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Sunday afternoon in Ueno Park, Tokyo.
Sunday afternoon in Ueno Park, Tokyo. Photo by Catharine Norton

I don’t envy the Japanese officials who are trying to stage an Olympics in the middle of a pandemic. In fact, word is that they considered cancelling the whole shebang just three days before the Opening Ceremonies.

According to polls and protests, a majority of Japanese aren’t on board with the Games, due to rising COVID cases, limitations on their activities, cost overruns, and, of course, the usual scandals that surround any Olympics. Sponsors like Toyota aren’t happy either, and are downplaying their roles.

Some $15 billion has been invested in the Games so far, with no spectators allowed except for the media and a smattering of VIPs. How many bento boxes from the mostly deserted concession stands can they consume?

The weather is hot and muggy and may be brewing a typhoon.

The director of the Opening Ceremonies was fired a day before the event for having made Holocaust jokes in the past. The musician scoring the ceremonies was fired earlier in the week for alleged abuse of classmates during his school days.

The head of the International Olympic Committee seems to be living in a post-pandemic dream world.

The “Tokyo 2020” Games seem cursed by the missing year that many of us felt so acutely, and still do.

And Yet…

The sushi is fresh and delicious at the fish market.
The sushi is fresh and delicious at the fish market. Photo by Catharine Norton

And yet I found myself rising early this morning to catch a good part of the Opening Ceremonies broadcast live, when it was 5 a.m. in Arizona and evening in Japan. And while the ceremonies were scaled down from the ever-more-lavish displays of recent Olympics in Athens, Beijing, and Rio, I found myself enjoying them more.

Yes, there were spectacular moments, such as when a perfectly aligned regiment of drones formed a circle in the night sky, morphing into a map of the earth. But I was most impressed by the joy displayed by the athletes as they marched in the parade of nations.

Maybe they were just relieved to be there, albeit under circumstances different from any other Olympics — devoid of spectators, cheers, even the ability to explore Tokyo if they wished. But, garbed in their “native” dress and waving to their friends and family back home — who were not allowed to watch them in person due to COVID restrictions — competitors from countries large and small marched and danced behind their flag-bearers.

Countries starting with the letter “M” alone ranged from Madagascar to Malaysia, Mali to Malta, Mauritania to Micronesia, Mexico to Moldova, Monaco to Morocco, Mongolia to Mozambique, Mauritius to Malawi, the Maldives to the Marshall Islands. The array of athletes from around the world was both colorful and endearing.

The Olympic torch-carrying ceremony, culminating in Japanese-born tennis star Naomi Osaka lighting the cauldron that would burn throughout the Games, included not just former Japanese baseball stars but also a doctor and nurse who had been on the front lines caring for COVID patients.

A Poignant Press Release

Azaleas blooming in Tokyo's Imperial Gardens.
Azaleas blooming in Tokyo’s Imperial Gardens. Photo by Clark Norton

I received this press release from the folks at Tokyo tourism on July 20:

Tokyo Tourist Information Centers Are Ready to Welcome Foreign Guests

Tourist information centers inside and outside the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics venues have worked long and hard to prepare for the event and are now welcoming foreign guests.

Village Plaza, a brand-new facility built to host the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics athletes, opened on July 13 in Harumi, Tokyo. To support the life of the athletes and supporting staff during their stay, Village Plaza provides many services such as an internet lounge, café, and post office. Here also is Tokyo City Information, a tourist information center where the smiling staff, all of whom are expert guides of Tokyo tourism, welcome guests and introduce them to Tokyo.

“We know this is a very important time for athletes and other people who stay here,” said the staff, “so we will
try to provide the best hospitality and do everything we can to make them feel at ease. And while itʼs not
possible for people to visit Tokyo freely at the moment, we will do our best to provide information about the
charms and attractions of the city, so that when it becomes safe to travel again people might want to come

Japan As It Was Pre-COVID

Kyoto's Golden Pavilion is one of Japan's best known sights.
Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion is one of Japan’s best known sights. Photo by Catharine Norton

Knowing the Japanese tourism people to the extent that I do, I have no doubt that they will do their best under difficult circumstances to introduce athletes and others in the Olympic Village to the highlights of Tokyo, even though they can’t actually experience any of them. And the greeters will do it with a smile.

And I would certainly recommend Japan as a destination. My wife and I spent two weeks there in the spring of 2018, touring Tokyo and Kyoto as well as two smaller but distinctive cities, Nara and Nikko. Each had its charms, not least of which were its people.

In my series of blog posts on our trip, I wrote what would come back to haunt me as one of my most off-the-mark published ruminations: ” Why do so many Japanese wear masks?” Well, now I know.

If you missed my series of posts on Japan then — or have forgotten them or just want to hunt for the infamous “mask” riff — you can find them here:

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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