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"Bad for Fukushima, bad for democracy"

One year before the opening of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo there is considerable resistance to the so-called "Reconstruction Games" in Japan

 

 

July 24 - one year to go until the opening of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo - may be a day of joyful anticipation for many who embrace the Olympic Movement: But not all people anticipate this event as cheerfully as the organisers in Japan, a large part of the media and the Government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would appreciate. There was and still is much opposition against the hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2020 in Tokyo. Opponents call it both as “bad for Fukushima” and “bad for democracy”.

 

For those critics, July 24 is a reason to take to the streets against Tokyo 2020. They have announced a rally for this memorable day followed by a demonstration in Shinjuku. A leaflet even suggests that the Olympics could be "given back even a year before”. The protest in Tokyo is part of a so-far unique international gathering of “NOlympic” activists from several countries. For eight days, opponents from Tokyo, Pyeongchang, Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Los Angeles discuss the dark sides of the Olympics with critical scholars and alternative media. A press conference will be hold at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan at Tuesday, July 23 (http://www.fccj.or.jp/13-fb.html). 

 

 The motto of the "Reconstruction Games", that organizers and Government had chosen afterthe 2011 East Japan triple disaster, sounds like sheer mockery, opponents say. Organizers as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), including President Thomas Bach, often talk about reconstruction, but hardly ever mention the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster as one main reason for the need of such rebuilding. "We call them 'reconstruction-obstruction games,'" says Satoshi Ukai, professor of French literature at Hitotsubashi University in Kunitachi, Tokyo. He is the co-founder of the “No, Thank You to Olympic disasters-Association”(Okotowarinku: http://www.2020okotowa.link) that organizes lectures, discussions, and fieldwork on the problematical aspects of big sports events. Together with the "Assembly Against the Five Rings" (Hangorin no Kai https://hangorin.tumblr.com), a small group of park residents and their supporters active since 2013, the circle around Ukai organises the international meeting in Tokyo. The "narration of reconstruction," says Ukai, is pure "camouflage". It prevents necessary changes in society and leads a fatally "back to the starting point" attitude. Mistakes made before, such as the use of high-risk nuclear technology in one of the world's most vulnerable earthquake countries, would simply be repeated.

 

Observed under the light of truth, these Games are about forgetting the nuclear accident itself and with it "the victims of the nuclear accident", the scholar says. Opponents are concerned that the immense amount of money, materials and labor spent on the Olympics would be lost to the disaster-hit regions in north eastern Tohoku, and especially those affected by the nuclear catastrophe. Refugees are currently to be forced by financial pressure to return to areas that have been evacuated after the 2011 triple disaster, despite still significantly increased levels of radiation, as retired nuclear physicist Hiroaki Koide is pointing out. According to him, the fact that even children or pregnant women are considered to live with a twenty-fold increased limit for tolerating the additional annual radiation exposure (from 1 millisievert per year before and up to 20 mSv after the incident), "is something that cannot be accepted at all".

 

Representatives of those people affected in Fukushima wish that at least a small proportion of the twenty billion Euros Tokyo 2020 will cost, according to the Japanese Court of Auditors, would be used to help refugees in a reasonable way. "I'm not against the Olympics in principle, but now is not the time for it," says Sumio Konno, chairman of a plaintiff group that is still arguing for the right of children to flee from regions where radioactive emissions are higher than the former limit of 1 mSv per year (Kodomo datsu hibaku saiban: http://datsuhibaku.blogspot.com).

 

The Olympics are being organized "so that people in Japan forget the responsibility of thestate for the nuclear accident," Takashi Nakajima, from the coastal town of Soma in Fukushima prefecture, believes. He represents a plaintiff group of almost 4,000 people who sued the power plant operator Tokyo Denryoku (TEPCO) and the Japanese state for the restoration of their former living and working conditions (nariwai: http://www.nariwaisoshou.jp). The crisis of the moral legitimacy of Japanese Olympic bidding culminates not only in the corruption allegations, the Tokyo 2020 bid faces by French prosecuters, but even more in the appearance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe six years ago at the IOC session in Buenos Aires.

 

At the time, Abe vouched for the safety of participants in the Games by saying that the situation in Fukushimawas "under control". It should be common sense that no one can guarantee the safety of a nuclear power plant fighting several meltdowns. To marginalize the nuclear accident with the help of Olympics and Paralympics is "unfair" and "unpardonable," Takashi Nakajima says. To him, the true dimensions of the radiation problem are trying to make forgotten by Abe’sperformance. "I have no objection to sport, but I'm against Olympics that take place in such a spirit," Nakajima says. "Absolutely against it!"

 

As a result, the baseball and softball events to held in Fukushima City pose a danger not so much related to radioactivity that Olympic guests might face during their short-term stay inFukushima, a city of 290,000 people living in it permanently. "What's really dangerous," says Naoya Kodama, director of a non-profit organization (NPO) called EarthWalkers (http://earthwalkers.jp) offering education and recovering programs for Fukushima children and adolescents, is that "the athletes will tell the world that Fukushima is safe. They will tell that the situation in Fukushima is under control." Olympic participants need to be aware of the context in which these Games will be taking place, Hiroaki Koide points out. "They take on the role of those involved in a crime of the Japanese Government."

