by Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are turning into a coronavirus spreading festival of bullies. Despite allegedly having a theme of harmony and diversity, the Olympics appear more and more to be symbolic of cruelty and callousness. The latest case in point: this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, 52, who is the composer for the opening and closing ceremonies was revealed to have brutally tortured and bullied special needs students through elementary to high school. He said on record to two separate magazines in the 90s that he forced his victims to eat feces and masturbate in public. He ridiculed them, beat them, and egged on other accomplices. His gleeful retelling of these hate crimes resurfaced a day after his role in the Olympics was announced.
He issued an apology on Friday (July 16). He won’t step down and the Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement late in the evening the same day that they won’t fire him.
However, as we have already seen in the long history of Tokyo Olympic debacles, when the tone-deaf organizers finally hear the voices of dissent, they will probably eat their previous words, but unlike Oyamada’s victims—they won’t literally have to eat shit.
“I’d strip (one disabled kid) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.”
That’s too bad.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee announced on July 14 that musician and composer, Keigo Oyamada, would be overseeing music at the Tokyo opening ceremony. He is a world-famous musician, also known by his moniker, Cornelius. However, it didn’t take long for his ugly past to emerge, and the hashtag “Boasting About Bullying” began to trend the next day, racking up over 10,000 retweets. The original tweet cited two interviews in the past in which he appeared to be proud of his younger years as a bully. The interviews appeared in the January 1994 issue of music magazine, Rockin’ On Japan, and the March 1995 issue of subculture magazine, Quick Japan.
In the interviews, Oyamada confessed to bullying classmates from a nearby special needs school from elementary school all the way through high school. In Rockin’ On Japan, he describes what he did as follows: “I’d strip (one guy) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.” In the interview with Quick Japan, he admitted that he also made gleefully fun of kids with Down’s Syndrome attending a nearby school. He alluded to spurring others to bully the special needs children, “providing ideas”. Also, in another interview he seems to have admitted to what could be construed as attempted murder*, “Remember that case where kids rolled up another kid in a mattress and killed him? We did that sort of thing (to the special needs kid) and stuffed them in the vaulting horse…”
*A boy died in Japan Jan. 13, 1993, after being rolled up in a mattress in the school gymnasium’s storeroom by bullies. The mattress was placed vertically in the storage area and he was placed in it upside down; he died of asphyxiation and/or suffocation.
One of the magazines followed up Oyamada’s interview by contacting the family of his victims, who told the reporter that the bullying had nearly driven their son to suicide.
Here is the truth. Oyamada has confessed to committing sexual assault, assault, forcible indecency, public indecency, and attempted murder.
The actions Oyamada took would normally be crimes in Japan, but the statute of limitations has long passed.
In a statement released to the press Friday (July 16), the composer admitted that he did not show any regret when he spoke to the magazines years ago and he deserved the criticism he was receiving. He said that he would not step down and implied would atone for his past by contributing to the Olympics.
Ironically, the unifying concept of Tokyo 2020’s opening and closing ceremonies are “Moving Forward,” something the formerly respected musician must be praying for. The theme of the opening ceremony, which he is responsible for, is “United by Emotion.” The overarching disgust of the Japanese public at his criminal past has achieved exactly what the Olympic and Paralympic committee wanted. The entire country is united by repulsion.
“I am deeply sorry for how my words and actions hurt my classmates and their parents. I regret and take responsibility for taking the role of an antagonizer rather than a friend during my school years, a time that should be filled with fond memories,” Oyamada wrote in his Twitter apology essay on July 16.
However, in his sincere apologies to the world, and to the victims he traumatized, the singer clarified that not every heinous act recorded in the interviews were factually accurate.
“Regarding the contents of the article, as I was not able to confirm the final draft before it was published, there are many parts that deviate from the truth. However, there is no doubt that my classmates were hurt by my words and conduct. Therefore, I felt personally responsible, and chose at the time to not point out any mistakes or exaggerations in the story,” he defended himself in his Twitter post.
