Tokyo Olympics

21 July, 2021

The Japanese army exercises today on the Olympic stadium in Tokyo in preparation for the inauguration on Friday.
The Japanese army exercises today on the Olympic stadium in Tokyo in preparation for the inauguration on Friday.

83% of Japanese people reject holding the Tokyo Olympics. And yet the Suga government and the IOC are determined to stick with an event that is dangerous for public health and most likely financially ruinous.

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Why does the Japanese population reject the Tokyo Olympics?

Demonstration against the celebration of the Tokyo Olympics
Demonstration against the celebration of the Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics will begin the day after tomorrow. The Japanese government and the IOC have maintained the bid despite rejection by 83% of the Japanese population.

But the pandemic situation is not substantially different from a year ago when the original date was pushed back. Health officials concede that with the current vaccination rate (below 3%) it is impossible to prevent contagions. It is a fact that the “Olympic bubble” does not work. Even the Tokyo doctors’ association – 6,000 primary care physicians – asked Suga to cancel or delay the Tokyo Olympics. And in the midst of a spike in cases, not a day goes by without new covid positives among athletes. Just today, the first athlete to drop out after being infected in the city was reported.

As if that wasn’t enough, yesterday the musician in charge of the opening ceremony, a local star who bragged about bullying disabled people at school in an interview, resigned. One more among the thousand little things that every day concur to increase the gap between the locals and the event.

Not even Tokyo’s petty bourgeoisie supports the games, anymore. After all, the games will take place with empty stadiums, which doesn’t promise a substantial increase in customers. And in case they still had any hope, the government has asked airlines to restrict international arrivals. The state fears that the arrival of tourists and journalists from around the world, however restricted, will trigger contagions. And they are right about that.

Even the expected official delegations to the Tokyo Olympics have scaled back or canceled visits. After the insulting disqualifications of President Moon of Korea by a senior Japanese representative, Suga will now only be able to take advantage of imperialist grandstanding with Macron and the president of Mongolia. His only diplomatic merit will have been further straining relations with both Koreas after shimming the Dokdo islets, in dispute with the mainlanders, onto the map of the Olympic flame’s itinerary.

The Japanese petty bourgeoisie also knows that, as a rule, even if governments systematically conceal or falsify the balance sheets of the Olympics, their outcome is usually ruinous. The example of Greece, whose public accounts were blown out of the water by the 2004 Athens games, is more present than ever.

So the question is: Why so much effort? Why stick no matter what to the schedule of a Tokyo Olympics that can only be ruinous and dangerous to public health?

Imperialist gambling in the Pacific is the backdrop to the Tokyo Olympics

Japan, France and USA joint fleet doing exercises in the China Sea, true explanatory frame of the Tokyo Olympics
Japan, France and USA joint fleet doing exercises in the China Sea, true explanatory frame of the Tokyo Olympics

Japan lies at the center of the imperialist battles in the Indo-Pacific. Member of QUAD -the Washington-driven nucleus of an Asian NATO- its capitals are abandoning China as its diplomats try to displace the Chinese in international bodies and win allies against Beijing’s “assertiveness.”

All against a backdrop of allegations of espionage, exercises and deployments of the wartime navy and armed border friction in different points on its maritime border, spurred by the new Chinese coast guard law and by the Japanese deployment of a fleet of F35 fighters off the disputed waters.

The U.S. pressure is undeniable. The Biden administration has in fact polarized the situation more in a few months than the Trump administration has in four years. Secretary of State Blinken’s efforts openly sought to drag Japan into a military commitment to the defense of Taiwan, something Tokyo resisted in the first instance but… not for long. The Chinese response was to give a free hand to militaristic groups threatening in the official press a nuclear strike against Japan.

Far from helping to reduce tension, the U.S. finally succeeded in forcing Japan to change its laws so it could impose sanctions on China for human rights violations.

The internal Japanese resistance must be understood in terms of struggles between factions of the local bourgeoisie, part of which was reluctant to enter into a militaristic spiral against one of its main clients. Today, however, Japan is already openly spearheading against China and posing its own imperialist strategy as an effort to “redress the balance” between Beijing and Washington in the Pacific.

But this position could not help but deepen the wedge with South Korea, whose economy is closely intertwined with China’s and suffers especially from the technological warfare encouraged from the U.S. and Japan. Moreover, the new Japanese position leads Korea to compete with Tokyo for European capital and markets. The tensions between the two countries were clearly displayed during the G7.

But as we have now seen with the frustrated attempts at reconciliation at the Tokyo Olympics, and was already evident last April with the Fukushima contaminated water discharge, the Suga government aspires to nothing other than to put the Korean bourgeoisie in its wake, without protest or buts. It takes for granted its role as regional flagship of the U.S. and tries to assert it while inviting European powers to increase, hand in hand, their military presence in the region.

It is no coincidence that Macron is the only president of a global power to visit the Tokyo Olympics. France has already sent part of its fleet to the Pacific to pressure China and included Japan in several European councils to “sensitize” EU states to the importance of “freedom of navigation.” Macron, who seems to have Napoleon III as a model, is already promoting one of his new eco-imperialist tools: an environmental protectorate in the waters of the Pacific in the name of fighting against plastic pollution of the oceans.

Japanese imperialism’s game under the Tokyo Olympics

Japan's then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared under a Super Mario costume at the Tokyo Olympics spectacular presentation at the closing of the Rio 2016 Olympics
Japan’s then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared under a Super Mario costume at the Tokyo Olympics spectacular presentation at the closing of the Rio 2016 Olympics

The incredible show at the closing of the Rio Olympics, with then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appearing in a SuperMario costume, uncovered the ambitions under which the Tokyo Olympics were designed.

The architect of the move was Dentsu, the company that inherited the Japanese military’s wartime propaganda system during the World War. Dentsu, the great monopoly of information in the islands and great concessionaire of Japanese state capitalism, also organized the payments to IOC members to obtain the host city, enraging then France which was promoting the Paris venue.

The message even then was explicit: an advanced, disciplined, highly capitalized Japan, imbued with mass culture and the so-called Western ideology, was being proposed as a continental alternative to China. The Tokyo Olympics were being advanced as a display of dynamism and technology. The big keiretsus redesigned their R&D processes to present crucial innovations during the Tokyo Olympics and the Olympic event became a common goal of the Japanese apparatus and capital to herald a new era in Asia.

Crisis and Covid through, the plans were derailed. Not so the ambitions and needs of an increasingly aggressive Japanese imperialism which wants to redeem what it can as soon as possible and move on. The imperialist tensions in Asia are no longer easily sublimable through games.