Live from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Closing Ceremony

By Chihiro Kai

(This article was completed 22:06)

As I sit here in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium press section, the seats are vibrating from the music and bass blasting out of the speakers. Even before the opening ceremony began, all the Paralympians seated on the stadium field were celebrating.

The United Kingdom and Peruvian teams were ecstatically encouraging their international peers to take advantage of their circular seating arrangement to complete a whole wave. The wave would make it through 2/3 of the Paralympians before losing momentum in the last 1/3 section adjacent to the flag poles. After each attempt would die out on its final leg, the particularly invested athletes from Peru and the U.K. would stand up and urgently “gesture” to the responsible section.

Finally, when the wave accomplished a full lap “around the globe,” so to speak, you could hear the whole stadium, including those of us in the press booths which have been following the wave’s progress, cheer and clap at this spontaneous game. The wave’s informal and collective nature lent it an intimacy that elevated our joy at its success.

Now, it has been early 30 minutes since the wave experienced a natural death. And yet, despite the pageantry and impressive stage production of the closing ceremony, I don’t believe anything that has transpired on the field has made me and my fellow reporters laugh and smile as it did. At least, that was the case with the two Japanese reporters flanking me at my table.

20:51
Representatives from each participating Paralympic team have been adding circular mirrors to a miniature figure of Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest free-standing tower. Just now, the final paralympic deputy for the Japanese team attached the last piece to complete the model. The mirrors represent the windows and natural skeletal gaps on the tower.

Upon its completion, the current focal point of the Tokyo skyline was raised, “Flags of Our Fathers” style by the ceremony’s performers. Who knew relations between the United States and Japan were so tight? (Indulge me in my humor readers. I am both Japanese and American, and that gives me permission to make such dry jokes.)

21:00
The first Paralympic I’mPossible Awards are being presented to the first five recipients of the recognition. For further information on the I’mPossible Award, click here.

  • Best host country School: Kizarazu Municipal Kiyomidai Elementary School in Chiba, Japan
  • Best overseas school: Lilongwe LEA School, Malawi
  • Excellence host country school: Chiba Prefectural Togane (I could not catch the end. I believe it was Chiba Prefectural Togane Special Education School)
  • Best (Male) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Lassam Katongo from Zambia. He is a track and race Paralympian and secondary school teacher.
  • Best (Female) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Katarzyna Rogowiec from Poland. A three-time Paralympian and two-time Paralympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing. She is also a former ITC anti-doping committee member.
  • The awards for the two Paralympians were accepted by their respective national Paralympic Committees on their behalf.

21:23
The Tokyo Skytree “miniature,” which must be roughly five meters tall, accompanies other notable architecture that shapes the city’s skyline, including Rainbow Bridge. You guessed it, the “Rainbow” Bridge is not actually colored in seven distinct shades. However, after numerous complaints that the bridge’s namesake made little sense, a night-time illuminating feature was added.

The closing ceremony’s similarity to a Disneyland parade is as prominent as the August 24 opening ceremony. The fluorescent animal costumes adorned by dancing performers and the musical production remind me of the Mermaid Lagoon Theatre from The Litte Little Mermaid area at Tokyo DisneySea.

22:03

“The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have not just been historic. They have been fantastic,” Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in his closing speech. He said that despite the games’ accomplishments, the world has flaws with accessibility that no mask can cover.

“As we build back better, 15% of the world’s population cannot be left behind,” Parsons said. “People with disabilities should not have to do exceptional things to be accepted.”

Following a WeThe15 campaign commercial, a Japanese singer seated in his wheelchair sang “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong with a powerful voice would have made the raspy icon proud. The song’s second half was sung by a female singer with a visual impairment. The two voices converged in the final part of the ballad accompanied by a children’s choir.

As a piano player in the center of the stadium played the last notes of the iconic song, the egg-like encasing of the Olympic and Paralympic flame closed, extinguishing the fire that has burned since July 23.

And with that, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games had ended.

Thank you for following me and Jake Adelstein throughout our coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games! It has been a true privilege and honor.

The Vaccination Game: The Self-Defense Forces Vaccination Center was run smoothly but no-appointment days are over

6:50 a.m. June 26th

The large-scale Self-Defense Forces vaccination center near Otemachi, Tokyo, doesn’t open for another 70 minutes, and there is already a line of people looping around the large, brown, 16 story building. It is not only the elderly waiting for their first dose. The majority of people in the last section of the line are adults, ranging from their twenties to fifties. Most people are sitting on the ground or a chair they brought from home.

