I missed the London Olympics, in person at least. Watching from my sofa on the other side of the world I couldn’t quite believe the news at first. It wasn’t the gold medal haul that surprised me, rather the change in national spirit it seemed to engender. A pride at the things a small island nation could do and achieve. More importantly what we could strive to be. We could be an example of a modern and most importantly to my mind, a multi-cultural Britain. One that not only celebrated those differences but achieved more because of them.
It seems I might have a shot at experiencing that buzz in person after all. Tokyo is going to be hosting the 2020 Olympics and I couldn’t be happier for the nation I currently call home. I’m confident Japan will produce a marvel to match that put together in London. Having experienced Japanese fan culture first hand I know that the stadiums will be bouncing and the country will contract Olympic fever in pandemic proportions. It really will be something to behold.
In many ways though, I can’t help but hope that Japan does things a little differently to the UK.
Last year the Guardian wrote this in their editorial response to the games,
“The Games have celebrated what is easy to take for granted: that for all its inequalities and struggles our society at its best can be a living example of tolerance and cohesion, of inclusion and possibility.“
But looking on from afar I now see a UK that is ‘actively hostile’ to immigration and an immigration system in place that would turn away British friends and their Japanese spouses if they don’t have enough money in the bank.
An approach apparently designed to make sure,
“that spouses coming to live in the UK would not become reliant on the taxpayer for financial support and would be able to integrate effectively.”
Which is obviously why the government has made that integration easier over the years by cutting funding to ESL courses.
Then just the other day a prominent English footballer got rather ambushed into making jingoistic remarks about what qualifies someone to play for England. He wasn’t saying anything xenophobic really but he probably didn’t realize just how blurred an issue national and ethnic identity is for many of us. Take one Ikechi Anya for example, the Glasgow born, Romanian/Nigerian who plays for the Scottish National football team.
I myself if I were any good at any particular sport would be eligible for the UK, England, Ireland, the USA and probably Japan under residency regulations.
Thankfully my lack of athletic prowess has spared me such a wrenching decision.
But jokes aside, it feels like I’m watching Britain turn its back on the very things we rightly celebrated. A nation built upon, and stronger for a sense of identity that goes beyond where you were born and from whence your grandparents came.
Japan however, isn’t exactly lauded for its sense of racial or ethnic diversity. I’m part of the 0.6% classed as other. The 0.5% and 0.4% of Korean and Chinese ethnicity that make up the rest of the other 1.5% of Japan that isn’t Japanese are in all likelihood third and fourth generation immigrants who know no other culture than that of Japan. As such Japan’s Olympics is probably going to be a celebration of a culture and identity that is far more simply defined.
Now, I’ll make this clear; it is very much a culture that should be celebrated and I look forward to seeing the very best of Japan come 2020 because I’ve already experienced it in the day to day kindness and goodwill offered to me. But I hope, that where Britain welcomed the world and then turned its back on it Japan will do otherwise.
What a legacy Japan could achieve if it not only celebrates the things that make Japan distinct and unique but openly looks to share that with the world and in the process widen the definition of what it is to be Japanese to include the best of other cultures too. Because some of those other cultures are already here, they are already making significant contributions to Japanese life. They raise families, they participate in the local community and they contribute in myriad untold ways to the growth of the nation.
In 2020 Japan will seek to introduce itself to the world.
Hopefully it’ll be an honest introduction.
And unlike Britain the rest of the World will be welcome for more than just the summer.