had been received by the IOC – but it clearly had limited impact, as Rogge announced on September 7 that Tokyo had beaten off competition from Madrid and Istanbul for the right to host the Games.

    A similar message was sent to the committee behind Tokyo’s bid to host the Games, but Tanaka’s group received no reply.

    In response to a request from the Post, a spokesman for Toyko 2020 insisted: “Radiation levels in the air and water of Tokyo are safe.

    “Measures have been taken even before the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, and they show that radiation levels in Tokyo are absolutely safe and normal – comparable with levels in other major cities, like London, New York and Paris,” the spokesman said.

    “The Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health is constantly measuring radiation levels and will continue to do so,” he added.

    However, the organisers’ confidence has done little to reassure Tanaka.

    “We believe the money spent on having the Games in Tokyo should have been spent on helping the 80,000 people who have had to leave their homes close to the Fukushima plant,” he said.

  • Yep, as I commented on a different thread a moment ago, Abe is thus encouraged to conduct further white-washing of Japanese war-crimes;

    AND while I’m at it, ‘It’s all under control!’ update: Now we know why radiation levels in the water continue to leap up years after the meltdowns- breached containment of the reactors!

  • BTW, all that PM 2.5 from China’s dirty factories that Japan keeps complaining about?
    …..it’s ‘made in Japan’!


    Does anyone think that given the J-Gov has made this a diplomatic issue, the Chinese will get an apology?

    — Just a completely unrelated aside: Congratulations on being the person who made this, the 25,000th comment approved on Debito.org.

  • @DK (#6) Thanks for quoting it here. It is very interesting to see that the official line of defence against critics is only talking about “radiation levels”. Like the Japanese always say about the bad stuff happening in their country “it’s just like elsewhere”. While it may be true that background radiation in Tokyo is currently not abnormal and there are places in the world with the same level (or less, or more) of background radiation, I personally think this is a clumsy attempt of misdirection (which may work despite of its clumsiness when your audience is too scared to ask questions).

    The actual danger is the food chain, i.e. ingested radioactive particles that accumulate in certain organs. As this is the country of obfuscation, I wouldn’t simply assume that all foodstuff produced in contaminated areas is tested or thrown away. The government is awfully silent on that front.

    Like I said in another comment, the real shocker is that a country exists where the government can get away with saying, “the radiation is the same as in Paris or London”, instead of addressing the actual question of food safety. Is the level of knowledge about the actual dangers of nuclear contamination among the populace really that low as to make that a satisfactory statement?

  • Debito! That sure has put a smile on my face!
    Awesome achievement for Debito.org to have attracted so many comments!
    Thank you for your hard work.

  • @ Markus #9

    ‘Is the level of knowledge about the actual dangers of nuclear contamination among the populace really that low as to make that a satisfactory statement?’

    Yes, which surprises me given all the victim complex about Hiroshima. You’d have thought they’d know better.

  • Awesome achievement Debito!!! Congrats from Canada and hope you can keep up the good fight. You have improved hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s lives in Japan. Most importantly, you have improved Japan, which is pretty darned good place to begin with.

  • For the sake of nationalism alone, Japanese airlines will now be putting hundreds of passengers at risk so that Abe and his ilk can feel all puffed up about themselves.


    Does the phrase ‘Asking for trouble’ ring any bells?
    It’s too late to get all self-righteous about Chinese unilateral actions when you’re falling from 30,000 ft in a ball of flame.
    My advice, fly KLM, Emirates, Asiana, or something.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    While ANA seemed desperate to ‘change the image of Jspanese’, it seems that the President of the Tokyo Olympic Committee is determined to go in the opposite direction! Another home goal from an Oyaji who hasn’t got a clue who he is talking to.

    ‘One reporter wanted to know why the 76-year-old Mori spoke in Japanese instead of English while addressing an audience including reporters from foreign countries.

    “You know, in my generation very few people understood foreign languages,” Mori said. “I was in the second grade when the war (World War II) ended and English was considered the enemy’s language. And if I should make a huge mistake (by speaking English incorrectly) it could lead to problems.

    Added Mori, ” And when you come to Japan, can you speak Japanese?”


  • @ Jim.Ugh! its THAT divine Prime Minister Mori who has now cronyized his way to being president of the olympic committee.Surprised there has been not more attention to this.

    I loved this bit: “Another journalist asked about the seemingly advanced age of the Tokyo 2020 organizing team and the lack of females on the committee.”

    Because its misogynist and ageist?

    Why oh why do the Japanese keep electing the damn LDP? (pointless hypothetical question). They make the “old guard” seem quite young!

  • @ Baudrillard #17

    ‘Why oh why do the Japanese keep electing the damn LDP? (pointless hypothetical question). They make the “old guard” seem quite young!’

    I’ll tell you why.
    It’s for the same reason the Japanese won’t stop whaling, and the same reason they like people like Ishihara:
    The Japanese have all sorts of tatemae excuses (tradition, culture, ‘he’s just a strong leader’) but ultimately they just love to feel like they’re sticking it to the world, because that’ll show those pesky gaijin!
    And they don’t realize or care if they are cutting off thier noses to spite thier faces.


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