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.

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The majority of Japanese have considered themselves middle class for decades, speaking to the highly meritocratic nature of Japan’s society. This is part three of Faces of Tokyo, a series of posts on how Dentsu explained the Japanese to the rest of the world, in a book called “Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964.” They did so with a collection of profiles of people, who represented a wide variety of professions.

These profiles represented the average person in Japan, who served the growing Japanese population during Japan’s greatest economic expansion – the 1960s.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver: Taxi drivers had a reputation for reckless driving habits – often labeled kamikaze drivers by the foreign press. But it was a living, and not such an easy one. As the profile explained, “the traffic jams of Toyo are among the world’s worst. Day and night 930,000 taxi drivers suffer from bad roads, long labor hours and other inconveniences. But if you’re lucky, maybe you get in the back of the cab of Mr Tadashi Yamamoto, who was recognized as an “Excellent” driver.

Stewardess

Stewardess: As Dentsu wrote, becoming an actress, stewardess or a fashion model “form the triumverate of the modern Japanese teenager’s dream.” Hisako Miki, a 24-year-old stewardess for Japan Airlines, was living that dream. Taking care of passengers on the international routes, conversing politely in English with foreigners, bringing back gifts to her family and friends from the world over, Miki was enjoying a life of relative glamour, that likely would lead to the right marriage – a pilot perhaps.

Traffic Guard

Traffic Guard: Tokyo in the 1960s was crowded, dusty and noisy. But someone had to stand in the middle of the roads so that children could cross the roads safely and get to and from school. Teruko Yokote was a 45-year old traffic guard, whose whistle, hand gestures and stern looks kept impatient drivers at bay. Traffic guards, as the profile explains, were a recent addition to the work force, an attempt to diminish the problem of car accidents involving children.

Student

Student: Dentsu tells us that all those young boys walking around in black slacks, jackets and hats looking like military men are actually students. Student uniforms for both girls and boys, for some reason, are based on 19th century Western European naval designs. The interesting political commentary regarding the Waseda University student aside, the Japanese student is the shining example of middle class meritocracy in the country. Students take tests, and the better the scores, the better the school, the better the job, and hopefully the better the life.

In 1964, the world came to Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and to most foreigners, particularly from the West, the Japanese were not familiar, foreign perceptions ranging from warlike to exotic to friendly.

The Japanese were intent in facilitating the positive image of the Japanese. In the book, “Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964”, the publisher Dentsu produced a section called “Faces of Tokyo”, to encourage specific perceptions of the Japanese:

  • That the Japanese are indeed uniquely Japanese
  • That the Japanese are international
  • That the Japanese are middle class.

Uniquely Japanese

Housewife

The Housewife: Apparently the modern-day housewife of Japan in 1964 is beautiful, loves weekend outings with the family, and wears kimono designed by her husband. Somehow, Dentsu is trying to portray the typical Japanese housewife as beautiful, modern and well to do.

Sumo Wrestler

The Sumo Wrestler: The profiled wrestler was still a relative unknown, but Takeo Morita, who later became known as Fujinokawa Takeo, made it to the heights of sekiwake in the very Japanese sport of sumo. Dentsu explains that sumo emerged out of imperial court functions to become a national sport in the early 20th century. (Real)

Geisha

The Geisha: The profile here is undecipherable in English – I’m sure this is from a vague description of what it means to be a geisha by a translator who likely gave up and just threw a bunch of English words together….

Buddhist Priest

The Buddhist Priest: This profile introduces the resident priest of Zojoji, Buddhist temple in Tokyo Shiba Koen, very near Tokyo Tower. Not only is he a priest, but he is a Doctor of Philosophy, honorary president of a Japanese university, and through his many books, a go-to guy in Japan to understand Buddhism.

Flower Arranger

The Flower Arrangement Sensei: Although true less and less today, the expertise and techniques of specific skills and trades were handed down from one generation to another very deliberately, often from parent to child, as was the case with flower arranger, Kasumi Teshigawara, featured here. My guess is that the reference to her brother is famed film director, Hiroshi Teshigawara.

A Visit with a Japanese Family_15

Organizers of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 were worried about how they were going to accommodate all of the expected 30,000 visitors during the peak. In addition to hotels, youth hostels and even large passenger liners, owners of private homes were asked to make rooms available for foreign visitors. Over 580 private homes alone added an additional 1,445 beds to capacity.

Those who stayed at a Japanese private home likely had a unique and wonderful experience. But there must have been some initial concern by foreigners in crashing at a stranger’s place, particular in the land of the rising sun, where the people were inscrutable and the food moved on its own.

Perhaps the Organizing Committee felt a need to explain the Japanese family to the Westerner. Towards the end of the book, “Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964”, the publisher, Dentsu, dedicated a few pages to demystifying the Japanese family.

Dentsu’s approach was to apply the tried but true formula of the harmonious meeting of East and West. In this article, we visit the Kato family – a symbol of this pleasing integration:

We’ re on our way to Mr. Kato’s or “Kato-san’s” home. Let me give you some tips before we get there. You’ll find “dual” living arrangements there-Western modes and time-honored Japanese tradition peacefully co-existing under one roof. The Japanese have not dispensed with tatami rooms (straw mat floors), but one room is usually Western style with a rug and furniture. Kimono at home is the rule and Western dress outside, for the office, school and business.  