The sun, unobstructed in the cloudless morning sky, shines directly onto the line. Its rays are hot enough to irritate the exposed back of the neck in under a minute. Men and women take shelter under umbrellas and wide-brimmed hats as they check their phones, read a book, or doze off to pass the time. Some have pulled out their feet from their shoes and rest them on compact picnic tarps. 

“The people in line, please confirm that this is your first vaccination dose. If this is your second dose, we cannot vaccinate you at this facility today.”

A security officer reminded the queue through a megaphone so muted it was barely audible. 

In the past 20 minutes, three more adults join the back of the line with over one hundred waiting ahead of them. There’s no telling when the person at the very front arrived. 

A sign posted in front of the vaccination facility asks entrants whether they are over 18 years old, have a form of identification and their vaccine ticket with them. 

People with 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. reservations rest on chairs they brought to or borrowed from the facility. The sun feels warmer than the 23 degrees Celsius temperature, and queue use hats and umbrellas to keep cool. 

Officers begin to collect the chairs they lent to the line and place them back into an outdoor collection bin beside an entrance to the building. Everyone stands up, and the line begins to move. 

“The facility will momentarily open at 7:30. Please move slowly down the line while maintaining a distance with the person in front of you,” a security guard called out. 

“Be sure to check your belongings, so you don’t leave anything behind,” another guard said. 

The line moves forward in 10-meter increments as the clinic begins processing the first groups of people.

Around the corner at the back of the building, businesses, including the Nippon Travel Agency, are vaccinating their employees. 

At 7:30, a Self-Defense Forces truck pulls up and parks by the end of the line. It is rare to see a military-grade vehicle around civilians in a nation with no army and a small self-defense force. 

Two SDF soldiers get off the truck and walk toward the back of the building, away from the line.

The line moves for the second time, progressing less than 10 meters before halting. At this pace, it could be another hour before the last group step through the facility’s doors. 

“I got here before 7 a.m. But my husband arrived at a later time to get vaccinated two weeks ago, and he was further ahead in the line,” a woman in front of me said. “I saw on television that there are people who line up in the middle of the night to receive their shot as early as possible.” 

From the 28th, the center will switch to administering the second dose of the vaccine, making it nearly impossible for those seeking their first dose to reserve a slot online. Furthermore, this facility, which can administer up to 10,000 doses a day, and its sibling in Osaka, capped at 5,000 doses a day, will no longer administer doses meant for a canceled reserved patient to those who came without an appointment. 

In the beginning, a Ministry of Defense executive said the department “does not want to turn away senior citizens who came and waited in line,” even if they didn’t have a reservation. As Japan lowered the vaccine qualifying age to 18 and up, the younger demographic began to form lines throughout the night, hoping for a lucky shot. According to a report by Asahi Shinbun, this increased the number of repurposed doses from 100 up to 300 per day. In response, to complaints about people lining up late at night, disturbing the peace of his usually empty office building island, the ministry announced it would cease this no-appointment immunization process from the 28th. However, it appears this policy is already in practice at the Otemachi facility, as multiple signs in English and Japanese reminded those in line that they would not receive a shot if they didn’t present proof of reservation.  

The last group in line for the 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. slot arrived at the first checkpoint stationed within multiple outdoor tents. Inside, an extensive volunteer force patiently guided people through bag inspection, temperature checks, documentation review, and relocation to the next checkpoint facility inside the building.

 A freshly vaccinated woman passes the main sign in front of the first checkpoint reminding entrants that they need their vaccination ticket, photo ID and pre-screening form to receive their shot. The display screen on the left says the staff is currently seeing people reserved for the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot.

Inside the first outdoor checkpoint, entrants are greeted with a sign saying their temperature and baggage will be checked. The male volunteer in the blue shirt, center, positions people in front of a screen that records and prints their temperatures. As far I could tell, everyone who had lined up got their shots.

“Everyone was just really wonderful, and that is one point I wanted to emphasize,” British reporter Phoebe Amoroso, who was vaccinated at the Otemachi facility on the 25th, said. “You went through many different stages, rooms and checkpoints. Up an elevator, down the elevator, honestly. And I was never once confused or uncertain about where to go, and I felt really completely welcome.” 

Amoroso arrived at the clinic at 3:45 a.m. the day after the ministry announced it would cease vaccinating on-the-day arrivals without reservation from the 28th. She said personal accounts posted on facebook’s COVID-19 Japan discussion group of people arriving hours before their appointment and still settling at the back of the line prompted her to go as quickly as possible. Despite her concerns about the facility’s staff not permitting early arrivals from forming a line, she said everyone waiting for the vaccine was treated with excellent care by the two security guards on duty. 

