As the jets passed over Paris drawing the tri-colors of the French flag in a semi-circle around the Eiffel Tower, a joyous and packed crowd of thousands in the square shouted, waved and clapped in celebration…in anticipation of the 2024 Paris Olympics.
That live broadcast at the end of the Tokyo2020 closing ceremony stood in stunning contrast to the empty seats of the National Stadium in Tokyo, as the baton was passed from the organizing committee of Tokyo2020 to Paris2024.
To some, equally stunning is the fact that France’s daily COVID-19 infection rates (22,000) are about 70% higher than Japan’s daily infection rates (13,000 per day) – that despite Japan’s population being nearly double France’s.
Was Japan being overly cautious to ban spectators from the Olympic events? Was France being irresponsible in allowing its citizens to gather en masse, masked or not?
It’s hard to say as reasons for these different attitudes toward the current state of the pandemic are likely rooted in cultural traits.
Japan is often called a risk-averse culture.
Compared to, say America, savings rates in Japan are very high, and investments tend to be cash in the bank. As a result, Japan is not a hotbed for start ups and entrepreneurs (although that is slowly changing.)
And generally speaking, there is a tendency in Japanese organizations to plan, check, double check and triple check before moving ahead with execution, which can frustrate people who prefer to get things started ready or not, under the assumption that acting quickly gets you feedback you can iterate on.
Many around the world wondered why the vaccine roll out in Japan was perceived to start so late even though officials knew tens of thousands of overseas visitors would likely be crossing their borders in July for the Olympics. I am not clear on the decision making process, but the attitude was likely caution: Are the vaccinations safe enough for our people? My guess is that a lot of people in Japan supported that cautious approach.
I am American, but I have lived in Japan for over 20 years. While I sometimes wish things could be executed more quickly, or others would be more willing to go out of their comfort zone and try new things, I know I live in a country where systems and services work very well, and are operated with the highest levels of safety in mind, because of the behaviors embedded in a risk-averse culture.
The Tokyo2020 Olympics have ended. A COVID bubble of immense proportions – containing some 50,000 overseas visitors – held firm, keeping people both outside and inside the bubble healthy. When Japan won the bid for 2020 in 2013, they were called a “safe pair of hands” for a reason. The reputation for Japan’s operational excellence is unparalleled.
The Tokyo2020 Olympics were a promise made to the sporting world in 2013. There was tremendous effort and political capital spent in order to keep that promise. Time will tell whether keeping that promise was the right decision or not.
But in terms of whether the Japan’s cautious approach was the right one or not, I have to say it was.
Thank you Japan, for bringing the world together safely, so we could bear witness to, and draw inspiration from the artistry and humanity of the world’s best athletes.