It’s not just the house and the rooms, but also how the typical Japanese family eats and sleeps.

At mealtime you’ll see the family is as dexterous with fork and knife as with chopsticks (called hashi), but on the other hand they may favor chopsticks even for Western food. Each family member will have his own set of hashi, and guests are provided with disposable ones which are discarded after use. With the same relish, Kato-san and his son drink hot Japanese sake (rice wine) or whiskey on ice. At night some of the family may sleep on futons (feather bedding) and others will sleep in beds. The people of this country are “sensitive pragmatists”­ – there is beauty, versatility and comfort in their homes and lives.

Now Dentsu figured that the visiting Westerner has been programmed by WWII propaganda of how Japanese children and mothers were under the total subjugation of the man of the household, and how entire families were under the total subjugation of the Emperor of Japan. In this article, Westerners were reassured that times have changed, and so have the Japanese, but not entirely:

The Japanese home is no longer ruled by a huffing-puffing patriarch. Husband, “wife and children are a close group. While the chief decision-maker is the bread-winner, wives these days usually hold the purse strings and the women’s voice in domestic affairs is to be with. The Japanese Civil Code attempts to regulate inheritance so that one third of a man’s estate goes to his wife and two­ thirds to his children. It is still common,   however, for an estate, settled in terms of a will, to award the lion’s share of the inheritance to the eldest son, reflecting the traditional value placed upon family line, rather than upon individuals.

tadashi-ishii
Dentsu CEO Tadashi Ishii
Dentsu is a $15 billion company, with a 25% share of the Japanese advertising market. It’s #1 in Japan, but not dominant, at least in terms of revenue. That’s fine, because Japanese companies, even large ones, don’t like to draw too much attention to themselves.

And yet, you can argue that Dentsu has become one of the most influential sports marketing companies in the world. Currently, Dentsu represents Tokyo2020 as exclusive agent to secure Japan sponsors for the upcoming 2020 Summer Games, signing up over 40 sponsors. It represents such international sports agencies as the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), the International Football Association (FIFA), the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), as well as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), among many other sports organizations.

As sports marketing authority, David Cushnan, once told me, “if you are an international sports federation, or an international sports league that wants to go to Japan, then your first call is Dentsu. They can get you access.”

And as the Financial Times puts it, once you’re a client, they are so powerful it’s sometimes hard to tell who the client is. “It is not like any company in the world,” says a board member at one of Dentsu’s biggest clients. “You are the customer, but they are the master. Nobody ever says it, but over the years, you need them more than they need you. It is like an addiction.”

Dentsu may be glad to see 2016 over, however, as it was a tough year, nearly impossible to avoid the glare of the red-hot spotlight.

  • Black Tidings and AMS: In May, 2016, The British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed that a USD1.5 million payment was made in July, 2013 from a Japanese bank to an account with a person in a company called Athlete Management Services, affiliated with both the IAAF and Dentsu. This payment was prior to the vote for selection of the 2020 Olympic host city. After Tokyo was selected as the winning city in September, 2013, a second payment was made to the same account for another USD2 million.
  • Caught Overbilling: Toyota raised an alarm that they suspected Dentsu, hiding behind a notorious curtain of opaque transactional costs for online advertising, was overcharging them for ad placements. They were right. Not only that, over a 100 other companies were cheated as well, resulting in an announcement in late September, 2016 that Dentsu will reimburse an estimated 230 million yen ($2.3 million) back to customers.
  • Working Employees to the Extreme: Dentsu recently received the odious recognition being labeled the worst of the “Black Companies” in Japan. A “Black Company” in Japan is one considered a firm that blatantly exploits its employees. Much of this recognition was due to the horrible news that a first-year employee at Dentsu committed suicide. According to this article, the 24-year old woman, Matsuri Takahashi, jumped from the top of her company dormitory on Christmas Day in 2015, after working 100 hours of overtime the previous month.

Apparently, the notoriety around being considered a horrible place to work was the last straw. Dentsu’s president, Tadashi Ishii, announced last week that he would resign in March, 2017.

matsuri-takahashi-and-parents
Matsuri Takahashi and parents

rio-handover-tokyo-3

For those of us in Japan, now thinking of how we are going to get ready for Tokyo 2020, the handover ceremony from Rio to Tokyo still resonates.

For eight minutes at the end of the Rio Olympics, Japan was given the spotlight. And the light shone brightly on Japan’s technology, fashion, arts, children and of course, Tokyo. They even made the solemn national anthem somewhat modern and uplifting with the stunning focus on the hi-no-maru, the red circle on white that symbolically represents the country.

rio-handover-tokyo-2

Tokyo2020 recently shared a video of this ceremony’s production, which is fascinating. These are the kinds of intense, complex projects that I would absolutely love to be a part of.

Global marketing and advertising powerhouse, Dentsu, was hired to create the closing handover ceremonies for Tokyo2020 for both the Rio Olympics and Rio Paralympics. Dentsu was paid JPY1.2 billion (USD12 million) to produce these segments, and of the big decisions they made was to include globally reknown cartoon characters: Doraemon and Super Mario.

Clearly, the transformation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into Super Mario and back again was the highlight of the handover ceremony. And interestingly, Nintendo is reported to have paid nothing to have one of its characters be front and center.

Four more years to go. So much to do, so little time.