An anti-Olympic activist holds a protest sign outside the metropolitan government building, 30 days before the Olympic Games opening ceremonies, in Tokyo on June 23, 2021. Photo: AFP / Philip Fong

TOKYO – Thousands of years ago, the Chinese philosopher and mystic Lao Tzu wrote: “Conduct your victory like a funeral.” Perhaps, he was offering sage advice for behavior during warfare, as to avoid provoking enmity, or perhaps he had a premonition of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said again and again: “Holding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will show the world that we have been victorious over Covid-19.” In reality, Japan is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in holding an Olympics roughly only one in three Japanese supports. 

Tokyo is knee-deep in its fourth state of emergency and fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, averaging 1,180 new cases a day for the past week. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are thus turning out to be a somber affair. Where’s the party? We went looking for it, but mostly all we found were miserable people. 

Contrary to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach’s earlier promise that there was “zero” risk of athletes in the Olympic Village passing on the virus to fellow residents or Japanese citizens, on July 19 two athletes in the complex tested positive for Covid-19.

The village houses 11,000 Olympic athletes and thousands of support staff. As of July 21, more than 79 Olympic participants had been infected. Meanwhile, NBC News is now posting lists of infected athletes by country – some, of course, who tested positive before leaving for Japan.

How does the average Tanaka Taro feel? 

The Asahi Shimbun conducted a poll this week on public sentiment towards the Olympics and the Suga administration. 

The data, collected from July 17 to July 18, found 55% of poll respondents opposed the Games, while 33% supported it. A total of 68% of respondents said the Olympics cannot be a “safe and sound event” as Prime Minister Suga has repeatedly stated.

Of the respondents who supported the current administration, 46% said the Games could be conducted safely, while 41% said it could not.

The public’s disdain for the Olympics is reflected in the Suga administration’s plummeting approval ratings. The line graph chronicling the cabinet’s rate of support versus opposition since it replaced former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has inverted.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga isn’t as popular as he used to be. Photo: AFP/Mitsuru Tamura/The Yomiuri Shimbun

The administration’s approval rating is at an all-time low of 31%, 34 percentage points lower than its highest approval rating of 65% in September 2020. 

No one has done a public opinion poll to gauge the popularity of IOC head Bach, but he is constantly referred to as “Baron Von Rip-off” on social media. 

The area around the Tokyo Olympics Headquarters and hotel where Bach is staying has been the focal point of protest after protest, with police turning out in overwhelming numbers to quell those who oppose the Games. 

The mood, needless to say, is dark. Everybody loves a winner, but when you lose, you lose alone. Corporate sponsors of the Games are not happy. Some of them are hiding. 

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper was ahead of the curve when its editorial team published an op-ed on May 26, 2021, titled, “Prime Minister Suga, please call off the Olympics this summer.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic has yet to be brought under control, rendering it inevitable that the government will have to declare another extension of the state of emergency currently covering Tokyo and other prefectures.

“It is simply beyond reason to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer,” the opening paragraphs read. 

The editorial was brave in a media industry hesitant to criticize the ruling Liberal Democratic Party – and the Games the media are sponsoring. Japan’s press was sitting in 67th place out of 180 nations in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

People stage a demonstration against the Tokyo Olympics in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in Tokyo, Japan on June 6, 2021. Photo: David Mareuil / Anadolu Agency via AFP

The Asahi emphasized that “people’s lives and health must come first” as it warned the Olympics may threaten the stability of medical and societal structures, endangering civilian wellbeing. 

Automaker Toyota has not been as bold as the Asahi in expressing disdain, but this week the company announced it would not air TV commercials related to the Games in Japan. The catch-phrase for their original ad campaign, “Start Your Impossible,” now rings eerily prescient.

Many corporate sponsors urged both the IOC and Tokyo Olympic Committee to postpone this year’s Olympics to October, when most of Japan would be vaccinated and the deadly heat waves of July and August could be avoided.

The 1964 Games were held in October to avoid the oppressive Japanese summer. But, it turns out that once you “Start Your Impossible,” apparently it’s impossible to “Stop The Possible,” much like a nuclear meltdown – like the one in Fukushima.

Originally, these Olympics Games were supposed to be a celebration of the rebirth and reconstruction of the region. But that myth is long buried.

