My SNA VM column 20: “The World’s First ‘Japanese Only’ Olympics?”, on how Japan’s new ban on “overseas spectators” may lead to banning all foreigners (out of linguistics and force of habit) (UPDATED)


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Hi Blog.  Here’s an excerpt of my latest Shingetsu News Agency Visible Minorities column 20. Have a read before it goes behind paywall, and please subscribe if you want to see the rest of their articles — it’s but a dollar a week, and it supports progressive journalism. Enjoy.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.


Visible Minorities: The World’s First “Japanese Only” Olympics?
Shingetsu News Agency, March 15, 2021, By Debito Arudou

SNA (Tokyo) — Reuters and Kyodo recently reported that Japan is banning “foreign spectators” (or “overseas spectators”) from the Tokyo Olympics: “The government has concluded that welcoming fans from abroad is not possible given concerns among the Japanese public over the coronavirus and the fact that more contagious variants have been detected in many countries.”

Blogging about this at, I worried aloud that excluding all “foreign spectators” would be interpreted to mean all foreigners, including Non-Japanese living in Japan. But commenters (some of whom already have tickets or will be volunteering to help) were quick to stress that the “overseas” wording meant only foreign tourists, not them.

But I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

Granted, the original wording in Japanese is kaigai kara no ippan kankyaku (regular spectators from overseas), not “foreigners” (gaikokujin). But words matter, especially when you’re categorizing people, and doing it wrong will lead to discrimination.

I think Japan will do it wrong, due to linguistics and force of habit…

Rest at

(Read a rough draft of the contents of this article before it became my SNA column at


UPDATE MARCH 20, 2021: The NYT reports that it’s a done deal now. The IOC has approved the exclusion of all “spectators from overseas”. And it’s just being passed off as a “concession to the realities of the pandemic”. Its possibly problematic enforcement in terms of NJ Residents is not touched upon — more focus is on the plight of overseas ticket holders. — Debito


Spectators From Overseas Are Barred From Tokyo Olympics
The move, announced Saturday, is a significant concession to the realities of the pandemic, even as organizers remain determined to hold the Games this summer.

By Motoko Rich and Ben Dooley
New York Times, March 20, 2021


JOC’s official statement on this:

Statement on Overseas Spectators for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020
Japan Olympic Committee 20 MAR 2021, courtesy of BM

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19 comments on “My SNA VM column 20: “The World’s First ‘Japanese Only’ Olympics?”, on how Japan’s new ban on “overseas spectators” may lead to banning all foreigners (out of linguistics and force of habit) (UPDATED)

  • A questionnaire attached to a Note Verbale sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by your embassy in Tokyo should be able to clarify matters.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    ID cards and neighborhood anonymous reporting all failed, now Japan has finally worked out how to put a bell around the cat’s (gaijin’s) neck;
    NJ entering Japan will be forced to download an app onto their smartphones that will allow the J-gov to track them 24/7. If the delete the app, their visas will be revoked and they will be deported;

    And since NJ spectators will not be allowed to come for the Olympics, it means returning NJ residents.

    Meanwhile, Japanese who refuse to use the app or delete it will be ‘named and shamed’ only.

    It’s the 21st century version of forcing ‘others’ to sew the Star of David on their clothes.

    All these years the Japanese have been the mice terrified of the cat, but not having the balls to tie a bell round it’s neck, and now one year of BS fear mongering about ‘dangerous foreigners’ being the case of ALL Japan’s Covid cases despite evidence to the contrary and an inept government response has given them a dream ticket to clamp down on ordinary NJ residents just trying to live their lives.

    Police state.

  • The NYT reports that it’s a done deal now. The IOC has approved the exclusion of all “spectators from overseas”. And it’s just being passed off as a “concession to the realities of the pandemic”. Its enforcement is not touched upon. — Debito


    Spectators From Overseas Are Barred From Tokyo Olympics
    The move, announced Saturday, is a significant concession to the realities of the pandemic, even as organizers remain determined to hold the Games this summer.

