My essay "Tokyo's Catastrophe Games" in LA Review of Books
As the Olympics looked to the past, I couldn’t take my eyes off the catastrophic future
When Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics back in 2013, I was an assistant reporter at a Japanese newspaper bureau in New York. The IOC vote was on a Saturday, and I remember half hoping that Istanbul or Madrid would be chosen so I didn’t have to get up and work. But fate (and it turned out, a few bribes) conspired to make Tokyo the host. My job was to get a reaction from a former U.S. ambassador, who spoke glowingly of Japan’s resilience after the disaster of 2011 and how the Olympics would send a message of the country’s recovery. I sent my boss the quote and lay down next to my window in Harlem feeling deflated. People weren’t interested in embracing Japan’s post-growth future. They still wanted to reenact the “recovery and growth” narrative of its 1960s past.
Here we are, eight years later—seven of which I’ve now lived in Tokyo—and the games have finally come to an end. Who now would say the price, 400% over budget for an event nobody could go see, was worth it? But the catastrophe of the games themselves is not what most bothered me most—it was the way the games let the country and the world avoid facing the catastrophes of the future that have now descended upon us. I’m happy I was able to put down my thoughts for the Los Angeles Review of Books. I hope you find it insightful.