For a country that once had its borders entirely sealed off from the world, Japan has come quite far in terms of diversifying and globalization. English can be found in all major cities, making it tourist friendly, and it has even become a world power in terms of technology advancement.
This may seem promising at first, but considering how many parts of the society still maintain its group mentality and tradition, it begs the question: is Japan really ready for another sudden influx of foreigners for one of the biggest events in the entire world?
The next Summer Olympics is set to be held in Tokyo in 2020 and will be divided between two main spots, “Heritage Zone” and “Tokyo Bay,” as a new National Olympic Stadium is being built on the site of the original 1964 Olympic Stadium. With the date fast approaching at less than two years away now, emotions are rising of both excitement...and concern.
Who’s In Charge Here?
One of the first concerns that has been on the minds of many is whether or not the person appointed as the minister of the Tokyo Olympics, Sakurada Yoshitaka, is actually fit for the job. Given his recent awkward and confused responses to questions regarding the Olympics during interviews, many have begun to sense a lack of understanding of what his duties entail. He is said to have a history of giving incoherent responses to questions, and sometimes seems not to know what is going on at all.
A recent criticism arose when Sakurada made confusing remarks during an interview, including misstating the initial Olympic budget as “1500 yen” (a mere $13 USD) in an explanation, instead of the real cost of 150 billion yen, flip-flopping from “I don’t know” to “oh yes, I was informed by officials” in response to a specific question, and even mispronouncing the name of an important member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan during a public interview (Renhou; 蓮舫), a name which he should be expected to know.
When asked about his errors and confused demeanor, his reaction was to blame the interviewers for not informing him of their questions ahead of time so he could prepare a proper answer. However, the reporters themselves insisted that they did in fact consult him beforehand, calling his statements an “error in fact,” making Sakurada seem even less competent than he would have been had he just chalked it up to an honest mistake. People are now left wondering, is a man who seems to have difficulty handling simple things like interviews and publicity really capable of managing one of the biggest events in the world?
(JP) Link: Tokyo Olympics Minister Sakurada Retracts Statement, Mispronounces Name "Renhou" as "Renpou," and Other Errors
Spending More Than The Country Has?
Another one of the biggest (and ever-growing) concerns is the budget and expected cost of the Olympics. It has been questioned whether or not the International Olympics Committee has realistically considered Japan’s needs and costs, and whether or not they have established specific criteria for what can be covered by Olympic funding.
Over the past five years, expenses have risen to a total of about 801.1 billion yen ($7.13 billion USD), well exceeding the initial estimated budget of 150 billion yen. About 20 billion of the overage was spent on fixing roads, and about 37 billion was used for new weather satellites to improve weather forecasts. Confusion has arisen as to whether or not these and other costs are really “Olympics related,” and raises concern that some ministries and agencies may just be trying to capitalize on the Olympics to fund their own projects. Another thought is that perhaps the initial budget amount itself was proposed at a lower amount to appear as if the government was spending much less than it actually was in order to boost public support, despite being aware that it would ultimately amount to much more.
In any case, continued efforts are being made to better manage these expenses, as well as a call for more transparency between the government and the people into the management of the budget.
(JP) Link: Anticipating Unseen Expenses Beyond Tokyo Olympics Budget
Heat Concerns and Natural Disasters
Another important factor is the natural condition of Japan during the time of the events - even more so after the strong heat wave this past summer, and the tsunami of 2013.
Based on past predictions and recent geographical analysis, experts predict that Japan stands a 35% chance of being hit by an earthquake during the Olympic Games. While Japanese residents have accustomed themselves to the phenomenon, the possibility of one occurring could come as a shock to foreign visitors, and with the recent increase in higher magnitude quakes, there’s really no telling how big or small it might be if one does hit.
As for the heat, Tokyo is already known for its extreme and humid summer weather, and in response to this year's particularly harsh heat wave, more and more people are becoming concerned with how this may affect the athletes who perform outside, especially the runners, sprinters, and outdoor sports athletes. Because of the dangers of dehydration and heat stroke, some have even tried to push for moving the dates of the Olympics from July-August to Sept-October instead, when the weather is more mild. The Japanese government also briefly considered adopting "summertime" hours (i.e., turning the clocks ahead for the summer), but that proposal appears to have stalled out.
