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The Tokyo Olympics are rigged to fail. Why hasn’t the media noticed?

16 Comments
By Dreux Richard
Tokyo Olympics Fail
Tokyo Olympics Fail Photo: Japan Today/ Image composite-kantei-CC4.0 International

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, not many journalists set out — as I did — to befriend the executives of nuclear utilities while they fought to restart their reactors. The company I kept made me seem trustworthy to bureaucrats at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which had been blamed for regulatory lapses that led to the disaster. I took them to lunch and let them talk.

After Yoshihide Suga became prime minister, I asked one of my lunch companions about the rumored cancellation of the Olympics (METI had assigned him to the area where the torch relay would begin). “There’s no way they’re canceled,” he said. “A bungled Olympics is the best way to get Suga out of office. The worse things go, the better it will be for a lot of important people.”

I was shocked, but only for a moment. Shinzo Abe’s resignation had allowed Suga to skip the line of aspiring prime ministers, and as anyone who has watched a season of "The Wire" can appreciate, causing a problem and offering the solution is an effective way to defeat an incumbent. Japan may be the country where this strategy is least likely to backfire. Its bureaucracy is so complicated — and so trusted by the public — that it’s almost impossible to publish detailed reporting about government affairs without leaving the average voter bewildered and sleepy.

I followed up with other trade ministry contacts and friends in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). The Olympics were Suga’s sword to fall on, they confirmed, describing the arrangement as an open secret. Bureaucrats were frequently being advised (by their politically connected superiors) that Olympic planning — especially virus control measures — should be channeled through a shrinking group of Suga loyalists. No one else could be trusted to move quickly.

I expected that a journalist covering the Tokyo Olympics would hear the same loose talk, investigate it, and I would learn through the resulting stories what kind of dung pile I’d brushed against.

The stories never appeared.

Reporters for global news outlets portrayed the Games as an urgent threat to public health but seemed to be at a loss to explain the government’s decision to go forward. Instead, many resorted to a cartoon version of the country’s politics, depicting Japan’s leaders as a club of socially backward octogenarians who hate women, immigrants and poor people; but who love money — especially money handed to them by the unctuous hypocrites who run the International Olympic Committee.

"Tokyo is the only city I have lived in where veteran journalists read newspapers from the middle pages outward."

All of that is true, but doesn’t explain why Japan’s politicians have rallied around the most unpopular decision of their lifetimes or why precautions surrounding the Olympics have been so poorly managed despite constant scrutiny. As Olympics-related blunders have driven Suga’s approval ratings to historic lows, no global news outlet — not even those predicting the imminent end of Suga’s administration — has assigned reporters to investigate the improving fortunes of several candidates for prime minister in this autumn’s election.

The New York Times published its strongest statement about the Olympics in an opinion piece by political scientist Jules Boykoff, a perennial critic of the Games. Boykoff used several press conference quotations from Japanese politicians (not a famously candid bunch) to argue that the “powerful drug” of “Olympic spectacle” had led organizers to make “wildly irresponsible” decisions. In coverage of the Olympics’ opening week, the Associated Press lamented that “not many visiting journalists will linger in ICUs or chase down interviews with angry residents who feel that these games were hoisted onto the nation so that the IOC could collect its billions in TV money.”

If Japanese lives can be purchased as cheaply as the AP’s comments allege, I don’t want journalists — especially journalists supported by global media outlets — chasing human interest stories. I want them making lists of local politicians and mid-level bureaucrats who might know too much about their bosses’ affairs. I want them documenting the “wildly irresponsible” decisions of Japan’s government in conversations with people who were present when these decisions took shape. Isn’t that the purpose of journalism? To examine injustice forensically, so that its mechanisms are no longer obscure? Most coverage of the Tokyo Olympics is closer to the AP’s version, where the world receives a stern lecture and ground-level reporting contributes a few anecdotes.

Coverage of the Olympics may be remembered as the first comprehensive example of how journalists, faced with the diminishing relevance of their profession, chose to present the news without engaging in journalism. Japan would be a fitting backdrop. It’s a nation where the intricate system of mutual reward that links reporters and politicians is official and explicit. Good journalism doesn’t disappear as a result. It simply receives less attention than propaganda, polemic and infotainment that cover the same events. Tokyo is the only city I have lived in where veteran journalists read newspapers from the middle pages outward.

Prime Minister Suga’s contempt for the press is legendary. Many journalists believe he was the architect of the Abe administration’s successful campaign to undermine the credibility of the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading opposition newspaper. Reporters who cover Japan will celebrate the end of Suga’s administration and will be happy to believe they hastened it. How many will also acknowledge that their coverage of the Olympics has justified a certain amount of his contempt?

It would be an odd thing to celebrate: how a man who believes that truth belongs to the powerful was ultimately proven correct.

Dreux Richard is a writer, journalist and literary translator from Washington, D.C. This piece is adapted from his first book, “Every Human Intention: Japan in the New Century” (Penguin Random House, 2021).

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
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Excellent article. I think this is the key point here:

"If Japanese lives can be purchased as cheaply as the AP’s comments allege, I don’t want journalists — especially those journalists supported by global media outlets — chasing human interest stories. I want them making lists of local politicians and mid-level bureaucrats who might know too much about their bosses’ affairs. I want them documenting the “wildly irresponsible” decisions of Japan’s government in conversations with people who were present when these decisions took shape. Isn’t that the purpose of journalism? To examine injustice forensically, so that its mechanisms are no longer obscure?"

It's been suggested to me by a couple of people this week that the recent outrages over Oyamada and Kobayashi are part of a cunning plan to undermine the Olympics and force out Suga, paving the way for Shinzo Part 3 (or a puppet controlled by him) in the autumn, so this article is timely indeed.

