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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beijing Olympics in the Japanese Media


An American friend and his Chinese wife long resident in Japan have decided that Thailand would be the best place to watch the Olympics. Having seen tv coverage of different Olympic games in the US, Japan, and China, they roll their eyes at the thought of any more "USA USA USA" chanting (US), crying athletes and heartfelt disappointment (Japan), and lots and lots of ping pong (China). Thailand is, to put not too fine a point on it, not dominant in any sport. As a result, you get a wide selection of events and little nationalistic commentary. And great food.

The Japanese media was negative throughout the Beijing games. It wasn't just the usual suspects--the center-right Yomiuri Shinbun, farther right Sankei Shinbun, and the silly sports dailies--but even the center-left Asahi Shinbun.

While Japanese athletes for the most part disappointed, the local media stewed about China.

The lead headline in the Asahi on the day after the closing ceremony was "Gold: China 51, Japan 9." Farther below in a sub-heading was, "Human Rights and the Environment: No Changes." And, in a bit of a stretch, there was a prominent story about the men's marathon winner, Samuel Wanjiru.

The Kenya native was recruited to and spent his high school years in Sendai, under the tutelage of a Japanese coach and team.

The headline read "Japan Bred--Wanjiru Wins Marathon."

After graduating, he moved on to Toyota Jidosha to continue his training in Japan. However, prior to the Beijing games, he returned to Kenya to train--because as was widely reported in the English-language press he felt he had a better shot at the gold if he used less severe training methods.

In the post-race interview with Japanese tv, he replied that the main lesson he had learned in Japan was gaman. This translates as "patience" or "perserverance." What it really means though is the capacity to endure, to overcome terrible adversity. It is a much prized quality in Japan.

Perhaps that is exactly what the American-Chinese couple lack when the Japanese announcers are screaming or weeping or fuming about an event that happens to feature an athlete from Japan.

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