While nothing can be done about the weather itself, as mentioned earlier, money has been budgeted towards improved weather forecasting satellites, so that at the very least visitors can be aware and better prepared for any extreme temperature changes.
(JP) Link: Tokyo Olympics: Why During Summer?
The Positive Side of Preparations
This may seem like a lot to worry about, and that’s because it is. However, despite some hiccups in planning, Japan has been very proactive in its preparations and is continuing to make improvements to the Olympic experience for both citizens and visitors alike. Here are some of the positive changes we can look forward to.
A Rush to Polish English
According to an online survey by Education First (EF), while 85% of people responded affirmatively when asked if they would like to be able to participate actively during the Olympic games, 79% responded “No” to the follow up question that asked if they felt confident in their English or other foreign language abilities. Many of those surveyed confessed that while they would love to be able to volunteer and speak with the foreign guests, they felt they had neither the confidence nor skill to do so.
Looking back at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, there was no system in place to prepare citizens for communicating with foreigners by equipping them with foreign language skills. So in order to improve on that this time around, many language institutions are sponsoring the Olympic Games and are offering free foreign language education to workers and those who wish to participate, including free English and Portuguese lessons. So foreign visitors can rest assured that even if they don’t know a lick of Japanese, many volunteers will be equipped to speak the world's default lingua franca in time for 2020.
(JP) Link: Japanese English Level and Hospitality at the Tokyo Olympics
東京オリンピック、日本人の英語力で「おもてなし」できるか？ | プレジデントオンライン
Keeping Up With The Times
Additionally, in order to keep up with our ever-evolving international societies, one must also be prepared to match the world’s ever-evolving technologies. In anticipation of the incoming crowd, especially the technologically-spoiled younger generation of the Western world, Japan is doing its part to improve all forms of technology, including internet, entertainment, and customer service.
For starters, Japanese phone companies plan to have all mobile devices upgraded and 5G equipped by 2020, as well as making free Wi-Fi hotspots as readily available as they are in the United States. Also important is the demand to switch from a primarily cash-based society to a more credit card friendly one by installing the proper card-accepting devices in establishments city-wide. With so many people from so many different courtiers using so many different currencies, this is a step that cannot be overlooked in terms or convenience and accessibility. And while Japan still lags behind most of the world in adoption of cashless technologies, there's still well over a year to continue to build out a solid infrastructure.
(JP) Link: ''Making Credit Cards Available for the Tokyo Olympics: How We Can Make the Environment More User Friendly
東京オリンピックまでにクレジットカードをもっと使えるように！カード加盟店の少なさを解消し、更には使いやすい環境作りをしよう。 - クレジットカードの読みもの
Tokyo Olympics: Dawn of a New Era for Japan?
While there is certainly much work remaining to ensure the country runs smoothly during this great international event, the potential long-term benefits that could result definitely make it a worthwhile occasion. By making Japan the spotlight for one of the biggest events of the entire world, many are predicting a huge leap forward for Japan in the realms of technology, economy, employment, and society as a whole.
In his article for the Huffington Post Japan, Natsuno Takeshi, Senior Vice-President of NTT DoCoMo, founder of i-mode mobile Internet service and widely known as the “father of mobile internet,” discusses why he sees this as the opportunity Japan needs to break out of its 20-year period of stagnancy and catapult itself into the future:
Despite technology having developed so much in the past 20 years, Japan is considerably behind in the way it is implemented. A society should be able to change its structure according to the available technology....Then along comes the Olympic-Paralympic Games. With Tokyo hosting the next 2020 Olympic Games, we are at last given the opportunity to reconsider various things. I believe now is the time to consciously take a look around us through the eyes of the overseas world, review what is present, and evolve where possible and necessary.
(JP) Link: Tokyo’s Pride in 2020: Mr. Takeshi Natsuno Discusses the Future of Japan
Krys is a Japanese-fluent, English native currently based in the US. A former Tokyo English teacher and translator for several Japanese companies, Krys now works full time as a freelance artist, writer and translator with a focus on subjects related to Japanese language and culture.