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Countdown to Tokyo 2020: Japan’s Arts and Culture Also Prepare for the Olympics Stage




The six-month countdown to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games started on January 24, and the athletes are working hard in anticipation of the competition.


The Olympics, however, also serve as a cultural and artistic event, where host countries and artists of all genres can show off their talents. The Olympic Charter, which values the idea of “merging sports, culture and education,” states that implementation of cultural programs are mandatory during the tournaments and festivities.  


Pursuing this opportunity, preparations now are underway following three central themes for the Tokyo Games: 

  • Introduction of Japanese Traditional Performing Arts
  • Recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake
  • Promoting Sustainability and Environmental Consciousness


Learning from the 2012 London Games, which produced cultural projects many of which continue to this day and are regarded as Olympic legacies, Tokyo is exploring to bring together Japan’s cultural and artistic powers to its Olympic stage. 




Realization of An Inclusive Society


In recent years, the Olympic Games have become far more long-term and large-scale. At the London Games, the “Unlimited” project featured an artist performing underwater in her wheelchair. The performance was praised for broadening the potential for disabled artists to express themselves in a more inclusive society.


Following London’s success in 2012 and with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in mind, Tokyo also aims to deliver a positive message concerning global issues. 


The city-sponsored art project, “TURN,” is directed by Katsuhiko Hibino, 61, who serves as dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Tokyo University of the Arts. TURN has initiated a program in which children from families with various problems who frequent the “children’s cafeteria” draw pictures on the cafeteria walls. This summer, TURN is working on another project, where artists will express their work through interaction with disabled persons and the elderly.



Professor Hibino explains the project’s significance: “If people with different backgrounds interact with one another through ‘art,’ which is really about accepting each other’s individuality, someone else’s affairs become personal. And as the experiences accumulate, they will lead to new ideas to resolve global issues.”



Reconstruction of the Disaster-hit Tohoku Region


Another element, the Tohoku Recovery-themed program, will be produced by Fukushima-born professor Michihiko Yanai, 55, of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Tokyo University of the Arts. “Mocco,” a giant puppet figure created with help from the local children, will travel around various parts of the Tohuku region. Along the way, Mocco will “collect” the Tohoku people’s hopes and dreams for recovery, and deliver them to Tokyo.




Collaboration with Japan’s Traditional Performing Arts


In April, KABUKI x OPERA “Luminous, The Lord,” a fusion performance of kabuki and opera, will be staged at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Shibuya. A joint performance by Ebizo Ichikawa XI and world-renowned Italian Soprano singer, Anna Pirozzi, is garnering much attention.


Sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in March, a Japanese traditional performing art, Kumiodori registered as an intangible cultural heritage under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization  will be performed in Okinawa.


Also, with the aim of introducing the allure of the indigenous culture of the Ainu, a project will be implemented at the Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, a cultural complex opening in Shiraoi, Hokkaido, in April.


Leading up the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics Games, a representative of the Agency for Cultural Affairs explains, “Our aim is to strategically and actively promote Japanese cultural programs to achieve mutual understanding through culture and the performing arts. [The Olympics] provide an ideal opportunity.”



(Click here to read the story in Japanese.)


Author: Yukako Ueki, Staff Reporter, The Sankei Shimbun