A Japanese international student’s take on postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Despite the excitement I share with the rest of Japan, there are other issues at-hand

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Jason Ono is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

It’s a leap year. That means that this summer the quadrennial Summer Olympic Games were supposed to be held — this year, it was set to take place in Tokyo. During the event’s roughly two-week period, Japan would have attracted attention from all around the world, becoming a global center of communal exhilaration and cultural exchange. As an international student from Japan, there is nothing more exciting than an event like this. 

When I went home for winter break, everyone — people on TV, my family and friends — could only talk about how excited they were about the Olympic Games. In Japan, it almost felt as though the year 2020 solely equated to hosting the Olympic Games — a sentiment of anticipation that spread far beyond the capital city itself.

So far, however, most people in the world see 2020 as the year of the novel coronavirus outbreak, and this is no exception in Japan. Just like in the U.S., the day-to-day lives of the Japanese people have been negatively affected in nearly every way. The cherry blossoms, which in Japan symbolize the season of farewells and new beginnings, are in full bloom, but the students who would normally graduate under them this March are stuck inside, unable to attend the ceremonies that would normally mark this important rite of passage. 

Due to the proximity to the epicenter of the outbreak, Japan was affected by the epidemic earlier than other parts of the world, leading to the poor handling of the infected passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February. It was at this point that I had a sinking feeling that it may not be safe to hold this summer's Olympic Games as originally scheduled. 

Since then, however, the outbreak hasn’t worsened in Japan as much as it has in other parts of the world. As of Monday, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Japan is about three-hundredths of the U.S., and the state of the epidemic appeared to be sparking optimism among Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s administration and the International Olympic Committee regarding whether or not to hold the Games as scheduled. Most likely due to projected worsening conditions around the world, though, the IOC and Prime Minister Abe announced an agreement Tuesday to delay the Olympics for a date no later than summer of 2021.

As someone who had been thrilled about the Tokyo Olympic Games, I believe that given the ongoing turmoil, it was right to make the decision to postpone the Olympic Games from its current scheduled date. I hold this belief while also fully acknowledging how much the Olympic Games mean to people in Japan, myself included. 

Japanese people of different generations each carry a different sentiment about the upcoming Olympic Games. The most significant divide between these harbored feelings lies between the generations who remember the previous Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 and those who don’t.

At the end of WWII, most of Tokyo had been burned down. With the new constitution drafted by the Allied powers in place, people had lost a sense of national identity and hope for reconstruction. So when the news broke that Tokyo was the host for the 1964 Olympics, it was a ray of hope for the country.

If the 1964 games marked the new beginning of Japan’s contribution to the international community as a sovereign nation once again, I believe that 2020 marks the maturation and further progress as one of the world’s most developed countries — a status that was largely made possible by those who saw the 1964 games as kids or young adults. 

Perhaps the most profound purpose of the Olympic Games for the host country is that, as the host city becomes a center of cultural exchange, citizens of the host country gain the unique opportunity to collectively acknowledge their national identity, as well as show to the world all that has improved in the nation since the last event. Especially for Japanese people, I believe that the Olympic Games will be an important milestone of the nation’s history — a beacon that tells the advent of the new era for more future generations to come. 

Ruthlessly, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is already undermining big parts of the preparations necessary, such as curtailing the handover of the Olympic flame in Athens and canceling numerous Olympic trial events around the world. Current uncertainty regarding when the pandemic will be resolved adds another factor of fear, especially as confirmed cases continue to rise across the world. The presence of the pandemic simply cannot be ignored — it would have put the health of Olympic participants, spectators and the entire Japanese community at risk.

Frustration may be an initial feeling shared by many. The Olympic Games are a centerpiece of international harmony — hundreds of countries coming together and competing alongside each other, making memories and forming friendships to last a lifetime. For now, the Olympic flame will stay in Japan to serve as a symbol of hope as the world endures this trying time of pandemic.

Nevertheless, I also think it’s important to respect how much the 2020 Games means to my elders. They worked hard to rebuild the foundation of my country into the global presence Japan holds today. Therefore, I believe that the IOC and the Japanese government should work in tandem to hold the Tokyo Olympic Games in the most complete form as possible, even if that means delaying the date, month or even the year of the competition.

Jason Ono is a Life Columnist at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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