The Japanese and Tokyo 2020: They’re So Excited, They Just Can Hide It

Tokyo2020 1 Year to Go signage

I was asked by Stephen Wade of the Associated Press a question:

Why the massive demand for tickets for these games? Did you expect it?

Personally, I didn’t expect the massive demand we saw in the ticket lottery the organizing committee held in May. My only experience for buying Olympic tickets was PyeongChang, which was pretty easy. I thought that if I applied for the most expensive tickets for 2020, I’d have a good chance of getting the tickets I wanted. But that clearly wasn’t the case. Over 3 million tickets were sold, but I got nothing.

The high demand appeared to surprise everyone, Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

To be honest, many people I’ve talked with had the impression that the Japanese in general were blasé about the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Foreigners often told me that the Japanese didn’t seem to be excited, even now as we approach a year out.

But in hindsight, that perception may be due to a cultural tendency for Japanese to be more measured in their demeanor, towards anything.

For example, when global multi-nationals measure employee engagement in an annual survey, Japan often scores the lowest of all the countries. It may not be because the engagement or morale levels are low in Japan. It could be because Japan will commonly respond to questions on a 5-point scale with the middle rating of 3. Such a tendency will result in a lower overall score compared to other cultures which score more easily to the edges. Tending to ratings of 3 doesn’t mean the Japanese aren’t happy. They may in fact be simply defaulting to a cultural norm of restraint.

The reality, as we are learning, is that the Japanese are quite passionate about the upcoming Olympics. In addition to 7.5 million people registering for the oversubscribed ticket lottery in Japan, more than 200,000 people  applied for the Tokyo 2020 Games Volunteer Program, 120,000 more than was needed.

And that passion will continue to grow since entering a cycle of three consecutive Olympiads in Asia: PyeongChang, Tokyo and Beijing. The ability to watch events in their own time zone has had an impact on the Japanese. Dentsu reported that the percentage of Japanese who watched the Olympics grew considerably from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Dentsu also reported a significant rise in “pride as a Japanese” from the 2016 to the 2018 Olympics, which may be due to a growing belief that Japanese talent is rising, boding well for hometown success in 2020.

As we approach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the international sports federations are more frequently holding world championships in Japan, and the national teams of all the Olympic sports are making trips for look-and-see tours and training camps. Thus the number of opportunities for Japanese across the country to see their current and emerging heroes has increased dramatically, not just in the traditionally popular sports of swimming, wrestling, gymnastics and volleyball, but also in the increasingly popular sports of table tennis, basketball, badminton and sports climbing.

As for scandals, perhaps people feel such practices are the norm in today’s world,  that the limited facts available regarding the Black Tidings payment do not make for a definitive case, and thus the stench of scandal may not be so distinct. Besides, the head of the JOC took responsibility by stepping down so the party could go on.

The whiff of scandal, it appears, was only that. A whiff. The Japanese are smelling something else in the air – smells like….victory.

Here is the AP article where I was quoted.