    By Motoko Rich and Ben Dooley
    New York Times, March 20, 2021

    TOKYO — Spectators from overseas will not be allowed to attend the Summer Olympics in Japan, organizers said on Saturday, making a major concession to the realities of Covid-19 even as they forged ahead with plans to hold the world’s largest sporting event.

    The Tokyo Games, which begin in July, were originally scheduled for 2020 but were delayed by a year because of the pandemic. The Tokyo organizing committee has been scrambling to develop safety protocols to protect both participants and local residents from the virus. Concern has been running high in Japan, with big majorities saying in polls that the Games should not be held this summer.

    Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo committee, promised at a news conference on Saturday that the lack of international spectators would not spoil the Games.

    “The Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different from the past, but the essence remains the same,” Ms. Hashimoto said. “Athletes will put everything on the line and inspire people with their outstanding performances.”

    The decision to bar spectators from abroad, which the Tokyo organizers made jointly with the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee and the national and local governments in Japan, had been foreshadowed in the Japanese media for weeks.

    Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., has encouraged national organizing committees to secure vaccines for athletes, and he announced this month that China had offered to provide vaccinations for participants who required one ahead of the Games.

    But not all local spectators will have the chance to be inoculated before the Olympics open on July 23. In Japan, where the vaccine rollout has been relatively slow, the population will not be close to fully vaccinated by the time the Games start.

    Officials said on Saturday that they would meet again in April to discuss how many spectators would be allowed into Olympic venues.

    The organizing committees will now have the enormous headache of arranging refunds for ticket buyers. Overseas buyers purchased 600,000 tickets to Olympic events, as well as 30,000 tickets to the Paralympic Games starting in August, organizers said. The Paralympics will also bar spectators from abroad.

    In bidding for the Games, the Tokyo organizers said that 7.8 million tickets would be made available. Typically, about 10 to 20 percent of Olympic tickets go to international spectators.

    Japanese fans could take up some of the slack. Local demand for tickets far outstripped the supply, at least before the pandemic.

    The coronavirus has had a comparatively muted effect on Japan, which has had far fewer cases and deaths than the United States and Western Europe. The country has reported just over 8,700 Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began.

    Japan declared a widespread state of emergency in early January after a rise in infections. Since then, most areas have lifted the declaration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced this week that it would be ended in Tokyo.

    As part of its efforts to stop the spread of new, more infectious variants of Covid-19, Japan has also barred all new entries into the country from abroad since late December.

    Those measures, however, have been lifted for Olympic athletes and some of their entourages. That decision has been contentious: Foreign students and workers are still unable to enter the country, and the foreign ministry has not given any clear indications as to when that might change.

    Barring foreign spectators is unlikely to allay the public’s concerns about the Games, given that thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and journalists will still come for the event. Nearly 80 percent of the public wants the Olympics postponed or canceled altogether, according to some polls.

    Regardless of the opposition, officials plan to officially kick off the countdown to the Games on Thursday with the torch relay, starting in Fukushima. As with the events this summer, the number of spectators will be limited.

    International ticket holders will now have to go through the process of seeking refunds. Everen Brown, 60, a photographer in Salt Lake City and a superfan who has attended 15 Olympics, bought about $8,600 in tickets for the Tokyo Games for himself and his nephew.

    They were looking forward to seeing beach volleyball, archery, fencing, diving and a men’s basketball game and had tickets for the closing ceremony. According to terms from CoSport, the broker that handled ticket sales for U.S.-based fans, customers will not be repaid for some fees — which Mr. Brown said could cost him about $1,200 — and refunds could take time.

    “Since we are being barred, it is only right for them to make everyone whole and refund all of the money paid,” Mr. Brown said before the announcement was made. What’s more, he said, after waiting a whole year, he wanted his refund quickly. “It would be real painful watching this at home on TV and knowing they have the money, and not knowing when you’re going to get it back.”