Why weren't the Olympics cancelled until 2022? Who appointed the likes of Kobayashi and Oyamada? Who's making the decisions here? Why have these 25 year old events suddenly surfaced now? Why is Dentsu the invisible company and where is Koike? Where's all the money gone? So many unanswered questions.....

https://twitter.com/JulesBoykoff

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Why weren't the Olympics cancelled until 2022? Who appointed the likes of Kobayashi and Oyamada? Who's making the decisions here? Why have these 25 year old events suddenly surfaced now? Why is Dentsu the invisible company and where is Koike? Where's all the money gone? So many unanswered questions.....

Who cares?

This is Japan. Shoganai as the locals would say....

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Nice article!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Euro 2020 and other sports events took place during lockdowns and virus surges as prolefeed for us proles. And to normalise the lockdown lifestyle for the long term. By offering the public such things, they could quietly obscure all the things they had taken away, and would not be permitting again in the future.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Great piece. The main point about the need for journalists to talk to people close to the centers of power and investigate what is happening is very valid. We do not need countless "man in the street apathetic about Olympics" type impressionistic articles. Even the main sponsors are embarrassed. The important thing is why this is happening.

Nothing about Suga suggests he is anything more than a stooge there to pick up the poisoned chalice. This suspicion should drive those with access to find out what is actually going on.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Agree with GBR48. There are wheels behind wheels at work here creating the new norm ... the results of elite, closed door-meetings, and implemented by the same breed of behaviorist-psychology technocrats that Laura Dodsworth exposes in her book 'State of Fear'. A couple of historically grounded book-end blueprints would be Stephen Vlastos's 'Invented Traditions of Modern Japan' and Chomsky and Herman's 'Manufacturing Consent'.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I don’t want journalists — especially journalists supported by global media outlets — chasing human interest stories. I want them making lists of local politicians and mid-level bureaucrats who might know too much about their bosses’ affairs. I want them documenting the “wildly irresponsible” decisions of Japan’s government in conversations with people who were present when these decisions took shape.

We who live in Japan as foreigners know that how the government works is a microcosm of how the Japanese people are educated into a cultural rule following lemming society.

Even if the mid-level bureaucrat or anyone would say privately they abhor the actions of the Suga administration, they'd turn their backs as soon as asked to go on record. Blind loyalty and lack of courage trumps integrity every time in Nippon.

The excuse will always be...doing for the good of the group over one's own truth, and that makes Japanese people cowards who are incapable of standing up for what is right. It's part of everything Japanese, including the government, as Suga and business and media all become essentially one, when it matters most, for Japan Inc.

Fluff pieces make everyone warm and fuzzy, but anything controversial or actually looking at substance is disdained as too difficult or 'muzukashi hito, ne' or 'nihonjin no kokoro shiranai gaijin da ne' by the Japanese populace. And those in fluff pieces that make people look so human dominate the psyche of Japan and their media. They should grow out of it, but never will as the circle of a senpai society goes on and one without change. How nice everyone is! It's disingenuous without in depth reflection of more important matters.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I've been completely bewildered why so many mistakes have been made.

And very distressed by the careless destruction of so many Japanese people's lives and businesses.

All this pandemic kabuki and intimidation, for such little return for so few people in power.

Thank you, Japan Today, for publishing this, but I think that almost no one will read it.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Interesting article. But this author clearly has no idea how the Japanese media works, especially concerning the Press Clubs. These groups manage most of the news pertaining to the government and rarely allow scoops. That the author doesn't know this is surprising.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The article helps making sense of a few things, but it is depressing to think people could shamelessly play with the public health as a political weapon, then again the same has been said about making Taro Kono the person in charge of vaccines, knowing very well that delivery would not go smoothly in a country so dependent in pointless bureaucracy and would only become a chance to make him fail in something of great importance.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

My biggest worry is that Suga was always the fall guy for .....Abe, who'll miraculously recover from whatever ailment he had this time, and start afresh with his usual smug face when Suga is sent off.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Coverage of the Olympics may be remembered as the first comprehensive example of how journalists, faced with the diminishing relevance of their profession, chose to present the news without engaging in journalism.

The article does stand out for its' incisiveness. However, most of the Japanese press do not engage in journalism. Just watch their press conferences.

And many still remember than lead up to the invasion of Iraq and how many journalists just presented the news and statements of the government about WMD's without questioning the narrative.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I watch athletes selfies. I enjoy competitions. I am really enjoying this simplified Olympics. It should be more like this in the future Olympics - Less circus and More Competitions. I am loving it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Article is really good. I'm actually surprised that JT allowed it on here.

My biggest worry is that Suga was always the fall guy for .....Abe, who'll miraculously recover from whatever ailment he had this time, and start afresh with his usual smug face when Suga is sent off.

That's what most of my friends and I think is going to happen. I'm betting Abe is going to parachute right back in once Suga apologizes and resigns.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well done! Coincidence Japan’s children playing amongst ‘cataclysmic dominoes’ about to befall Suga in the Opening Ceremony and in this accompanying image?

Tokyo Olympics Fail  Photo: Japan Today/ Image composite-kantei-CC4.0 International -
1 ( +1 / -0 )

Suga has shot himself in the foot more than a few times already-he doesn’t need to be set up

Going out for expensive dinners and whining and dining when the average Japanese were being told to stay at home.

Jetting off to the G-7 meeting with his wife and cavorting with othet leaders and hangers on without any mask on-what a conman!

His son doing the same as above,except he was trying to influence people by wining and dining them-in other words bribery.

Broken promises that were never based on any type of reality or science concerning the virus – just a leader with his head in the clouds…

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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