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Which aspects of Japanese culture will 2020 Olympics showcase?


The Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020 might still be a while off, but discussions have already started on what aspects of Japanese culture will be featured when the country showcases itself to the world at large.

The 2008 Games saw China stage a huge state-sponsored extravaganza, designed to impress with spectacle and create an image of China for the world, while 2012 London featured a heart-warming love letter to all that is brilliant about Britain. So, what about Japan?

Japan Today previously covered an early effort by the Japan Olympic Committee to find out which music act Japanese people would most like to see included in the opening ceremony. The comments after the story by Japan-based foreign residents reflected horror at the high placement of Arashi and AKB48.

This is, of course, something only folks who are intimate with Japan can grasp. The appeal of Arashi and AKB lies in a dominant Japanese urban culture that, although it has audiences around the world, is often something that has to be understood in context. Plenty of people around the world simply do not get it.

So what part of its rich culture will Japan choose to showcase at the Olympics?

Well, one obvious candidate would be “Cool Japan.” The campaign to promote Japanese pop culture around the world receives significant backing from the government and various campaigns have already taken place, all designed to bring to the fore the wealth of work by Japan’s anime, manga, fashion and pop makers.

The trouble here, though, is that it represents only one part of Japan and again, for foreign audiences, it can be an acquired taste. The domestic market for anime is very different from the international one and while there are plenty of big international hits such as “Akira” or “Ghost in the Shell,” which government official is going to choose to feature those works over something like, say, “Sailor Moon.”

There is traditional Japanese culture, which offers an incredible wealth of art, beauty and humanity to discover. However, I would say that here, too, are problems. Japanese people are justifiably proud and often eager to introduce aspects of Japanese tradition to people around the world, but again, unless you understand certain contexts, this can be baffling or exclusionary to the outsider coming to Japan for the first time.

So what does that leave? There is a real gap in modern Japanese culture that communicates easily with people around the globe. The cultural Olympiad of London saw events such as Artists Taking the Lead, Discovering Places, Film Nation Stories of the World and the World Shakespeare Festival. But what does Japan have to offer the world that can communicate its own values and its own unique take on the human condition? Usually when the wider world is interested in taking anything from modern Japanese culture, it is usually limited to something urban and pop … not the sort of thing that reflects well on Japan as a whole.

I would say that one asset Japan does have in its favor is its hidden art scene. It doesn’t get a lot of coverage outside of certain niches but once you make your way in, you can find an incredibly rich and rewarding scene. I am referring to the hundreds of Japanese artists and craftsmen who are at work around the country creating some incredible thought-provoking and beautiful works but who do not usually warrant a mention in the mainstream of Japanese media. My own site looks at art and culture in Okinawa, just one of the hidden gems that lie within Japan and can resonate with folk of any background.

What would you like to see showcased in the 2020 Cultural Olympiad?

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I think Japan will represent itself with quiet dignity, respect for all, humility, and the promise to never quit, no matter how hard things may seem. No one represents this more than Maestro Ozawa, and I'd like to see him open the games by leading the national orchestra to a stirring rendition of the Japanese national anthem.

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

The national anthem is many things, but stirring ain't one of them...

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Wasteful government spending and largesse? lol!

9 ( +12 / -4 )

Two thirds of the artistic programme must be based on the traditional cultural insights. The last one with the modern pop culture from the Cool Japan campaign. BUT PLEASE NOT AKB48! (That'll be the worst eyesore for both Mr. Bach and Dr. Rogge!)

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Enough with "Cool Japan" already please. Why not showcase their culture and leave it up to others to decide whether or not it is "cool" or not, instead of shoving how "cool" it is down other people's throats.

While I don't think that a Noh performance would be a big hit, I'm sure they could find a way to adapt/modernize Kabuki or Bunraku to appeal to foreigners.

3 ( +5 / -2 )


Ozawa is great, but he's in poor health now, in 7 years time, he'll be in even worse shape.

No rubbish like Exile, Southern, B'z, Yuzu, please.

You don't need a popular music act for something like the Olympics!

Have Ryuichi Sakamoto or someone else respected to write a few pieces of music and use those.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Something from traditional Japan would be best. How about the KODO drum group? As for modern Japan what is there? A manga character eating a conbini-bento while looking down at a smart phone? If they go with AKB or one of those awful, monotone boy bands that attempt to use English, all is lost.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

The KODO drum group is a great suggestion. Similarly, the Yoshida Brothers have done an excellent job updating a very old and traditional music form, and making it relevant on the world stage. A brief performance by them is a no-brainer, I think.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Agatsuma - the young shamisen player would be a good choice. He combines the traditional instrument with modern arrangements, even bluesy themes, has performed with Taiko drummers too, and importantly, he looks good, and has a good stage presence.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Who will agree with me on an awesome Japanese drum perfomance played by the Kodo Group along side with Sanshin (Okinawan instrument) performed by the Yoshida Brothers. And as a background grand stage, the Japanse national orchestra with violinist Taro Hakase. I'm just trying to combine tradition with modern Japanese cullture.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Kimonos, I expect lots of chicks in kimonos

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Unfortunately probably the biggest Japanese cultural export, by a wide margin is porn but I don't think they would allow that for the Olympics. However, AKB48 comes close to porn if not kiddy porn. Is that really the image Japan wants to share?

