Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is considering calling off the Olympics.
According to several sources in the Tokyo assembly, over the last week, Koike has had meetings with several top advisors, in which she has asked for their opinions on holding the games with no spectators–and even canceling the games altogether. In the meetings, Koike has been uncharacteristically quiet, asking many questions and listening intently to the answers.
A former advisor to the governor says that this is typical of Koike, when she’s about to make a dramatic unilateral decision. The former advisor told JSRC, “She has no great love for the Games, per se. She was not instrumental in bringing the Olympics to Tokyo and she has no real attachment to them. Public opinion against holding the Olympics is growing all the time. You’ll notice that Koike has not tweeted about the Olympics for weeks now.”
If you have a good memory, you may also recall that as late as March 12th 2020, less than two week before the Olympics were postponed, Koike stated dogmatically, “I can’t even conceive of the Olympics being cancelled or moved to another date.” Apparently, her powers of conception have improved since then.
In the early days of COVID, Japan, under the rule of Shinzo “Bon-Bon” Abe and Tokyo, led by Koike, downplayed the virus in an attempt make sure that the Olympics were held as scheduled. Widespread PCR testing was avoided, because it might have yielded unpleasantly high numbers.
Koike was remarkably silent about the growing infection until the Olympics were officially canceled on March 24. On March 25, Koike suddenly awakened to the rising number of covert covid19 cases in Japan and in her own domain, referring to it as an explosion of infections. She began lobbying for a state of emergency to be declared, bringing the word “lockdown” (ロックダウン）into the popular Japanese vernacular.
Koike is a remarkable political opportunist, as most of her constituents now realize. The contract between the IOC and the city of Tokyo, to hold the Olympics, clearly gives the IOC power to decide whether or not to hold the games, but if Koike openly demands for them to be halted, it’s likely that other Japanese politicians will fall in line.
She may be weighing all her options before becoming the first person in power to say the obvious: holding the the Olympics in COVID19 ravaged Tokyo is a terrible idea. In Osaka, people are dying at home while waiting for hospital beds. Unless Japan remarkably turns back this new wave of infections, things will only get worse before the Olympics begins. Tokyo has asked several prefectures to provide hospitals to take care of the athletes in the case of a major outbreak of disease at the games, and already two have publicly refused.
The lackluster safety measures in place for the Olympics are also alarming in their carelessness.Only 2% of the nation is vaccinated with less than 80 days to go before the games begin. Olympic volunteers and staff, numbering in the thousands will not be vaccinated nor will quarantines be required for those arriving from overseas. Even daily PCR tests for the volunteers will not be provided. The handbook for staff, does not inspire confidence, letting volunteers know, “if you get ill, tough look.” It says bluntly, “We trust that the measures laid out will mitigate the risks and impacts involved in participating in the Games, and we fully count on your support to comply with them. However, despite all the care taken, risks and impacts may not be fully eliminated, and therefore you agree to attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games at your own risk.
The Japanese government under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is using the same old tired measures to deal with a virus that has grown more virulent and infectious. What once worked will not work anymore. Japan still continues to undertest, ensuring that non-symptomatic carriers, which are the majority of those infected with the virus, will spread the disease to a wider number of people. Even the lapdog experts who feed the Japanese government the advice they want to hear, are beginning to show signs of panic. One of them advised this week that Japan at least make extensive use of cheap and fast antigen tests, like those used in Germany, in an effort to keep the virus under control.
That’s not to mention the fear that with over 80,000 people coming to Japan from overseas with no mandatory quarantine, that new and more deadly variants of COVID19 will be introduced to Japan. The unvaccinated volunteers who will commute from home, may become the perfect vectors for carrying new lethal strains of COVID19 into Japan–and back to their homelands when they leave this island country.
Kenji Utsunomiya, the lawyer who launched a cancel-the-olympics petition–which gained a quarter of a million signatures in less than two days–hopes that Koike will make the right decision. He has run against her for the office of governor and knows that she is shrewd politician. He is hoping that if she doesn’t listen to public opinion, she might listen to her own political instincts.
Koike has a Trumpian ability to read the winds of public sentiment. While the IOC does have the ultimate authority to cancel the games, by demanding a stop to the fiasco out of professed concern for the safety of people living in Tokyo in Japan and the world, Koike has a marvelous chance to play hero.
If the IOC bends, and postpones another year – which would ensure that Japan is fully vaccinated and that everyone participating in the games is relatively safe, she wins. If the IOC refuses to call off the games and because of the overloaded healthcare systems people –or god forbid athletes––die, the IOC is the villain and not Tokyo. Once again, Koike would be the hero. If the IOC agrees and cancels the Olympics, but then tries to extract ridiculous penalties from Tokyo, they risk alienating other countries from holding the Olympics. And once again Koike, would come out as a hero, one who stood up to an international bully.
For many people here, the IOC with its blatant disregard for the lives of Japanese people–because it desperately wants to collect billions in television rights for the games–is reminiscent of the worst of the yakuza. The IOC motto seems to be: Money before lives, money before honor, money first. If the Olympics are held as planned, you might not have a hard time making citizens here believe that IOC stands for “International Organized Crime”.
Japan is in its third state of emergency now. Koike, facing rising infections this month, warned outsiders, “Do not come to Tokyo now.” A member of Komeito in the National Diet says that Koike also shared that message to Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, who abruptly cancelled his May 17th trip to Japan. Is it true? Perhaps, Bach cancelled on his own, because visiting Japan to promote the Olympics during a state of emergency and rising COVID19 infections and deaths, would not have earned him a warm welcome. In Osaka, at least 17 people have died waiting for admission to a hospital. Ambulances in Tokyo and other areas are facing long waiting times–several hours– before they can find a hospital that will accept emergency patients. Maybe Koike really did send him a message that he was not welcome right now.
In a recent column in the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins ridiculed IOC Chairman Bach as a conman and dubbed him Baron Von Ripper-Off. In Japan, that was translated as [ぼったくり男爵] and it immediately became one of the most trending words of the years.
Koike is expected to pay a visit to her political godfather, Toshiro Nikai, the Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party before making her stance public. But in his earlier remarks this year, which indicated that the Olympics should be called off if they posed a public health hazard, she may already feel she has public approval. All the members of the Tokyo Assembly are on edge wandering what Koike will do but past experience has shown them, the only person who knows what Koike will do is Koike herself. She plays her cards remarkably close to her chest.
A great book about Koike was published in the last year called, 女帝 (The Empress). It describes how manipulative, powerful and savvy Koike can be when she wants to be. I know that betting is not part of the Olympics, just as bribery is not supposed to be part of the Olympics (cough, cough) but in a showdown between the Empress and Baron Von Ripper-Off, I’d put my gold (medals) on the Empress, even at double the odds. She’s got magical powers, the ability to metamorphisize at will, and sometimes has courageous judgement. They don’t call her the green werebadger-dog (緑の狸) for nothing.