Olympics preparations on schedule . . .
On July 24, Tokyo entered the last leg of its preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Despite concerns about extreme heat and rising costs, organizers say the Games are on track for success. Speaking about infrastructure, the President of the International Olympic Committee said he had never seen a city “as prepared as Tokyo one year to go before the Olympic Games.”
Mixed-heritage athletes revive old debate over identity . . .
At the same time, the 2020 Games have churned up an old and sensitive question within Japanese society about what it means to be “Japanese.” Several Japanese athletes who are medal-contenders are of mixed racial heritage and were born after Japan relaxed its immigration policy in the 1990s. This includes, for example, tennis player Naomi Osaka, who is part Haitian, and sprinter Soni Brown, who is part Ghanaian. As these athletes come under the spotlight so too do questions about Japan’s national identity and its immigration policies.
Broader demographic issues . . .
Japan’s aging and shrinking population has contributed to labour shortages, the emptying of rural areas, and strains on the health-care system. All of these challenges are happening in a country that has been viewed as resistant to opening up to immigration and refugee intake. Although the number of foreign residents in Japan has grown significantly over the last decades, totalling about 2.56 million at the end of 2018, or roughly two per cent of the population, foreign residents still account for a significantly lower percentage of the population than in North America or Western Europe. It remains to be seen if policies adopted by Japan in recent years to attract foreign talent will help alleviate its demographic challenges. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether the participation of Japanese mixed-heritage athletes makes an impact on how identity is defined – or redefined – in modern Japan.
- The Japan Times: Ahead of 2020 Tokyo Olympics, multiracial athletes spark debate over Japanese identity
- Channel News Asia: The final countdown: Tokyo marks one year till 2020 Olympics
- Foreign Affairs: Is Japan becoming a country of immigration?