Lately I’ve been thinking about Japan more than I usually do, which is to say I’ve been thinking about Japan instead of not thinking about Japan. Before you get your knickers in a twist I’m not referring to the moody, new wave art-fop band called Japan, fronted by David Sylvian and his haircut of choice; oddly enough I own several David Sylvian solo albums but no Japan albums, so if anything that gives you an indication of how Japans of any kind feature in my shallow conscience. No, instead I’ve been thinking about the other Japan, as in the Japan. The main one. Japan the country. Land of the shogun, the cherry blossom and Toyota, to name the first three things that spring to mind. They say Japan is a beautiful country, but then they say that about every country given half the chance.
The first reason I started thinking about Japan is because I started reading a book about the Japanese involvement on World War II. To say the Japanese came out of that conflict smelling of roses would be to show a considerable lack of judgement and intelligence. There is no doubt that the Japanese of today can pride themselves on being really very polite and nice indeed but back in the 1930’s and 1940’s it would fair to say they had more than their share of super bad, fanatic, insane apples running around. You only have to read Iris Chang’s deeply disturbing ‘The Rape Of Nanking’ to get an idea, and the book I’m on now – Max Hasting’s ‘Nemesis’ – doesn’t paint a much better picture (it is here that I have just been reminded about Unit 731, a ‘research centre’ where all kinds of horrific human experiments were carried out on hundreds of thousands of Chinese prisoners, for example: even if you really didn’t want it to happen they would still happily amputate your arms and then reattach them wrong way round, in any sense you can imagine).
Ultimately Japan were defeated, though it took some doing, and ever since then the Japanese have made a point of distancing themselves from the insane leadership that led them to war and instead focused on showing the world just how thoroughly decent they are. That doesn’t mean they have really nice drug dealers or anything like that, but it does show that out of an insane, dying vortex of inhumanity one can grasp and nurture a much more profound sense of goodness; they can’t all be as nice as pie but they seem to do a lot better than most (we’ll skip past whaling and other shortfalls because it’s all relative and Unit 731 should still be fresh in your mind). And this leads us nicely to the Olympic Games, which have finally got underway in Tokyo, through a squall of controversy, tutting and general confusion. Because they were meant to be held last year but were postponed due to a sudden global outbreak of ingrowing toenails they are still being called the 2020 Olympic Games, even though they’re not. At least they didn’t have to reprint the t-shirts.
Despite their overall reputation a few individuals attached to these Olympic Games have not gone down particularly well. Yesterday the opening ceremony director, Kentaro Kobayashi, was dismissed after footage from the 80’s emerged of him making jokes about the Holocaust. It is not known whether Kobayashi still makes similar jokes but it was enough to get him kicked out anyway. He wasn’t the only one. A composer for the ceremony was also forced to quit because he had bullied classmates with disabilities when he was at school (you could take this to a logical conclusion and sack all of Japan because of Pearl Harbour, but that would be crazy!). The Olympics creative chief Hiroshi Sasaki left when he rather tactlessly suggested a notably large female comedian could appear as an ‘Olympig’, and back in February the head of the organising committee Yoshiro Mori had to step down because he had made some remarks about women that were deemed “inappropriate” (presumably even less appropriate than ‘Olympig’). The question that could be asked is: who the hell hired all these idiots? It would be like us hiring Noel Clarke and Tommy Robinson (an unlikely pairing, I know) to do our Olympics instead of Sebastian Coe and Danny Boyle.
Of course, it is widely know these days that you can’t say anything to anyone about anything anymore, and that as soon as the technology catches up you won’t be able to think it or feel it either. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t look great for all those creative director types but given that what I’ve just seen of the opening ceremony was mind-blowingly dull you could argue they were doing a pretty shit job of it anyway – unless anyone thinks playing Ravel’s Bolero on a loop while a bunch of people in masks play pass the parcel with a shiny torch counts as entertainment. There is also a very good chance that this Olympics will be a relatively soulless affair, and that’s partly down to circumstance, though I have great faith that the Japanese will make things right. The thought of various members of the Olympic committee engaging in hara-kiri at their dining tables tonight certainly won’t lift the collective mood but at least it won’t be quite as grim as a short spell in Unit 731. Soul or no soul, I will be watching a lot of sport in the next few weeks and doubtless, through all the brouhaha, the Japanese will put on a pretty sharp Olympics, and it will be good to see them come out of it smiling. At least that’s what I think.
G B Hewitt. 23.07.2021