As a child, Hiroko Fujita watched the 1964 Tokyo Games on television. Now remembered as an event that brought live Olympics sports to the world, Fujita told CNN how thrilling it had been to witness competitions on the magic box as Japan’s economy boomed.
However, as a ticket-holder, she had looked forward to watching the Tokyo 2020 Games in person this year.
“I felt like Tokyo 1964 was happening in a different world as a child. Now that I’m retired, I’d been looking forward to enjoying the Olympic atmosphere in Japan, but that wasn’t possible because of the pandemic,“ Fujita told CNN.
While Tokyo 1964 showcased Japan as an emerging global power on the international stage, with Tokyo 2020, Japan had hoped to revive its stagnating economy. It had also expected to paint the mega-sporting event as a symbol of the country’s recovery from the destruction and tragedy of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
But as the pandemic continued to ravage the world and the Games were delayed by a year, Japan shifted its message to focus on how these Olympics represented the world’s ability to unite and overcome Covid-19. Throughout these Games, the people CNN spoke to in prefectures as diverse as Saitama, Fukushima and Shizuoka expressed mixed and deeply divided feelings towards the Summer Games.
Anti-Olympic protesters told CNN the Games should be canceled as it cost lives and livelihoods amid the pandemic.
But as competitions kicked off and Japan’s gold medal count racked up, the public’s mood also shifted. Hiroki Kadote told CNN he wanted the Games to be held so athletes could achieve their personal bests.
Minori Omori a shopkeeper in Tokyo’s Koto ward said he spent his days camped out in front of his TV to follow the wins and upsets.
Others defied the state of emergency order in Tokyo and gathered outside Olympic venues to catch a glimpse of competitors and snap selfies and photographs to look back on.
However, as coronavirus cases surge in and around the nation to record highs, and tens of thousands of athletes, journalists and officials prepare to pack up and leave on Monday, Japan will be left to grapple with the lasting legacy of these Summer Games for months and years to come.
Whether Japan pulled off the impossible or was left to deal with the consequences of an Olympics like no other will remain to be seen.