In sweltering central Tokyo, activists protest 2020 Olympics with march through Shibuya

While Japan combats a record-breaking and deadly heat wave, many are looking ahead to the 2020 Olympics, which will open in Tokyo in exactly two years’ time. The safety of athletes, not to mention the staff, volunteers and spectators, is of paramount concern if temperatures hit 40 degrees as they have done recently.

As such, the poignancy of both the timing and the location for the Okotowa Link rally and march on 22 July protesting the 2020 Olympics cannot be overstated. Gathering in the Sunday afternoon heat on the bridge connecting Omotesandō with Meiji Shrine were around 100 participants. Behind the demonstrators was Harajuku Station, itself undergoing redevelopment ahead of 2020, and in the distance were the cranes towering over Shibuya that are hard at work transforming the district, including the project to turn Miyashita Park into a commercial hotel facility. And in the foreground, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, an icon of the 1964 Games, loomed large.

Calling for the upcoming Games to be scrapped, the rally saw a number of speeches from activists and partner groups denouncing the 2020 Olympics for such reasons as the evictions of residents, its promotion of nationalism, the immense financial and environmental waste, the dangers posed by radiation from Fukushima and the stalled post-disaster reconstruction in north-east Japan, and fears of increasing surveillance and oppressive tactics by the state and police.

anti 2020 tokyo olympics harajuku rally protest

The subsequent one-hour march, tightly marshalled by a disproportionate number of police with riot shields and a contingent of security police documenting the participants from the sidelines, followed a route significantly passing Kishi Memorial Hall, which houses the Japanese Olympic Committee, as well as through the heart of Shibuya thronging with shoppers and then finishing up near the boarded-up Miyashita Park, which is one of the sites at the core of the anti-2020 movement.

anti 2020 tokyo olympics harajuku rally protest shibuya

I attended primarily as part of my on-going fieldwork on the anti-2020 Tokyo Olympics protest movement, which should come to scholarly fruition in summer 2019, though other non-Japanese researchers were also present. However, the event appeared to attract no mainstream press attention. The alternative media outlet OurPlanet-TV shot a video of the march and there seemed to be at least one other journalist covering the rally, but the anti-2020 movement continues to garner surprisingly little interest from the Japanese media.


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