Missing out on the Japan experience during the Tokyo Olympics
Specialist tour operator InsideJapan look beyond the Games to travelling again
by James Mundy
The only thing that has been certain throughout the pandemic is that nothing is certain.
However, the Tokyo Olympic Games kicked off, albeit without domestic or international spectators. One thing certain is that it is a great loss for the brand and the fans of the Games who don’t get to experience the magic of Tokyo and Japan.
With another State of Emergency declared in Tokyo aiming to slow the spread of the Delta variant, the Games is not popular in Japan. After being the first ever Games to be postponed back at the beginning of the pandemic, it is now the first to be held without fans too.
From when you leave that plane in Tokyo, things are different. The sounds are different – there’s a jingle for everything – everyone is immaculately presented in a uniform, the signs look different, the vending machine snacks are unrecognisable, the trains are organised and on time, everything is clean. It is all just very noticeably different, and eyes widen with excitement despite the jetlag and all before you leave the airport.
Go back to 2002 and FIFA’s holding the World Cup in Japan and then more recently with a dedicated Rugby World Cup in 2019, speak to anyone that was there and they will tell you how good it was, not because of the event, but because of Japan. They will regale stories about their experiences of staying in a traditional ryokan guest house, getting naked with other bathers in an ‘onsen’ hot spring bath, a funny night out at an Izakaya ‘traditional pub’ (followed by karaoke of course), the fact it wasn’t as expensive as they thought, the amazing trains and the amazing toilets – never cease to amaze people.
They will talk about the fact that they went to Kyoto and saw temples, or Kanazawa and its beautiful gardens, or when they headed into the mountains to a hot spring town and the fact that there was a lot more countryside and less neon cities than they thought there would be. Every visitor will also mention the people and the welcome that they got from Japan that made the visit and the event so special and memorable.
These and other experiences of a first-time visitor to Japan will be missing from this Games. The governing bodies that insisted that this Games goes ahead despite the extraordinary circumstances will have denied thousands of athletics fans the opportunity to experience this uniquely different country and culture.
It was supposed to be an event that the country would be proud of. Thankfully, Japan is very much a First World nation and will perhaps not suffer as much as other poorer nations might have done through being forced to hold a people-less Games. Another unfortunate certainty is that the pride of Japan will have been damaged through not being able to hold a ‘normal’ Games.
The Olympics was an opportunity to ‘relaunch’ Japan and the recovered Tohoku region which had suffered after the great Tsunami back in 2011. It would have been the chance to highlight the beauty and richness of rural Japan, sitting north of Tokyo. There is no doubt that Japan would have gone out all (starter) guns blazing for the Games and pulled out all the stops – they may still do, but we won’t get to experience it live. If there is another thing certain, it is that Japan always blows expectations out of the water and is always better than the imagination allowed for.
There is hope that international TV coverage will show Tokyo and Japan in a favourable light and that it will still get pulses racing for millions of people, thousands of miles away across the globe. There is still hope that it will ignite a flame for the desire to know more about this ‘otherworld’ and culture which can’t quite be grasped through a TV screen and that coverage will capture imaginations and leave people wanting to know more. It is a great shame though for the Olympics that through the governing body’s insistence that the show must go on, that they have damaged their brand and a massive opportunity to allow fans to experience their event in a place like no other. They have denied people the chance to experience Japan.
Japan specialist tour operator, InsideJapan began running small group tours during the FIFA World Cup and had its most successful year-to-date helping thousands of people over to Japan for the Rugby World Cup back in 2019. However, having not sent anyone travelling since March 2020, they cannot wait to help people discover the country and ‘get beneath the surface’ of the culture again.
Taking people to lesser-known areas of Tokyo or the sights of Kyoto are what InsideJapan does well. But it is the jumping on a local train, bus or cable-car or even donning walking shoes to take in ancient walking trails across the mountains of central Japan, staying in local guest houses in unassuming villages, calling at local shrines, refuelling on local speciality food and omotenashi Japanese hospitality. It is the off-radar cities, towns and their people that offer those memorable moments. It is what InsideJapan does best. Japan is best seen up close and experienced first-hand. It will be your favourite place. That’s how InsideJapan happened.
InsideJapan are the original independent Japan travel specialists.
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TravelMole Editorial Team
Editor for TravelMole North America and Asia pacific regions. Ray is a highly experienced (15+ years) skilled journalist and editor predominantly in travel, hospitality and lifestyle working with a huge number of major market-leading brands. He has also cover in-depth news, interviews and features in general business, finance, tech and geopolitical issues for a select few major news outlets and publishers.