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breaking news Tokyo 1964, when the Olympics were a celebration for Japan

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Asked to the Japanese Parliament a few weeks ago on the reason for maintaining the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games despite the risks associated with the Covid-19 health crisis, Yoshihide Suga launched into a vibrant story of the joy that ‘he had felt as a teenager during the 1964 Games. Eluding the question, the Prime Minister played on the image of these Olympics which remain for the Japanese a pivotal moment in their history: their country, defeated and humiliated at the end of the second world war, raised his head and recovered his honor by renewing his “Global simultaneity”, in the words of the philosopher Kojin Karatani.

It was tempting for the leaders of the beginning of the XXIe century of seeking to resuscitate this almost unanimous euphoria to celebrate the “Japan is back” launched in 2013 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, proclaiming the end of a long period of stagnation in the Archipelago. Tokyo applied for the 2016 Olympics in 2009, but they went to Rio de Janeiro. Mr. Abe returned to the charge a few months after the triple disaster of March 2011 (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant). This time it was a question of turning the page on these disasters. Tokyo won the Games but the Covid-19 epidemic was to shatter the ideal scenario imagined to give way to the fear of a new wave of contamination thanks to the event. The magic of the Games no longer worked.

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The Olympic Games, during which internationalism and chauvinism are contested, were the high mass where the special relationship with the West has been played out for more than a century, the first Asian country to modernize. A complex relationship, in which conflicting feelings of threat and admiration, inferiority and pride become entangled.

Two editions of the Olympic Games punctuated this journey: Berlin in 1936 and Tokyo in 1964. In Berlin, the Japanese felt they had taken a step forward in their quest for equality with the West. The prowess of a country emerging from feudalism – which had risked being dismembered like China and had become in half a century a state which the imperialist powers had to take into account – certainly had enough to satisfy Japanese national pride. But this newcomer lacked one last gesture to be equal to them: the rejection in 1919 of his proposal to include the equality of races in the charter of the League of Nations, that the victors of the Great War (of which Japan was a part) were being drafted, had been felt like a snub.

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