From Us to You, Global Observations, Travel

The Bid is Set

There must be hundreds of cats here, I thought to myself. I was looking at a part of “Cat Olympics”, an installation by Takekawa Nobuaki in the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. Each ceramic cat, maybe two inches long, had a unique expression and coloration and was placed perfectly around a pink mattress sized tiled oval stadium. In the middle, there were metallic kibble shaped podiums. On one wall of the gallery behind the sculpture hung large colorful paintings of cats doing some popular sports and on the adjacent wall were three-dimensional cat forms like those gold “welcome” cats I remember from Chinese restaurants as a kid. This work was part of the exhibition, “Roppongi Crossing 2019: Connexions – Japanese Contemporary Art Here and Now!”. What a perfectly appropriate mirror held up to what’s going on in Japan’s society today, as transcribed through the arts. The Olympics and Paralympics will be held in Tokyo in the summer of 2020 and already, there is a low hum starting to spread in the city – posters, construction, and art being made about it, evidently.

After some engaging conversations with people who are from or have been living in Japan for a number of years, I’m starting to see some different facets of the safe, efficient and generally pleasant way of life here. Hearing an anecdote from a friend about her friend’s neighbour calling the police during a low key dinner party because “he could hear people speaking English”, was frankly shocking. From my liberal Western gaze, things like that instinctively make me want to describe a person from a culture that would do such a thing as conservative and ethnocentric.

So is a huge influx of foreigners to the city during the Olympics and Paralympics going to rub people the wrong way? Well, probably. It might be the annoyance of extra tourists intensifying the gridlock in the city, or others that may be against them altogether. But preparing for these events may drive more businesses and facilities to be more English/foreigner-friendly and loosen rigid guidelines, hopefully without losing Japanese culture altogether. My hope is that there is a way to be inclusive and flexible, but I imagine it won’t be easy. Changing people’s attitudes doesn’t happen quickly, but the bid is set and the clock is ticking. Apparently, more onsens (traditional bathing facilities) will open their doors to people with tattoos as they usually don’t allow them, and convenience stores will be banning the casual selection of pornographic magazines to “clean up” their image. This is not nearly enough, but it is a starting point, as are those little ceramic cats. Using elements of the Olympics in a playful way may entice people to re-evaluate their feelings about it and how they’ll relate to the throngs of foreigners soon-to-be arriving in their country. Art is a great platform for open and controversial conversations as it shakes up what we see day to day. Let’s hope it’s working because they’re coming, even if you call the cops.  

By Megan Katz

On a one-way ticket, Megan is taking time to follow her curiosity literally. Fortunate enough to be on unfamiliar soil, she is keeping her senses clear and her wit sharp. As a maker, dancer and enthusiastic conversationalist, she is seeking meaningful ways to move through new spaces. Endlessly fascinated by human behaviour, local food and cultural norms, stay tuned as Megan shares her thoughts navigating newfound perceptions and impressions