Lloyd Parry in Times London: “Cancel Tokyo 2020 Olympics”. Yet even this respected reporter sloppily implies Japan’s Covid numbers are contingent on foreigners

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Hi Blog.  Richard Lloyd Parry, a very respected journalist and author, has come out with a sensibly-argued Op-Ed in The Times London in favor of cancelling the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (which, for the record, Debito.org was never in favor of Japan getting in the first place).  Full text below.

But even then he words things carelessly when he writes:

“[…] Japan […] compared to the pandemic mess in the rest of the rich world [has] been doing well. With twice the population of Britain, Japan has registered about a tenth the number of coronavirus cases and one twentieth the deaths. This has nothing to do with vaccination, which has hardly begun in Japan — only a few tens of thousands of health workers have been jabbed — but rather good hygiene and an almost complete ban on foreign visitors. Now the government threatens to sacrifice these gains for the sake of money and prestige.”

COMMENT:  Portraying Japan’s apparent success at lower case numbers as due to an almost complete ban on “foreign visitors” is neither helpful nor accurate.

As Mr. Lloyd Parry surely must have known (since the ban affected him too as a Japan resident), this ban included foreign residents, not just visitors.  Not to mention that the British Covid variant was verifiably brought into Japan by Japanese.

Implicitly framing Covid as a “foreign virus” brought in by “foreign visitors” makes Japan seem to be a hermetically-sealed environment until the foreigners came in; and now “the government threatens to sacrifice these gains” from its apparent isolationism.  This rhetoric isn’t that far removed from calling Covid the “Chinese Virus” or the “Kung Flu“.  And we’ve seen the dreadful results of that kind of carelessness. (Including Japan.)

A moment’s reflection (which probably would have happened if Lloyd Parry were talking about minorities in Britain, especially at the editorial stage) would have brought about the realization that these are people we’re talking about, and how issues are couched in the media affects them, particularly if they’re Japan’s disenfranchised minorities.

If it were my article, I would have said “Japan strongly limited international travel“, which doesn’t zero in on foreigners in specific.

I’ll let others comment on the possible comparative issues of “good hygiene” (implying the rest of the rich world has bad hygiene?), and other factors that might lead to Japan undercounting actual virus cases (such as a lack of reliable contact tracing, and not testing the asymptomatic for Covid).

But in my view, keeping the Covid case numbers low was a matter of politics, not science:  to keep the Olympics on track.  Now even despite all that, Lloyd Parry makes a convincing argument for canceling the Games.  Fine.  But let’s be more careful how we point fingers, shall we?  We’ve seen enough of how foreign correspondents succumb to Japan-style racialized narratives just as soon as they talk about “foreigners” and Japan.  (Japan Times column on this implicit racism also here and here.)  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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It’s time to cancel this year’s Olympic Games
The risk to the world, not just Japan, of a super-spreading event in Tokyo this summer is too great
Richard Lloyd Parry
Wednesday March 03 2021, 12.01am GMT, The Times London, courtesy of RW
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/its-time-to-cancel-the-2021-olympic-games-3pb6sq9w9

All but the most fanatical music lovers would accept that, this summer at least, Glastonbury had to go. For the second year in a row the 50-year-old festival has been cancelled because of the pandemic. The disappointment is hard to overestimate: for plenty of people, Glastonbury should have been a moment of release after months of demoralising lockdown. But, as Sir Paul McCartney observed, “a hundred thousand people closely packed together with flags and no masks. Talk about super-spreader.”

Similar feelings of frustration, sadness and resignation are being experienced over cultural and sporting experiences around the world, from closed theatres and cinemas to empty football stadiums to the Chelsea Flower Show. It’s not that anyone personally objects to gardening enthusiasts but as a matter of common sense, and for the good of all of us, this is not the time for 157,000 of them to converge.

Consider then another international event, the grandaddy of them all. It will bring together more than 15,000 young participants from more than 200 countries plus several times that number of judges, sponsors, journalists and hangers-on. More than 11 million tickets are to be sold; tourists are supposed to pour in from across the globe.

If far smaller and shorter festivals are to be sacrificed in the interests of global public health, it seems obvious that such a massive event, spread over four weeks in the biggest city in the world, should also be cancelled. And yet officially, at least, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, postponed since last summer, are going ahead.

As Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, said the other week, “I am determined to achieve the games as a proof of human victory against the pandemic, a symbol of global solidarity and to give hope and courage around the world.”

