Olympic Tone Shifts in Japan as Medals Outshine Concerns

Japanese sentiment toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is seeing a shift as competitions and athletes take center stage and the country equals its gold medal record.

Previously plagued by concerns over the pandemic and a laundry list of scandals, analyses of Twitter posts by local media found that positive remarks about the Olympics have risen significantly since the opening ceremony on Friday, compared with previously largely critical comments beforehand centered on cancellation and Covid-19.

Olympic Tone Shifts in Japan as Medals Outshine Concerns

Japanese athletes have been racking up gold medals, including several firsts. With 16 gold medals, the country has already tied its record haul from 2004 and the first Tokyo games in 1964. While some athletes have dropped out after testing positive, Olympics-tied cases have remained relatively contained for now, with no events being called off so far.

“People accept that this is the reality” now that the games have gone ahead, said Kazuto Suzuki, a professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo. People are now starting to think they should try and enjoy it and see the games finish, he said.

Positive posts began to close the gap with negative ones last Wednesday as the competition opened with women’s softball, and eclipsed them the next day as Friday’s opening ceremony approached, according to the Nikkei newspaper. In the days following the opening ceremony, favorable comments far outpaced unfavorable ones.

Gold medalist skateboarder Yuto Horigome, who along with 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya made history by winning the games’ first street skateboarding events, summed up what he perceived as the shifting mood. 

“Now they have seen the Olympics being staged -- which for me was a dream -- maybe not all but many Japanese people have been impressed by our performances,” he said at a press conference Monday.

Still, with Japan set to extend the virus state of emergency for Tokyo after consecutive days of record cases in the host city, sentiment could easily swing back. The capital found 3,300 new cases Friday, while the national daily infection rate is set to top 10,000 for the secon day in a row.

Olympic Tone Shifts in Japan as Medals Outshine Concerns

While tweets with keywords like “cancellation” grew after the opening ceremony began, they were largely drowned out by more favorable language related to the opening festivities, according to the Sankei newspaper. Posts supporting athletes also began to increase as Japan secured a large number of medals, with a first gold in table tennis on Monday among the successes.

Broadcaster Nippon TV and JX Press Corp. also found positive tweets of all posts it analyzed rose after the ceremony, to around 40% from 30% previously, though negative posts still outweighs favorable ones amid rising coronavirus cases in Tokyo.

In the absence of more concrete polling, however, the shift on social media may not necessarily reflect the majority of Japan’s population is now content the games are being held.

“You can be happy for skateboarders getting their golds, you can be interested in sports and tweeting about sports, and still think it wasn’t a good idea,” said Rochelle Kopp of Japan Intercultural Consulting. “You can have both those feelings at the same time.”

With the games in motion and the unlikelihood of it being called off, there is much less value in social media users tweeting about cancellations now, Kopp said.

On Monday afternoon, the official Tokyo 2020 merchandise shop in Odaiba was packed with people of all ages buying official gear. Mikio Takeuchi, a 44 year-old university staff member, was among them, purchasing a bag and keychain for his family and relatives who live outside Tokyo.

“If I had to say, I was one of the people who was worried about the Olympics,” he said, “but once they began I actually thought how sad I might be if we didn’t have it.”

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