Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP via Getty Images
TOKYO – In the year leading up to the postponement of the Summer Olympics, opinion polls in Japan showed that people were overwhelmingly against holding the Games in the country. Some feared it would spread the coronavirus. Others complained about the high costs. There are still a few small occasional demonstrations. But now that the Olympics are underway and Team Japan is doing well, people here seem excited.
You can find people happy about the Olympics on the so called “Shibuya scramble”, billed as the busiest intersection in the world. Outside the Shibuya subway station, hundreds of people are crossing the street from different directions at once. The people watching here are a must see for tourists and locals alike.
Warm temperatures and increasing number of coronaviruses
It’s hot in Tokyo and some people carry umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching sun. Everyone wears a face mask.
“It’s so dangerous because of the crown,” says Reggie Ohashi, a student who is here with friends, hanging out at Shibuya Crossing. There has been a spate of coronavirus cases since the start of the Games. Ohashi says from the security of his apartment, he picked up local broadcasts of baseball games at the Tokyo Olympics.
The student at Wakanda Ito University says she has tune in to watch Olympic volleyball, football and a new sport at these Games, skateboarding.
“I heard he was really famous,” Ito says, referring to 22-year-old Yuto Horigome, who won the first Olympic gold in street skateboarding. “He’s very talented and he’s really handsome.”
Ito says she was also impressed with Origome’s compatriot, a pretty 13-year-old girl named Momiji Nishiya. She also won a gold medal in street skateboarding.
Japan’s gold medal record boosts morale
Many young Japanese people I meet in Shibuya crossing say they are enthusiastic about everything Japanese athletes who win, even though COVID-19 restrictions mean they are not allowed to watch the Games in person.
College student Shuhe Horiyama says he enjoys watching the Games on TV with his family. But he wishes he could be in the stands to watch them in person. “I actually had tickets to the Olympics,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to see in the stadium. You know, it’s not just a normal ticket, it’s the final of football, the sport I love the most. That’s why I’m so sad and frustrated. “
Horiyama accuses the Japanese government of having delayed getting people vaccinated. Currently, only 29% are fully vaccinated. He says a lot of people have changed their minds about the Games because so many Japanese athletes are winning medals. “Yeah, actually, I think that was really big news for us Japanese people,” he says.
So far, Japan has won more Olympic gold medals than ever before: 17 and over. This includes gold medals in judo, for siblings Uta and Hifumi Abe and two-time champion Shohei Ono. Swimmer Yui Ohashi became the first Japanese woman to win two gold medals. Other gold medalists include the Japanese table tennis team and the men’s fencing team.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR
In the streets of Tokyo, however, there are hardly any signs or banners celebrating the Olympics. Highlight clips from the Games on one of the many large screens on the buildings at the intersection of Shibuya. But no one seems to bother to look up to look. It seems they have other things to do … like singing and dancing.
Celebrate the Games wherever you are
At a corner of Shibuya Crossing, I come across members of a JPOP idol group. They laugh, take selfies and get filmed by a foreign television crew. One of them has pink eyeliner and bleached blonde hair, styled like an anime character.
Are they famous?
“So-so”, laughs Runa Kanzaki, the most talkative of the group.
I ask them what they think of the Tokyo Olympics. At first they say something about COVID-19. Then they start listing all the Olympic sports they have watched on TV: volleyball, basketball, swimming … and basically all the events.
So, are the Olympics good for Japan?
“Good, good,” Kanzaki nods. Her friend Nana Sagasake applauds “Yay”.
Then they launch into a very kawaii pop song.
Regardless of the state of emergency in Tokyo, life goes on in the Japanese capital. And the Olympics too.