Most of the other signs of “indignation” expressed by Olympic sponsors end with their representatives not attending the opening ceremonies.

Kyodo News reports that the heads of Panasonic, The Japanese Business Federation, known as Keidanren, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, NEC Corp, a domestic IT and electronics corporation, Fujitsu Ltd and Nippon Telegraph have excused themselves from Friday’s opening ceremonies.

Whether this show of solidarity with the public will extend to the companies taking financial risks, like Toyota, or the Asahi Shimbun, is unknown. 

Toyota has pulled its advertising from the Olympics. Photo: Twitter

Some sponsors are not letting public opposition to the Games dissuade them, but are still suffering blowback.

The Mainichi newspaper reported that a municipal school in Kashima City, Ibaraki, which will hold the Olympic soccer games, distributed pamphlets asking the guardians of children be allowed to attend matches: “Please ensure any plastic-bottled drinks brought are Coca-Cola products.” 

The Coca-Cola Company is a “WorldWide Partner” sponsor in the Olympic Partnership Program, the highest level sponsorship granted. According to the Tokyo 2020 website, in 2019, the soft-drink giant extended its partnership agreement with the IOC until 2032, becoming the longest continuous partner of the Olympic Games. 

The Mainichi further reported the decision to allow local schoolchildren and escorting staff to watch the matches at Kashima Stadium was reached between the prefectural government and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games on July 8.

The July 15 notice to students came reportedly after a representative of the Organizing Committee visiting the stadium the day after the student attendance exception was announced, told school employees: “Bringing plastic bottles other than Coca-Cola is banned. Remove the labels if they are from other companies.” 

Bad for business, bad for tourism 

Billions of dollars were spent on improving facilities at hotels and building new ones for the Olympics and the burst of tourism they were supposed to bring afterward. 

The Games will have no spectators due to the Covid-19 surge in Tokyo and more than one million hotel room bookings were canceled. Hoteliers are not enjoying these Games. 

Japan is in its fourth state of emergency due to the pandemic. Restaurants are required to close early, alcohol is not served, hotel staff – if they haven’t been laid off – have nothing. If by magic Joseph and Mary came to Japan to give birth to Jesus – no worries, there is room at the inn now, most definitely. Well, they are foreigners, but probably they could still stay. 

During this pandemic, even five-star hotels have been offering week-long stays – in an effort to bring in some revenue. But no one is going to rent a luxurious hotel room to watch the Olympics on television.

But at least the bell-boys, the concierge and the hotel staff will be watching the Games. That should make NBC happy. 

Sparse crowd at a 1st League Group F between China and Brazil at Miyagi Stadium in Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture on July 21, 2021. Photo: Daisuek Urakami / Yomiuri / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP

There was a hope that the opening of the Olympics would spur growth in the home electronics arena, and that people would buy new fancy televisions to watch the Games, but that hasn’t materialized.

According to the Asahi Shimbun, large electronics goods stores had a mere 10% growth in sales for the period of July 1 to 18, compared with the previous year. 

There is some growth in cooking goods and beverage makers for the home. People are opting to make their own soda pop while watching the Games. Or, if they’re international, they dine on cheese fondue, prepared with the latest electronic cheese fondue maker bought at the Bic Camera store.

It is impossible to know yet if this has resulted in a boom in French cheese imports, but that’s at least one hope at these hopeless Olympics.  

There are some stores selling Japanese flags, headbands and fans to encourage people to cheer at home – but with no public viewing venues and no spectators, for many people in Tokyo, the Games might as well be in Greece. 

Maybe once the Games start people will be swept up in the drama, as Japan’s leaders and the IOC are surely hoping. But resentment towards the organizers and the leaders of Japan is rising as high as the daily temperatures. 

Hokkaido, where the Tokyo marathon will be run, has been recording temperatures of 35 celsius. It turns out the Olympics are not only going to fail to be “safe and secure” from the novel coronavirus, they are probably not safely secured against heat-stroke either. 

Japan was hoping the Olympics would serve as a colossal “Come To Japan” tourism commercial, but instead they seem to have highlighted everything wrong with the country: outdated technology, corruption, sexism, discrimination against the handicapped, xenophobia and … magical thinking.