Perhaps the first magazine article published in 1994, followed up by a 22 page Odyssey retelling of his psychotic escapades in 1995, contained some factual errors that made it to copy. Instead of forcing a fellow student with a disability to eat feces, maybe he presented it to them on a clean plate with napkins.
What Oyamada did not do in his lengthy apology was resign as an Olympic and Paralympic ceremony composer.
“In hindsight, I should have declined the position offer considering some people would be displeased by my participation for various reasons. However, in these difficult times with its numerous challenges, I consulted the creators of the opening ceremonies who were making strenuous efforts to build the best event possible. After much thought, I chose to accept the job out of a hope that my music would bring some good to the ceremony,” the singer explained his noble self-sacrifice.
“In addition, I have invested considerable effort into this musical project,” he continued. Whether the Paralympians competing in this year’s games will be so forgiving is not certain.
The Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement acknowledging a failure to screen Oyamada properly, adding that, “We would like him to continue to do his utmost in preparation until the very end,” expressing no desire to have him resign or fire him. They also added in his defense, “Oyamada clearly regrets his past words, has reflected on them, and is currently maintaining a high moral standard while dedicating himself to creative activities.” One might note that the Committee recognizes that Oyamada regrets speaking about his inhumane activities but is vague about whether they believe he really regrets what he did. Words are cheap. The Olympics are inevitably, “Moving Forward.”
The reaction of the Japanese public has been overwhelmingly negative, calling the decision to employ him for the Olympic music “a fatal mistake in the selection process.” One twitter user, posting an article about Oyamada’s past bullying, noted wryly, “Well, after all, it’s like the Olympics itself is making the public eat shit.” A few days ago International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach appeared to be the most hated man in Japan, but in the low-bar race for a gold medal in unpleasantness, Oyamada may now be the leading contender.
Mark Bookman, a historian of disability in Japanese and transnational contexts, and Postdoctoral Fellow at Tokyo College, part of the esteemed Tokyo University, emailed us, his understanding of the problem, taking time to explain the significance of the games. “The Olympic and Paralympic Games provide activists, policy makers, and members of the public opportunities to reflect on the past, present, and future of disability rights on local and global scales. They have helped catalyze change and lead to improvements in accessibility and social welfare for diverse demographics of disabled people in multiple countries, including, but not limited to, Japan.”
But he also points out there is a downside to the games.
“However, the games do not always lead to positive results. On many occasions, their spectacle has shifted public attention away from the needs of ‘ordinary’ disabled people in favor of elite athletes. Indeed, the games have helped to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and foster unfavorable outcomes for many individuals, in part due to awareness issues and lack of resources for carrying out reforms.”
Bookman warns that ‘going forward’ with Oyamada may actually roll back advances for the disabled in Japan, and more.
“While stakeholders involved in the games, myself included, have worked to mitigate such negative consequences and use the games as a platform to promote inclusivity, one cannot help but question the Tokyo Olympic Committee’s decision to ‘move forward’ with Oyamada Keigo as a key figure. By elevating (him), who has confessed to committing harmful acts against disabled individuals, the committee is (perhaps unwittingly) creating a space for people who sympathize with his actions. As rates of abuse against disabled persons continue to climb in Japan due to stresses on the nation’s care economy (tied to its rapidly aging population, declining birth rate, and shrinking labor force), one cannot help but wonder what kind of future might come from the Tokyo Committee’s decision. Indeed, as conversations about ‘selecting lives,’ eugenics, and equitable distribution of resources continue to unfold around us in relation to COVID–19, their decision may have dire consequences.”
Michey Peckitt, who runs the blog, Barrier Free Japan, had this to say. “I’m only disappointed. Obviously I did not grow up or go to school in Japan, but Oyamada’s behaviour does not surprise me at all. At school in Britain I was treated in a similar fashion. Being made to eat sh*t is pretty standard bullying behaviour in my experience, although being made to masturbate in public is a new one. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that as it’s difficult to masturbate when your hands don’t work because you have cerebral palsy. As a disabled person living in Japan I’m sad Oyamada’s music is being used in the Olympics, but ultimately nothing surprises me about the Tokyo Games now.”