The Olympic custodians like to talk about courage, humanity and other abstract virtues; in reality, they have more hard-headed reasons for pressing ahead regardless. The vast sums of money already spent on the games are only the most obvious, inextricably tangled up with other investments of prestige and power that make the prospect of cancelling them heart-sickening to a lot of very powerful and determined people.

Tokyo’s will be the most expensive Olympic Games ever mounted — even Japan’s government auditors put the cost at £18 billion or more, and the cost of postponement from last year has added £2 billion to that. No one seems to know, or is willing to say, how much has already been spent. But to call it off now would directly hurt some of the world’s biggest companies, including Coca-Cola, Visa and General Electric, and lead to years of legal arguments about who owes what to whom.

It would represent a withering humiliation for the Japanese government. It would be crushing to the young athletes who have spent years training for the world’s most prestigious sporting event. Money, power and glamour say that the Olympics have to go ahead whatever happens; they are the runaway train that cannot be stopped. The question of public health has been officially ruled out as a consideration. As Yoshiro Mori, the former Tokyo Olympic boss, said, “no matter what situation with the coronavirus, we will hold the games.”

This matters to people in Japan because, compared to the pandemic mess in the rest of the rich world, they have been doing well. With twice the population of Britain, Japan has registered about a tenth the number of coronavirus cases and one twentieth the deaths. This has nothing to do with vaccination, which has hardly begun in Japan — only a few tens of thousands of health workers have been jabbed — but rather good hygiene and an almost complete ban on foreign visitors. Now the government threatens to sacrifice these gains for the sake of money and prestige.

The Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee insist that they will do everything possible to Covid-proof the games. Details are far from clear. (More may emerge from a high-level meeting this week, but they are likely to include repeated testing of athletes who will essentially be locked down in their Olympic “village”.) Spectators, it seems, will be allowed, although it is not clear whether these will include foreign visitors.

The effect of all this will be to take the fun out of the Olympics without eliminating the risk that they will serve as a super-spreader event. It might work out, and if any country can pull off such a feat of regulation and enforcement it is Japan. But nobody can be sure. Pandemic trends may improve dramatically between now and July or there may be new surges in emerging variants of the virus that will make the Olympics a crucible of infection that will set the world back weeks or months.

There is one factor that should be decisive in all this: the views of ordinary Japanese people. About this there is no room for argument. Poll after poll has consistently shown that a majority of not only individual Japanese but even businesses oppose the holding of the games this summer.

This is not an expression of sour anti-Olympic sentiment but the reluctant acknowledgment of a grim truth. Whatever precautions the authorities take, people will sicken if the Tokyo Olympics go ahead. Some of them will die. That is not a price that anyone should be asked to pay.
ENDS

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9 comments on “Lloyd Parry in Times London: “Cancel Tokyo 2020 Olympics”. Yet even this respected reporter sloppily implies Japan’s Covid numbers are contingent on foreigners

  • He argues the obvious points that the Olympics are a money grab and that they shouldn’t be held against the will of the people of Japan.
    Unfortunately, he also reinforces the baseless stereotype that Japan is doing well by protecting itself from NJ. Looking at neighbouring Taiwan, which has less strict travel restrictions and is doing much better, shows that closing the borders isn’t the reason there are fewer cases.
    Neither is ‘better hygiene’. I can’t be the only one who’s sick and tired of this argument. Apart from it being vague and, as anyone who’s been to a male public toilet, not true, it also strikes me how many journalists and people in general think this kind of generalisation is ok when it comes to the Japanese. Saying, ‘My ethnicity has better hygiene than yours’ would be, justly, considered a racist statement anywhere else in the world. Yet, here it seems to be repeated by the local people as well as foreign journalists. That and the ‘nihonjin wa majime’ nonsense.
    What he fails to mention is the ridiculous conditions for getting tested in Japan. In my European home country, many people I know have had the virus. Most of them with symptoms with which they wouldn’t even get seen by a doctor here.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    I think there’s more to this than meets the eye.
    First, he’s absolutely correct to maintain that holding the Olympics during a global pandemic is unwise.
    Secondly, he’s writing for the UK audience, so it’s natural to compare the situation in the two countries.
    However, this comment is ‘a word to the wise’ that he knows the reality of diversity abhorrent Japan;
    ‘ if any country can pull off such a feat of regulation and enforcement it is Japan.’
    But I sense that repeating the J-gov narrative (which he must know is misleading) is purposely done to make a contrast with the UK Gov’s poor handling of Covid, during which borders remained open throughout last year.
    I suspect that he is having a dig at UK policy and throwing xenophobic Brexiteers some red meat.
    Debito.org had a column (JBC) about how the MAGA movement was inspired by Americans who imported ‘Japanese style xenophobia’ and I would suggest this is a Brexit version of the same.
    It’s irresponsible journalism.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    >>With twice the population of Britain, Japan has registered about a tenth the number of coronavirus cases and one twentieth the deaths. This has nothing to do with vaccination, which has hardly begun in Japan — only a few tens of thousands of health workers have been jabbed — but rather good hygiene and an almost complete ban on foreign visitors.