    Motoko Rich is the Tokyo bureau chief, where she covers Japanese politics, society, gender and the arts, as well as news and features on the Korean peninsula. She has covered a broad range of beats at The Times, including real estate, the economy, books and education. @motokorich • Facebook

    Ben Dooley reports on Japan’s business and economy, with a special interest in social issues and the intersections between business and politics. @benjamindooley

    • Interesting. “concession to the realities of the pandemic”. Also a “concession to the xenophobic fantasies of Nihonjinron/Abe etc” but of course thats just a coincidence.

      Of course.

      They got what they wanted. (except for foreign tourist money, but that is the price this demographic is willing to pay).

      • Jim Di Griz says:

        Yeay! Japan’s hosting a global event and the world’s not invited!
        Unless you’re a Japanese citizen living abroad;

        It’ll be interesting to see how many Japanese who escaped from Japan’s oppressive social rules and hierarchies can’t resist the pull of national pride…

        Excerpt: “According to the Japanese organizing committee, foreign nationals made up roughly 10% of a total of 80,000 volunteers before the pandemic forced the one-year postponement of the games.

        Japanese citizens living abroad are expected to be allowed to volunteer, according to the officials.”

        — Thanks JDG. I’ve made this my blog post for this week.

  • JOC’s official statement on this:

    Statement on Overseas Spectators for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020
    Japan Olympic Committee 20 MAR 2021, courtesy of BM

    Today, the Five Parties (the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG), the Organising Committee Tokyo 2020 and the Government of Japan) met virtually. During the meeting, the IOC and IPC were informed, as outlined below, about the conclusion of the Japanese parties not to allow entry into Japan for overseas spectators for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 due to the prevailing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Olympic and Paralympic tickets purchased by overseas residents from the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee will be refunded.

    Ever since the 2013 election of Tokyo as the host of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, all five parties have been preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Games with the goal of welcoming domestic and overseas spectators, celebrating the athletes, and embodying the values of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    However, following the postponement of the Games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Japanese Coordination Meeting for COVID-19 Countermeasures at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 issued an interim summary in December 2020 that included the following statement on overseas spectators: “The decision whether to accept overseas spectators will be made by the spring of 2021 taking into consideration the COVID-19 situation in Japan and overseas, immigration regulations in force at the time, and any prevailing restrictions on the attendance of sporting events.” The five parties agreed on 3 March 2021 that a final decision would be announced by the end of March.

    Currently, the COVID-19 situation in Japan and many other countries around the world is still very challenging and a number of variant strains have emerged, whilst international travel remains severely restricted globally. Based on the present situation of the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that entry into Japan will be guaranteed this summer for people from overseas. In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This conclusion will further contribute to ensure safe and secure Games for all participants and the Japanese public.

    In line with their principle of safety first for all participants and out of respect for all the parties on the Japanese side, the IOC and IPC announced in today’s Five Parties meeting that they fully respect and accept this conclusion.
    Under these circumstances, ticketholders from overseas will soon be informed of the refund mechanism.

    Accredited Games participants coming to Japan this summer will continue to be required to follow the Tokyo 2020 Playbooks for their stakeholder group. A second version will be released by the end of April.

    We will continue to do our utmost to deliver a safe and secure Games in the hopes that the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be a light of hope for people all over the world.

    Comment from Tokyo 2020 President HASHIMOTO Seiko

    In many ways the Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different to any previous Games. However, the essential of the Games will remain unchanged, as athletes give their utmost and inspire the world with transcendent performances. We are currently working on specific plans to share support remotely from around the world and help bring people together in ways suited to our current times. Even if you are no longer able to come to Japan this summer, we hope very much that you will continue to support the Tokyo 2020 Games.

