Empty, Resilient Japan

Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

I have watched every single Olympic Opening Ceremony that’s available in YouTube and what I witnessed last Friday was the saddest.

The Opening Ceremony is the kickoff party. After seven years of preparations, the celebration commences and the proclamation says, “Let the games begin!”

The Olympic host nation brags about its history and nation. Movie stars and Hollywood singers emerge to captivate the billions of TV viewers. Remember Mr. Bean in London 2012? Or James Bond and the Queen landing via helicopter?

Not in Tokyo. Not after 194 million people worldwide have succumbed to Covid-19 and 4,159,546 people have died.

The Japanese are a rich people. They are rich in culture and history, in wealth and technology. Originally, I’m sure they wanted an outlandish Opening with robots flying 110 feet above the ground. The robots would be holding samurais and fencing in midair.

Not in 2021. 

Last Friday night, the mood was somber and dim. Aside from the showcase of the 1,800 drones and “Imagine,” and the human pictograms performance — I won’t divulge more so you can watch the show — the Opening was hushed and muted. The beginning (Opening Act) was so unremarkable that Ricky Ballesteros could have scripted just as good a show.

But we understand the situation. The 60,000 spectators inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium were not allowed. They were reduced to a few thousand that included Emperor Naruhito, Jill Biden, the IOC officials and the media. 

Empty. The seats were empty. 

Covid-19 has made everyone suffer and grieve. And this sentiment was woven throughout the Opening. The music was often solemn and sorrowful. The presence of doctors and nurses throughout the show — an appropriate decision but one previously never seen before — showed the world audience that our greatest battle is still against the coronavirus.

The Tokyo Games organizers also had to contend with the public opposition to the Games. In a poll, as much as 59 percent wanted the Olympic Games postponed or canceled.

The 17-day-long Olympics of Japan has also been over budget. The original cost of US$7.3 billion has ballooned fourfold with a final estimate of $30 billion. By contrast, the 2016 Rio Games cost $14B and the London Olympics was $15B. Tokyo is exceed the combined costs of the last two Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 has become Japan’s unwanted Games. 

But, if there’s one trait that’s evident in the Japanese, it’s resilience. 

The Japanese have a proverb “nanakorobi yaoki.” It translates to “seven times down, eight times up.” They also have a term called “ganbaru” which means to “tough it out.”

After wiping away the tears in that cheerless and empty Opening Ceremony, Japan will emerge victorious.

Covid-19 will not win over the Olympics.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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