 

That may not be a mass movement, which shows up in Tokyo from time to time in public and is harassed for by security police, as protesters frequently complain. But their arguments are not without persuasive power, and probably represent concerns shared by millions of Japanese. When the opinion and market research institute Cromegane published a survey in early 2017 showing how the nationwide approval rates for Tokyo 2020 had been examined, there was only a slim majority who spoke out for the games fully or partially. This point then disappeared from the questionnaire of that annual survey. And another study on behalf of the public broadcaster NHK in the disaster hit areas of north eastern Japan revealed a shameful rejection of the term "Reconstruction Games" for the Abe Government and the Olympic organisers. Less than three percent of respondents fully agreed that Tokyo 2020 would be helpful to the disaster-hit areas.

 

Not only the Olympics are widely believed to be bad for Fukushima. Allthough the Olympic torch relay will travel through the area hit by the nuclear disaster, starting in March 2020, it cannot disguise the still-barricaded access roads to the "difficult to return areas”, as they are called in Japanese euphemism. Furthermore, the world's biggest sports festival is also not good for democracy, say those critics who deal more closely with Olympic patterns, due to their social and political impact on the society of a host country in the 21st century. "Everything the Olympics bring proves to be a disaster for the Japanese people," the “Okotowarink” activists, many of whom have an academic background, write in a 2017 manifesto.

 

This refers, for instance, to the ongoing eviction of park residents or forced relocation of predominantly elderly and partially ill residents of the now demolished Kasumigaoka housing estate in favour of the new National Stadium building in the Shibuya district. Some of them have already died after moving, according to the Hangorin no Kai. "Quite a number of people had been evicted from their homes and forced to relocate first for the 1964 Olympics," Misako Ichimura and Tetsuo Ogawa are explaining, two of the Hangorin no Kai’s founders and activists who live in a tent village in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park both since 2003. Beginning in 2013, they have held several rallies and demonstrations, each attended by around a hundred people - mostly accompanied by an irrationally large number of policeman and, as protesters claim, illegal arrests of some of them have even been made.

 

In addition to the problem of gentrification, realised, for instance, by joint ventures transforming public property into big companies’ private profit, critics observe direct challenges to the democratic culture in the host countries of the Olympics. Open discourses on the Olympics are no longer possible in an atmosphere of increasing nationalism, many people do criticize. "Opponents to the Olympics will be treated as traitors," writes the physicist Koide. "But in a country that Government abandons innocent people, I am pleased to be such a person," he adds.

 

Japanologist and literary scholar Donald Keene, who passed away earlier this year aged 96 and who did become a Japanese citizen after “3.11” in solidarity with the suffering country, had sharply criticized the media for their Olympic coverage of Rio de Janeiro in his Tokyo Shimbun column. Keene mentioned - "as if living in a totalitarian state" – mass media’s nationalistic approach and lack of journalistic distance. "From the very beginning, I was opposed to Tokyo Olympics," Keene wrote. He was, according to Satoshi Ukai, one of the few public figures in Japan who could still allow such a clear-cut opinion. Keene, by birth a US citizen, was a legend among international Japanologists, so he was an annalist, translator and intimate connoisseur of Japan's golden generation of post-war writers.

 

"The longer one reflects about Olympics, the bigger the problems appear," says Ukai. The fact that big celebrations and major disasters both can fuel nationalism and undermine the democratic culture of a country is one of those issues that US political scientist Jules Boykoff (http://julesboykoff.org) explains in his lecture on "Celebration Capitalism" during a symposium at Waseda Universityin Tokyo these days. His theoretical approach covering Olympics in general appears like a blueprint on the conditions in post-"Fukushima" Japan, where there are only a few years between catastrophe and festival event.

 

A larger number of laws have been adopted in recent years, partly as so-called anti-terrorism measures in the name of Olympic security. Critics call it an attack on freedom of press, of expression, and of assembly. Those laws, one by one, caused mass protests driven by various social movements. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Joseph Cannataci, criticized an Anti-Conspiracy Act of 2017 in an open letter to Prime Minister Abe. And in a report to the UN Human Rights Committee, Special Rapporteur David Kaye sounded the alarm over the country's eroding freedom of the press. It is hardly possible to report freely about allergic issues of Japanese history as Japan's role in World War II, the “comfort women” issue or, yet, about the real situation in Fukushima, Kaye reported. In just a few years, Japan dropped from place eleven in 2010 to 72 in the ranking of "Reporters Without Borders". 

 

Andreas Singler is a German freelance journalist, Japanologist and sports scientist (PhD). In 2018 he published his book “Sayonara Nuclear Power. Protests in Japan after ‘Fukushima’”, a portrait of Japan’s anti-nuclear movement. In autum 2019, his book "Tokyo 2020: Olympis and the arguments of the opponents" will be published (both in German). A shorter English version is taken into consideration to be published next winter. Website: https://www.andreas-singler.de

 

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"No evictions in the name of Olympics": Banner showed at a demonstration in Tokyo 2018.

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