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I'd like a mix of traditional and modern culture, both tasteful. There's nothing wrong with old culture, but Japan doesn't have to pretend its modern entertainment industry doesn't exist as well.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I say Yoshida brothers mixed with some intense japanese drumming... and maybe some bros wailing on guitars.... dressed as ninjas? Ok, that got carried away. How about just the first bit, that is, unless the other stuff could happen, too? It think it would be, in the words of Robert Hamburger, "Totally sweet."

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Samurai, Ninja, Geisha, Kabuki, Tea Ceremony and related, Hanami, etc, etc, plenty nice customs too choose from. No need for pervert girl bands or Hentai, or some other garbage westerners "like"

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Wow, what do you say? ANOTHER POST HERE HATING ON AKB! Give it up already! I think the idol culture of Japan is interesting and wouldn't be anymore out of place at an Olympics opening ceremony than, oh I dunno, JAMES BOND! I mean, come on! There is an easy way to go about this with Japan and what they decide to do for their opening ceremonies...blend it all..the old, the new, the modern, the popular...do what England did. I mean, come on..some of the stuff England did like James Bond was just silly but it worked. It made people all over the world happy because people all over the world KNEW James Bond. People all over the world know AKB. It seems only hipsters and people who claim to love the "REAL JAPAN" are the ones who hate AKB. I get not liking their music or whatever, but as a Japanese cultural phenomenon, they represent idol culture in a big way, and if done tastefully (if that's possible. I'll admit it will take some really smart thinking to figure out how to do that with AKB lol) can be just as fun and impacting as James Bond was in England's Olympics. Fun Fact: AKB grossed over 200 million dollars in record sales ALONE last year..which is almost as much as what Skyfall made WORLDWIDE in its entirety!! Not counting all the wotas who buy tons of cds, I would say there are people in JAPAN and the rest of the world who actually DO want to see AKB in some kind of international role. Count me as one of them.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

So many ideas out there. Something welcoming is nice, just like the "Yokoso!!, Japan" tourism promo video.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The Blue Hearts!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

They need to showcase Hatsune Miku (and other Vocaloids).

I'm also interested to see how far projection technology will have advanced by 2020.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

How about something following the route of the shinkansen, all the way from Aomori to Fukuoka? Make stops along the way, exhibiting culture, history and the current things going on in each location. This leaves room for tragedy (Fukushima, Kobe, Hiroshima), triumph (Tokyo, Kobe, Hiroshima) and all the tradition and beauty of the different places in turn. Everyone around the world knows about the Japanese "bullet train," so it would be a great device for organization of at least part of the opening ceremonies.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Begin from Okinawa.

And the food. Old food, news food. Its all world-class.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I find it a bit confusing that everyone's suggestion is about what the young of Japanese consider "old" traditions. There's nothing wrong with having a mixture of both, old and new. Show the world that Japan respects it's traditions but clearly has room for new young "cool" things.

When Australia and England showcased their countries they used both old and new, they actually showcased them by using a variations of timelines for their countries. Both countries used very well known "popular" singers in their shows. As a foreigner I don't think I would be confused by Exile, or Perfume or even Arashi performing.

Why not a mixture of both for Japan too?


1 ( +1 / -0 )

The theme is "Discover Tomorrow" but then who remember the London Olympic theme of "inspire a generation", I think. The theme of the opening ceremony was "Isles of Wonder" which is what is remembered. So I guess it can be anything. Japan may used a lot of kids in its shows because of the theme as did Britain. It is still more than 6 years away. I would think if they wanted to link the past with the future, they would have to do something with the "Tale of Genji" since it's considered the "first novel" on a couple of levels. Maybe they would include the Vocaloids as Hatsune Miku which is futuristic. They may want to show case, robots. Japan just loves robots, especially big ones. Who will create the opening ceremony? Britain has a theatrical foundation. Japan has traditional ones but that doesn't really translate into "discover tomorrow". Well, they have 6 years to figure out who and what is Japan and how to translate that into theater. Also wonder what would be a demonstration sport? Somehow I feel that there will be a haunting closing ceremony song more and a magical opening ceremony song.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Anything but the dreadful Johnny's Jimusho bunch. ANYTHING.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Perhaps the fascists can drive around the Olympic stadium in their black vans telling the spectators to go home and the police can check the IDs of any foreign-looking visitors. Then some company executives can come on and apologise for lying about a corporate scandal whilst investigators fill a van with numerous cardboard boxes. Finally, there can be a traditional "bribing the politician" ceremony in which envelopes of cash are passed under a table.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In my opinion a Japanese avant~art~performance Jazz-ish big band called Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra (渋さ知らず) Orchestra would be perfect to represent a cultural~creative musical~art~Budoh dance venue hang from ropes~to showcase the traditional as well as modern aspects of Japan. Although they've played in many European countries (not sure about America)...made up of over 25 musicians from various Jazz, avant, rock, poetry, bands. The leader looks like a hippy of yesteryear (perhaps in his 60's) an izakaya てんちょ manager looking guy runs the stage back and forth, two hot chicks in mini-skirts...three guitarists (jazz, reggae, alternative noize)...two drummers...a few horns... percussionists, the show goes on...every time I see them they bring tears to my eyes as I'm thinking..."This is Japan in a nutshell"! Forgot any Pop! This is Japanese cultural essence...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hatsune Miku would be a good choice.

There was a huge amount of talk about her when London was setting up for their olympics, despite that making no sense. And yet, here we are waiting for Tokyo's and there hasn't been any mention of her yet. How did she not appear in the poll at all?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I would like to see more classic singers from the 80-90s period, ie : Hideaki Tokunaga, Takako Okamura, Miwa Yosida just to name a few... i hate all this new j pop trend music of today

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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