“The man was like, ‘oh, thank you, everyone, for your patience. If you want to go to the toilet,’ and periodically he’d be like, ‘let me tell you where the toilets are again everybody. You need to go out to the road and turn left for the public toilets. Be sure to tell the person behind you that you are going to the loo so they’ll save the spot for you,’” she said.  

Two volunteers wait to direct people who have received their shots to the shuttle bus headed for Tokyo station. 

Two volunteers wearing vests labeled “Free shuttle bus staff” wait for the next vaccinated group to exit the facility.

A female volunteer gives directions to people who just got off at a bus stop near the clinic.

“The government’s whole setup is crazy. A million shots a day? They should have done that sooner. There’s a lot of inefficiencies, but that’s a whole different conversation. The people on the ground were so wonderful,” Amoroso said. 

According to Amoroso, a volunteer checking her paperwork told her that all staff had been vaccinated. 

If you want to make a reservation for a vaccine dose at the Otemachi clinic, click here. Note that from today, the facility is only accepting people applying for their second shot. 

The People of Tokyo Hate The Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Why do they protest?

Yesterday, June 23rd, marked one month before the opening of the “cursed” Tokyo 2020 Olympics and hundreds of residents marked the occasion by holding a protest in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Headquarters. As the delta variant of the novel-coronavirus spreads rapidly and public health concerns are rising, the clamor to call-off the Olympics is increasing. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was not there to hear the voices of protest yesterday; she is in the hospital due to “fatigue.” The government swears it’s not due to COVID-19 and of course, we believe them. 

(Update) The protest will begin at 18:00 by the front entrance on the second floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.1, and will migrate to the Shinjyuku ALTA building at 19:00. Further guidelines for the protest can be found at the hangorin group’s (anti-Olympics) tumbler page. The organization will also livestream the protest on YouTube from 18:00.

In collaboration with this domestic demonstration, international anti-Olympic organizations in Los Angeles, U.S., Pyeongchang, South Korea, and ironically Paris, France, where the IOC was born, are scheduled to hold simultaneous protests.

Continue reading The People of Tokyo Hate The Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Why do they protest?

Pandemic highlights Japan’s historical lack of leadership and management

By Chihiro Kai

“My evaluation of the Japanese COVID measures is that they are purely optimism based with no evidence, no grounds, as well as with very much a normative bias involved in there as well. And this has been consistent throughout this period, and it has only led to confusion and delays. And, I think particularly the delays in vaccinations is our definitive failure.” 

Yukio Edano, the leader of the most competitive opposition party in the upcoming October 21 general election, said to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on June 11.

The Constitutional Democratic Party leader further said the Olympics could invite an unprecedented domestic explosion in infection cases compounded by immigration and increased domestic travel due to summer vacation.

Edano said Japan historically lacks the leadership and management skills required to guide its citizens during turbulent times, an unresolved flaw from the mid to post-war era particularly highlighted by the pandemic.

Despite the anomalous nature of the pandemic, Edano said the COVID-19 subsidy program enacted in April 2020 during the Abe administration foreshadowed Japan’s fragmented and floundering response to the pandemic. The confusion and lack of organization that plagued local governments in their distribution of the 100,000 yen relief funds was the red flag the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, responsible for prefectural and municipal COVID-19 operations, failed to address. 

“We could already see the logistic failures, the lack of capacity and the disparities and so on in the local governments at the time,” Edano said. “The fact this was not noticed, and there was no overall management, no overall control tower, and no overall strategy put in place from that period when it should have been noticed is the key factor in regards to the vaccination program issues.” 

He then critiqued the current administration’s track record with PCR testing, hospital bed acquisition and vaccine rollouts. All three criteria for analysis held the overarching theme of a leadership vacuum. 

  • PCR testing 

Edano said the National Research Center on Infectious Diseases in the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare claimed jurisdiction over PCR tests and testing administration. This federal presence deterred the private sector and university institutions from getting involved, contributing to the low testing numbers. 

“And the issue there is not so much only with the research institutes, but the fact that the government never stood out and said ‘this is a problem, and that way of doing things is not right,'” Edano said. 

  • Hospital beds 

Edano said the MHLW ran away from its obligations to public health by pushing the responsibility of securing hospital beds to the prefectures. He said the government chose to cut spendings instead of providing the financial support each prefecture’s medical system required to buy necessary medical gear. Edano said this was “the reason that there was not this shift or these improvements in the number of hospital beds.” 

