Anyone who has ever been to or lived in Tokyo knows that it is impossible not to miss such an incredibly vibrant and lively city once you leave. Yet, underneath all the charm, Tokyo — like any other city — has real problems that it must face as the Olympics and global attention arrive in 2020.
Japan faces ghosts of the past and problems of the present. Since reconstruction of the Japanese government after World War II, the history of the war has been heavily distorted to separate the Japanese people from their dark history. Systematic erasure of war crimes and atrocities, such as the Nanjing massacre and the use of Korean ‘comfort women,’ presents a unique friction with the modern image of Japanese people. The controversy surrounding textbook revisions and recurring visits by some Japanese lawmakers to a shrine that commemorates the Japanese war dead, including war criminals who committed some of the aforementioned atrocities — and then some — demonstrates the extent to which Japanese war reparations have never properly been made. The existence of diplomatic strife between Japan and South Korea over war reconciliation proves that Japan still has deep issues from its past to face before the Tokyo Olympics. This is particularly pertinent as North Korean participation in the Summer Games becomes more likely. Tensions between Japan and North Korea have increased following repeated missile tests this past fall.
The northern Tohoku region still faces local calamities and displaced evacuees after the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear meltdowns that forced thousands to leave their homes. Since evacuations in 2011, the Japanese government continues to reconstruct the area, collecting radioactive dirt in bright bags that line the former farmland and piles of trash exposed to radiation bordering the roadside. Buildings are left in disrepair, and most towns nearby the Fukushima power plants remain ghost towns. For many evacuees, temporary housing has become permanent life — children leave their 30-square-metre homes to go to school nearby, yet you will rarely see them playing outside for fear of nuclear exposure or of another nuclear disaster. Criticism has been raised against the government for failing these people, not only in monetary compensation, but in lack of funding for disaster prevention for the earthquake-prone nation. These objections are only stoked by the over-budget spending on Olympic stadiums and infrastructure in Tokyo, a city relatively lightly affected by the earthquake.
There’s some irony in the idea that, in 1964, Japan presented itself as a reformed, peace-loving nation. This is due to the controversy and debate over Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. This small section of the constitution is integral to Japan’s post-war identity — it renounces the nation’s right to war. However, the current Japanese government has set a 2020 deadline to revise the constitution to recognize the Japan Self-Defense Force as a military whose duty is to defend the nation. And while there has been both domestic and international backlash, the Abe government seems resolute in the revision amid growing domestic concern over North Korean missile tests.
Recently, one stadium worker died while working on the construction of the Olympic stadium in Tokyo. The allure of tourism and cultural profits has overtaken the need for basic human rights — overworking deaths and suicide have long been a serious issue in Japan. Accusations of corruption and bribery within the International Olympic Council (IOC) to give the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo have been raised as well. These accusations are not a first for the IOC and Japan; the winning bid for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano were preceeded by IOC members being bought ostentatious hot spring hotel rooms and luxurious flights. These issues, as well as a plagiarism scandal surrounding the logo for the Olympics, brings serious attention to intrinsic issues within Japanese culture. In full force, Tokyo is trying to create an image with these upcoming Summer Games, and the message these scandals send to the world will define both domestic and foreign policy for years to come.
The 2020 Olympics are a platform for Japan to bridge the diplomatic gaps that have resulted from years of denying war atrocities and affronts to foreign relations. With North Korea slowly opening up its communication and efforts toward cooperation, Japan has the opportunity to not only reconcile with nations that it has historically wronged, but to live up to its promise of peace and international cooperation. I hope that when the world comes to Tokyo, they see it as I see it: a home, a place of kindness and diversity, and an example to the world that international cooperation and peace is possible.