Japan knows how to put on a festival. By rights, we would usually be hearing the familiar patterns of the taiko drumming local children practicing hard for the O-Bon local festival usually held on the first weekend of August. With the arid drone of grasshoppers, crickets and flittering cicadas, this sound forms a natural part of summer. Like last year, and like many unique and often spectacular ancient festivals celebrated across the country, this year’s has been cancelled.
I think I would have really enjoyed the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It was exciting to be back in the UK during the summer nine years ago for London 2012 – there was a special, celebratory, upbeat and positive atmosphere that was palpable. I was home for Rio 2016 and enjoyed that too. Although not a sport person, there is still something about watching athletes at the top of their game and the meticulous obsession with the medal tables that is undeniably rousing. I know that Japan would have gone all out: Fujisawa, where the sailing starts this weekend, Yokohama, Tokyo, everywhere would have be in full everyone out-at-the -food stalls, drinking beer and fanning themselves in the sunshine mode: visitors would have explored and hugely enjoyed all that traditional and contemporary Japanese culture has to offer (Tokyo and Yokohama are fantastic cites ); the economy would have been given a boost; like 1964 it would surely have been a very memorable, even exultant and jubilant, event.
Instead, the coronavirus happened. And is happening. We can’t change that. But the conservative Japanese government could, I am sure, have expedited the vaccine approval process. That the inoculations came about six months after other countries, simply due to overcaution and what I consider to be a xenophobic exceptionalism regarding the Japanese population and ‘foreign vaccines’, has left the games spectatorless and with embarrassingly flimsy safety protocols ( I am not usually much of a fan of the fascistic, but here we could have done with rules that are far more draconian : : : no vaccine, no participation on any level); a huge money loss except for the corporations with broadcasting rights : a skeleton in the place of full flesh and blood exhilaration.
I have no doubt that, lax disease control aside, the Olympics will be a general organizational success. The televised events will bring excitement and pleasure to their intended audience. Winners will rejoice; losers be unconsoled. And realistically, given the pandemic situation globally, overseas spectators could never have attended : it would simply have been too dangerous. Locals, however, could have thronged the stadiums, and would have, with infectious enthusiasm. Japanese people are famously good hosts: it could have been amazing.
But because of ossified, bureaucratic incompetence, entrenched bias, and logistical failures, right now the Olympics are a behemoth – a nuisance – that hardly anyone here actually wants. To some they even seem like an existential threat.
At least, I suppose, we have Tokyo, a new ( delayed?) release by popular domestic brand Sabon to remind us what might have been- a grassy, pear and lemon raspberry-jasmine clean musk shampoo confection that encapsulates exactly how young people here want to smell; fresh, fruity, dynamic; fashionable. Not great perfumery, but certainly attractive; likeable. This would have been the scent of the air-conditioned trains in the metropolis, fans gathering in groups to make a day and night of it; visitors from other countries – participants and their entourages, handlers, journalists, not restricted to their cabins but venturing out into the neon-lit labyrinths, who might have strayed into a Sabon shop by chance and bought bottles of this perfume as a special memento : a souvenir.