Transforming the Nation: A Critique of the Olympic Games in 21st-Century Japan

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 2:50 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham)
Robin Kietlinski, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York
The February 2016 edition of the journal Sekai boldly declares on its cover, “The Tokyo Olympics with No Concept” (Rinen naki tokyo orinpikku). Inside the special volume, which contains articles by academics, essayists, and journalists, the rollout of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is systematically torn apart and critiqued. Coming on the heels of two embarrassing and heavily publicized missteps by the organizers of the forthcoming Olympics (pushing the reset button on the National Stadium when the originally-selected design proved to be too costly and controversial, and the scrapping of the Games’ logo amidst plagiarism accusations), this volume represents an important shift in the public mindset towards this exhibition that Japan has long used as means of promoting its idealized self. Building on some of the critical views contained in this volume, my presentation will consider the ways that one of the most visible exhibitions of the 20th century, the Olympic Games, have historically played a role in Japan’s domestic and international affairs, and how this role is under scrutiny in the 21st century. Utilizing Maurice Halbwachs’ theories on collective memory, I will consider the role that narratives of Olympics past, including the exalted Tokyo 1964 Olympics, have had on current attitudes towards the event. In considering current positions towards this event in which Japan has invested so much over the past century, I hope to highlight ways that the Olympics have (or lack) the power to evoke change in Japan today.
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