    • Jaocnanoni says:

      I’m curious if they thought about Japanese citizens living overseas when they composed the phrase “…ticket holders living overseas…”, but probably not. Those will surely be let in without questions asked.

      • David Markle says:

        They never ask a Japanese (looking) passport holder: “What is your purpose for coming (back) to Japan”? And who would say: “I am coming back because I have these Olympic tickets I bought overseas that I want to use” unless they are imbeciles.

        Naturalized Japanese who don’t look Asian though will get the third degree no doubt, have to wear tracking apps, etc., and this is demoralizing to see Japan get such a pass on account of the C.

  • So this means the international volunteers from abroad will be banned. They were waiting for the Olympics to start. I remember in 2019 students wanted to volunteer. Especially one from Malaysia who spoke four languages and was accepted as a volunteer. She studied in Chiba. She graduated in March 2020 and left Japan but wanted to return to be a volunteer. So now I guess any interpreters or people translating will be limited as spectators will mostly be Japanese.

    • David Markle says:

      Japan loves its case by case judgment on whether the volunteer is “beneficial.” In other words. if they speak sixteen different exotic dialects and there are no Japanese who can fill in for the needs for these languages they MIGHT be allowed to be a volunteer. But heaven forbid if they broke any of the rules and actually wanted to spectate an event. That is a big no, no. Japanese volunteers can come and go as they please of course.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    And now the J-govt wants to use your tax money to pay dead-beats who couldn’t pass the police entrance exam to stand outside your house and ‘police’ your obedience to quarantine rules;

    What could possibly go wrong with sub-standard wannabe-cops being given the chance vaunt their sense of entitlement and express their resentments and insecurities to get NJ resident’s visas cancelled?

    Japan considers testing all inbound travelers for coronavirus variants
    PHOTO: An official checks the smartphone of a passenger who arrived at Narita Airport from abroad on Thursday to see that a location tracking app is installed.
    Kyodo News, Mar 21, 2021

    Japan is considering requiring all inbound travelers to undergo a test for new variants of the coronavirus, health minister Norihisa Tamura said Sunday.

    Under the current system, all people arriving from 24 designated countries where coronavirus variants are known to exist are required to take additional testing three days after entering Japan. Authorities also carefully monitor whether they are strictly observing a 14-day self-quarantine period.

    While speaking of the need to tighten border controls on an NHK TV program, Tamura also said the government is considering contracting private security companies to monitor those who are self-quarantining to make sure they adhere to the rules.

    On Saturday, Japan tightened border controls on travelers from seven additional countries, mainly from Europe.

    Japanese and foreign residents of Japan — the only people allowed into the country, in principle — who have recently traveled through Estonia, the Czech Republic, Pakistan, Hungary, Poland, Luxembourg and Lebanon fall under the scope of the expanded controls… Rest at link above.

    • Sounds like North Korea to me. All foreigners will be tracked and followed 24/7. If you decline, you get deported. Really nice democracy Japan has going on.

  • — Friend BM writes (reposting with permission):

    Yesterday, the Japanese government banned foreigner visitors from attending this summer’s Tokyo Olympics. The avowed reason is government concern over the domestic spread of COVID-19…but Japanese nationals living overseas will still be allowed in (and because they are Japanese) quarantine after their arrival will still be voluntary. Also unlike Japan, most citizens in the other advanced countries will have been vaccinated by June 1—why can’t vaccinated foreigners attend? To give you an idea, I am vaccinated and have permanent residency status in Japan…but I will not be allowed in. Frankly, given this, I plan to boycott watching the Olympics and hope all non-Japanese do likewise.

    • Wait, BM is not allowed in Japan despite having permanent residency?!! I thought this Discrimination (with a capital D) ended on September 2020.

      How can they exclude them upon landing at the airport? Forgive me if I get lost with all the changes, I though “NJ resident” meant somebody with a valid visa residence visa. So a PR holder that has registered as an overseas resident is barred too? I don’t even know how they can check that at the immigration counter.


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