    It’s so easy for anyone to make a serious issue look like less serious through statistical manipulation. (Note: Japan has 436,728 COVID cases, with 8,119 deaths as of March 05, 2021, https://ncov2019.live/data). Attributing foreigner-ban policy to moderate control of infection is simply misleading. It’s just amazing how many foreign correspondents overlook the existence of NJ residents( 2,866,715 out of 127,138,033 as of Jan. 2020, https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00791/) from the entire population of Japan, yet be misled by the fallacy that they are super-spreaders, which came out from the mouth of Yasunori Nishimura.

  • Ah yes Japan and its superior hygiene meme. Meanwhile Japan is the only developed country that doesn‘t offer soap and paper towels at public restrooms. And when I used to live in Japan I saw a large number of people use the toilet and not wash their hands after that. This is just anecdotal evidence of course, but I lived in 3 different European countries and I never saw that many people skip handwashing after going to a public restroom. Everybody who claims that Japan has superior hygiene over Europe, has never opened his or her eyes in Japan while using a public restroom. Not to mention the hygiene standards in some local izakayas, those places would‘ve been long closed in any European country.

    Why don‘t journalists just stop reporting Japan myths and memes, and start to report facts? Everybody with half a brain knows that the real reason Japan‘s numbers are that low is low testing. In Japan you can‘t even get tested without having severe symptoms. In most other countries you can get a free test at your local test center. The reason for this is that the LDP has to keep up the „Japan is a safe country and superior to others“ mantra. And they have to prioritize the economy and Olympics of course.

    I‘m not even going to talk about the „ban on foreign visitors“ sentence, because we all already know that Japan didn‘t just ban visitors, but also all foreign residents with a valid visa.

    Very poor article by a journalist who should know better.

    • Baudrillard says:

      This is playing to audience expectations, IMHO. Western audiences expect certain content about Japan and the stereotypical narrative they hold of that Exotic Other.

      If you start to say things like “its just like everywhere else” or “Things are as they seem. There is no deep meaning. Only Westerners wish there was for their mysterious inscrutable Orient long established narrative” it does not translate and their eyes glaze over.

      And for a journalist in Japan, that could mean a lost paycheck. A case of Give them what they want to hear rather than the truth. Print the Legend.

      “The whole of Japan is a pure invention.” Oscar Wilde once wrote, “There is no such country, there are no such people… If you desire to see a Japanese effect, you will not behave like a tourist and go to Tokio. On the contrary, you will stay at home and steep yourself in the works of certain Japanese artists.” (He predicted the whole fanboy phenomenon too, then).

      — Fair enough. But he should portray the facts correctly. Implying that foreigners are the carriers is artless. And heartless.

  • Let’s forget about nationality or residence and only allow vaccinated people to participate. All the athletes, staff, volunteers, judges, employees, 100% vaccination requirement. That would exclude most local residents, but else what can you do when they’re high risk?

  • The low numbers of covid infections are misleading.
    Japan doesn’t test asymptomatic people.
    When I had reasons to believe I was exposed to people infected with covid, I called my local hospital to make an appointment for a test, I thought it was a good practice to give them a heads up so they can be ready when I arrive.
    The lady at the reception told me instead to call the national hotline, which I did and there they told me in no uncertain terms that if I have no symptoms I simply cannot get tested.
    I told the operator I was also worried about infecting my coworkers but it didn’t matter, they told me that if I was worried I could get a private test, immediately followed by the price, 30,000 yen.

    Luckily I am OK but that makes you wonder, do they record the results of private tests in the national database?
    If not, how do they know how many asymptomatic people are out there that may be unknowingly infecting other people?

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