“Always laughing” – japan’s questionable new start to olympics

Foreign fans locked out, the athletes in the olympic village as if locked up, and a population that has no desire at all for sundries expensive games in corona times – japan’s lofty dream of the olympics as a national new beginning threatens to become a nightmare.

Actually, japan wanted to present itself as a country that has overcome the decades-long economic consequences of social obsolescence and has made it back to the top of the world.

But the extremely late and slow start of the vaccination process, the constant demand for a corona emergency, which at the same time has revealed the astonishing delay in digitalization – all this does not fit in at all with the cool image that japan actually wants to convey to the world.

Doubts and worries

While japan’s olympic organizers and the international olympic committee will not hesitate to assure that the games, scheduled in less than two months, will be "safe" and "secure". But despite all the assurances, doubts and worries persist. Even among the tens of thousands of volunteers who make up the largest group of participants. They don’t even know less than two months before the start if they will be tested for corona, let alone vaccinated. "There is zero information about this," laments barbara holthus.

The deputy director of the german institute for japanese studies in tokyo has signed up as a volunteer for the games. "We were given two masks, told to stay two meters away from the athletes and one meter away from everyone else, disinfect our hands and keep a diary of our health 14 days before we started work. That’s all," holthus tells the german press agency in tokyo. And if you can’t wear a mask during the games because of the gay summer heat, a plastic visor in front of your face will be sufficient.

The german, who has been living and researching in japan for years, can only shake her head at such "protective measures. While the 15.While the tens of thousands of athletes undergo corona testing every day, testing for the tens of thousands of volunteers is "not on the agenda" so far. Just as there is no vaccination outside the official age-graded sequence. In any case, the majority of the japanese population will not have been vaccinated by the time of the games.

Although there are strict rules of conduct for the athletes, so strict that the olympic village already seems like a prison to some people. The army of volunteers, meanwhile, is dependent on the public railroads. And they are hopelessly overcrowded in tokyo even during the corona emergency. In recent days, doctors have repeatedly warned of the risks, including the possibility that a new "super mutant" could emerge during the games from a combination of the existing virus variants. Holthus also fears that the virus could spread rapidly.

In spite of everything: "always already laugh"

Nevertheless, for them and all the other volunteers, the first maxim is: "always smile". And this despite the fact that everyone has to wear masks. "That’s really insensitive," criticizes holthus. "You kind of feel taken for a ride"."According to media reports, about 1,000 volunteers have already withdrawn in protest over misogynistic riots by the olympic organization chief who has resigned. If the situation doesn’t improve, more people could drop out, says holthus. She herself does not yet know whether she will take part in the end. "It depends on the infection".

Japan’s government had hoped the olympics would create a new culture of volunteerism to address many of the country’s social problems after the huge spectacle. For a long time, volunteering in japan was seen as a duty to society or the state. Now, on the other hand, the spab factor is to move to the foreground. The olympics are a cool experience where you meet new people you wouldn’t otherwise meet in japan’s entrenched structures.

Such a positive olympic experience, the government had hoped, would encourage more citizens to volunteer for other, less cool tasks in the future. And in this way, lead to greater cohesion in japan’s rapidly aging society, where more and more people live alone. Whether this wish of the state will be fulfilled is more than questionable. Instead of being cool, japan is currently showing its old, highly bureaucratic side to observers. "I was afraid that the whole thing could still lead to image damage," holthus also says.

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