  • Immunization campaign 

Edano said that as local governments are responsible for implementing vaccination plans, what each body required to execute their operations effectively varies depending on the region’s population and size. He said the MHLW and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications should have listened to these municipalities’ diverse requests and helped them prepare a personalized program from the very beginning. 

“This would have been one way to adapt and to have a much smoother progress in regards to this (vaccination initiative), but both of the ministries responsible for this did no such thing.” 

————————————————————————

Edano further said the responsibility for the mismanagement of the Olympics and COVID-19 also lies with the previous administration. 

“The decision which was made by then prime minister Abe last year to postpone the games for one year rather than two when there was still no view in sight at all of a vaccination program and so on. I think his responsibility for only postponing for one year at that time is something severe that we should look into as well,” he said. 

Both prime minister Suga’s and Abe’s COVID-19 measures have drawn criticism from Japan’s doctors, scientists and their representative bodies. On a May 27 FCCJ press conference, the chairman of Japan Doctors Union, Naoto Ueyama, called upon the international community to pressure the Japanese government to cancel the Olympics at the risk of public health and the birth of a new “Tokyo Olympic strain.” 

The CDP leader said both administrations’ COVID-19 measures symbolize their prime ministers’ views on science. He said he thinks both leaders attempted to use scholars and their opinions to justify their political decisions when innately, scientific knowledge should provide the materials for crafting policies.  

“There are times when politicians need to make decisions which aren’t the same as those suggested by science. That happened 10 years ago. If we had gone ahead following exactly what was being recommended by scientists and academics at the time of the nuclear explosion, we would not be sitting here today,” he said. “Ultimately, it is politicians; it is politics that take responsibility for those final decisions.” 

If the CDP were to replace the LDP as the ruling party, Edano said his administration would tackle the critical strategic management flaw in Japanese governing and ensure precise coordination between joint administrative bodies during policy implementations. 

Profile of CDP leader Edano Yukio: the exhausted face of a nuclear disaster

Edano was the chief cabinet secretary and spokesperson for the government during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. He gained notoriety for his nearly hourly press conferences following the meltdown and the light-blue emergency workmen jumpsuit he donned at all times in front of the press. #edano_nero, translating to “Edano, sleep,” trended on Twitter in the days following the March 11 earthquake as the deep bags beneath the chief cabinet secretary’s eyes grew and rumors spread of him neglecting sleep for 100 hours immediately succeeding the disaster.

As the leader of a nine-month-old party posing the greatest threat to the Liberal Democratic Party, Edano has spoken at numerous press conferences this past year. In March, as the nation marked the tenth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the former chief cabinet secretary said he aims to eliminate nuclear power in Japan. 

With the general election less than four months away, Edano promoted his book “Edano Vision” during the FCCJ press conference. 

“The neoliberalism which has been so pervasive in recent years is now becoming a thing of the past. The system of mass production that has been in place since the Industrial Revolution and looking at that as the way to create wealth is also something of the past. And we are now seeing the importance of the redistribution of wealth and also recognizing the importance of essential work for the social and economic development which we are promoting,” he said. 

Despite the LDP’s and Suga’s plummeting approval rates, past fluctuations in public opinion for the ruling party did not translate to changes in voting behavior. Edano addressed his party’s poor performance in public polls and said he relies on entrance polls to gauge election results. According to Edano, entrance polls conducted by his party accurately predicted the April 25, 2021 election in Hiroshima and Hokkaido where two of his candidates won seats.

Japan Solves Coronavirus Crisis With Magical Math

By Chihiro Kai. Edited by Jake Adelstein

Suddenly, Japan which was facing a severe fourth wave of coronavirus infections, serious illnesses and death seems to be out of the woods! The number of prefectures (Japan’s equivalent of a state) that were ranked as having the worst coronavirus infection category have suddenly dropped in half. Just in time for the Olympics!

However, things are not quite as they seem. The number of prefectures under Japan’s severest coronavirus infection category dropped AFTER the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revised its method for calculating hospital bed occupancy rates. Japan has a long history of solving problems by lying about the numbers or altering standards to cover the problem.

Two months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima in March 2011, the Japanese government raised the allowable exposure to radiation from 1 mSv annually, an international benchmark, to 20 mSv. In 2012, it fiddled with the numbers again.

