6 Sport and Identity: A Japanese Viewpoint

Japan Matters public lectures in 2013/14

Wednesday 26 February 2014 from 12 noon to 1.30 pm
‘Sport and identity: A Japanese viewpoint’
Mr Daisuke Tsuchiya, Associate, Brunswick
W614, 6th Floor, Hamish Wood Building, Glasgow Caledonian University, Cowcaddens Road, Glasgow G4 0BA

This Japan Matters public lecture was co-organised by Japan Desk Scotland, with grant from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, and the Sport and Identities Research Cluster, Glasgow Caledonian University.

The lecture was free and open to the public.

It is an exciting time for sport in Scotland as the country plays host to the Commonwealth Games this summer and the Ryder Cup two months after that. In a few years time the eyes of the world will be on Japan when it hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympic Games in 2020. In this talk Mr Tsuchiya will discuss the ways in which sport plays a unique role in defining and shaping identities. An avid fan of international sport, he will do this through sharing information about his work as a diplomat which included being involved with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

When he was at the Japanese Embassy in London, Mr Daisuke Tsuchiya served as a member of the Japanese Olympic delegation during London 2012 as the Olympic attaché, liaising between the Japan delegation, the British government and organisers of London 2012. A Japanese diplomat for 15 years, he is currently with communications advisory firm Brunswick.

Summary of Mr Tsuchiya’s talk:

Brunswick is a consultancy firm that advises on how to communicate with various stakeholders especially at critical moments. Since joining the firm from the Japanese Foreign Ministry in 2012, my primary role has been to help Japanese companies express their views for an international audience, and non-Japanese organisations to communicate with a Japanese audience.

In my last posting as a diplomat I was responsible for communications, sport, culture and educational exchange at the Japanese Embassy in London. I had the fortune of being the Embassy representative on the Japanese delegation for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Today I would like to talk about my thoughts through that experience on the impact that hosting major sport events have on how a city, or even a country, is seen and portrayed in the international arena through that experience.

1. Why host a major sport event?

(The audience suggested ‘prestige’ and ‘legacy’). Prestige and legacy are key words in this conversation.

Regarding ‘prestige’, Tokyo Olympics 1964 is a good example of a Games for which that was an important motive to be host. Japan had to prove to itself and to the world that she had overcome difficulties after the war and had come back. She constructed its famed shinkansen or bullet train system in time for the Olympics, with a loan from the World Bank. Beijing Olympics 2008 was a similar example of an emerging country showcasing to the world that it had arrived through hosting an Olympics.

London 2012 was different. London had already established itself as one of the most well-developed major cities of the world, and had already hosted major sport events, including two Olympics. The London 2012 Games were hosted at a time when several past Olympics had come under heavy criticism for being unable to utilise the infrastructure it had developed for the Games, a “white elephant syndrome”. This explains why London 2012 took a different approach in defining its legacy. London 2012 emphasised two issues: “regeneration” of East London instead of construction of new facilities on green land; and encouragement for youth to take up sport. The ten-point plan announced by the British Government on London 2012 legacy focus largely on these two issues.

2. How is London 2012’s alternative ‘legacy’ strategy viewed in the public domain thus far?

There are mixed responses. As for regeneration of East London, there is still controversy on whether the cost needed for the development of the Olympic Park was justifiable. As for youth sport programme, we have still yet to see concrete results that show that the Olympics has led to more youth taking up sport in the UK.

3. But are those two issues really all there is to legacy?

Regarding measuring impact of sport events, there is a useful site called eventIMPACTS, which is run by, among others, UK Sport, regional Development Agencies and the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau.

I would like to argue that there needs to be more emphasis given to one of the nine criteria listed on the site; ‘Identity, Image & Place’.

Under this criterion, London 2012 is a sure success. According to a British Council survey conducted in December 2012, involving 9,000 people from eleven countries outside the UK, 36% agree that they are more likely to visit UK as a result of the game, 64% agree that the organising was great, and 35% agree that Olympics have made UK more attractive place to study or to do business.

More credit should be given to the impact that major sport events can have on enhancing the perception of international audiences of a particular city or country, of making it a more accessible place to visit and do business with.

4. Indeed, sport is a very powerful tool for diplomacy.

I tried to measure how well British athletes and politicians are recognised in Japan and vice-versa by taking a simple sample of the number of hits on Google. On Google Japan, David Beckham had the most hits, followed by Wayne Rooney, while David Cameron was tenth among the ten British people I chose. On Google UK, Masahiro Tanaka, a baseball player who joined the New York Yankees but has yet to play there, had the most hits, followed by Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister. Mr Abe’s relative popularity with Abenomics etc is I think an exception as a politician, as Yoshihiko Noda, his predecessor, was the third bottom among my list of ten Japanese people.

There is also an interesting example of how sport figures can really dominate the conversation about a particular country. When I measured the number of hits on Google Japan for the term “Scotland” and compared it with those for “Scotland Nakamura”, the latter proved to be over a third of the former, suggesting that, one out of three mentions of Scotland in the Japanese language have to do with former Celtic footballer Shunsuke Nakamura, even four years on after he left the club.

London 2012’s success also helped the Tokyo 2020 bid. It is said that one of the reasons why Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics lost to Rio, was because it didn’t have enough domestic public support for the Games. This may have been because of scepticism of what benefit there was to hosting a second Olympics. The success of London 2012 however, I feel showed many in Tokyo the impact that holding an Olympics could have on the perception of a city or country even for a well-developed city. Public support for Tokyo 2020 increased from 58% to 67% between three weeks before and after London 2012. Indeed, I feel the IOC members may have also been inspired by the success of London 2012 to think similar success could be achieved in Tokyo as well.

5. What benefit would Tokyo 2020 bring to Japan and the Commonwealth Games 2014 to Scotland?

Japan no longer needs to prove itself to the world, but there is still much that can be done to get Japan more recognised as accessible and appealing as a place to do business and travel.

I used to use the following points to describe what makes Japan an attractive place when I was working as a diplomat, but these can be registered in the minds of international audiences far better by hosting one major sporting event than having diplomats or politicians talk about them endlessly:

Japan is Rich (the third largest economy in the world; Innovative (20% of world R&D with 2% of the world population); Safe (intentional homicide 1/4 of the UK and 1/15 of the US); Delicious (more Michelin Stared restaurants in Tokyo than New York, Paris, London, or any other city); Educated(4 out of the 5 largest newspapers globally by circulation are Japanese); Healthy (obesity 1/6 of the UK and 1/8 of the US); Efficient (average delay time for high speed cross country rail travel was 36 seconds in 2012).

Regarding Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, its TV and radio audience is expected to be 1.5 billion (4 billion for London 2012). This is amazing, considering Glasgow’s cost of £47.3 million, compared with £8.9 billion for London 2012 and £30 billion for Sochi 2014. Glasgow has an exciting, cost-effective opportunity to communicate to the wider world how it is an open and attractive place.