On June 2, the ministry announced it would no longer include Covid-19 patients waiting for admittance or treated in “general beds” that are not registered as coronavirus-specific when determining bed occupancy. The new guideline decreased the number of stage 4 prefectures with a bed occupancy over 50% from 20 prefectures to 11. The hospital bed occupancy rate is one of several indicators the Japanese government uses to monitor the pandemic and issue or revoke state of emergency orders. 

A medical advisor to the ministry has said the Olympics should not commence if Japan is in stage 4 of the pandemic. Therefore, the government and the Japanese Olympic Committee are desperate to ensure that Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures ranked below that most severe category. However, it seems the Olympic organizers are more interested in window-dressing the problem than utilizing the ministry’s data to take life-saving proactive measures.


English translation of Japan’s four infection stages of the pandemic. Nine out of the 20 prefectures categorized as stage 4 before the criteria revision were improved to stage 3 this week.
Source: NHK
English translation of Japan’s five indicators used to monitor the pandemic’s progression.
Source: NHK
Source: NHK

How The Magic Works!

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare publish weekly reports tracking the key variables used to categorize and document citizens recovering from Covid-19. Hospital bed occupancy rates express the personnel and resource demands placed on the healthcare system. 

Last week’s report displaying data collected as of May 26, tallied the national total of Covid-19 hospitalizations at 16,581 and the number of covid-reserved beds at 34,116. Based on the calculation criteria at the time, Japan’s national bed-occupancy rate was 48.6%, dangerously close to the stage 4 threshold of 50% and above. This pre-revision report defined the number of “hospitalized persons” as the sum of patients admitted and awaiting admittance. The shortage of beds has created a waitlist for space. In covid-overwhelmed regions, those determined by doctors as requiring inpatient care must convalesce at home while waiting for a vacancy. 

A section of the May 26th Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare report on the status of Japan’s COVID-19 patients. It was the last survey published before the method for calculating hospital bed occupancy was revised.

The post-revision survey created using data collected as of June 2 no longer included patients not yet admitted in the “hospitalized persons” category. The document further treats the total number of hospitalized persons as separate from patients occupying “covid-reserved” beds with the bed-occupancy rates calculated using the latter value. 

Specifically, the total number of covid-19 hospitalizations was 14,482, and 14,264 of those patients occupied 40.8% of the 34,943 covid-reserved beds. The report does not account for the remaining 218 patients. Whether they lie in “general beds” or other spaces are unknown. 

Sections of the June 2nd Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare report on the status of Japan’s COVID-19 patients. This was the ministry’s first national survey published under its revised bed occupancy rate calculation guidelines.

In addition, the June 2nd survey introduced several new data categories, including two columns for patients “adjusting” their treatment methods and locations. The main column reports that 8,064 people recuperating from Covid-19 were either “adjusting” their method of medical care, which can vary from staying home to emergency admittance, or their location of treatment. The adjacent sub-column clarified what can be considered an “adjustment” in treatment locations. Three hundred forty-seven people were recorded as “having confirmed hospitalization as their treatment method, but not secured admittance in a medical facility at the time of the survey.” Most likely, patients “confirmed for admittance” but waiting for a bed were regrouped into this “adjusting” classification. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said in the June 7th press conference that the revision aims to nationally unify the calculation method for bed occupancy rates, which previously varied between prefectures. According to Kato, previous reports that considered patients recuperating in “general beds” as “hospitalized persons” did not include the number of occupied “general beds” in the total “covid-reserved” bed tally. He said this skewed the occupancy rates, making some regions appear more medically strained than they were. Kato said the revision would provide a more accurate reflection of Japan’s healthcare system. 

The question that many people are asking is the Ministry trying to accurately reflect the state of Japan’s healthcare system or trying to massage the numbers to make it look as if everything is fine. With Japan holding the Olympics in less than 50 days, it seems like a blatant attempt to make things appear better than they.

Failing to account for new data point additions in the denominator of an average calculation can misrepresent the relationship of the share in question to the total whole. However, in pre and post revision reports, the relative burden placed on Japan’s hospitals were measured in terms of total “bed numbers.” A more appropriate revision could have broadened the definition of “covid-reserved” beds to include all occupied covid patients. Furthermore, the ministry could have established a separate category that registered patients awaiting admittance or treated in “general beds” as a surplus that hospitals could not treat with their designated resources.

Excluding patients from an indicator used to judge whether a state of emergency should be declared fails to understand that those omitted from the ministry’s category are spillovers from a healthcare system that is nearing collapse.

The “covid-specific” bed occupancy rate is irrelevant if hundreds of patients requiring medical attention are left at home, awaiting treatment, or invisibly recovering on an unregistered mattress.