If you’re reading this, you may have seen the recent Japanese media coverage related to my involvement in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Although I had followed the reports with confusion and dismay, I had refrained from commenting, out of a sense of propriety, and a feeling that I was not in a position to speak on a matter that involved so many others. However, as the conversation and climate evolved with dizzying speed, there came a point where I could no longer remain silent. Above all, I would not want the incident to become a distraction from the athletes themselves who continue to work so hard in eager anticipation of the Games.
Feeling that I owed the athletes and fans a comment from my own perspective, I released a statement in Japanese on March 26, 2021.
On March 24, 2020, it was announced that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics would be postponed for a year, in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Up to that point in time, I had served on the committee entrusted with planning the Opening and Closing ceremonies. As one of the Games’ Creative Directors, I was responsible for nearly 500 supporting staff and performers, not to mention the entire, wider team of individuals whom I did not have the pleasure of interacting with directly, but whose time and talents make a ceremony of this scale possible.
This roster included, of course, the lovely and talented Ms. Naomi Watanabe.
I was told that ceremony planning was being paused temporarily, and that someone would reach out when it was time to reconvene. After six months passed without contact, I felt I could no longer ask our team to keep putting their lives on hold without explanation. I reached out to Dentsu and was told that in the interim, as I had been awaiting an update as instructed, another creative director had been assigned and had already presented a new plan to the IOC. Although I was asked to return to the planning committee in November, I felt it would be irresponsible to join the project at such a late stage under the new director and new plan. I could not in good conscience commit to executing a plan, let alone one of this importance, that I had not been involved with from its conception.
Moreover, it struck me as unorthodox that the previous plan would be scrapped entirely. Although I understand that circumstances change, I believe that it would not only have been possible, but also proper to incorporate those salvageable elements that honored the prior plan while reflecting upon a very difficult past year. I felt it would have been unethical for me to sign on to the new project, which had already been decided, and thereby let down everyone who had dedicated themselves so tirelessly to our original proposal.
The Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies ought to shine a ray of light on a world clouded by the sadness and fear of the coronavirus. I realized that it would not be right for me to participate in these ceremonies when my own conscience had become so clouded by doubt.
Although it was not a decision made lightly, I ultimately decided to step down from the planning committee.
Since then, I’ve often reflected on the words of a staff member on the Olympic/Paralympic project who provided unfailing support and whom I deeply respect:
“If I could turn back time, I just wish we could have had a team-wide discussion about what we really wanted to convey and what we really wanted to achieve with these ceremonies in the age of the coronavirus.”
If it were indeed possible to rewind the clock, I similarly wish that the new proposal could have drawn on the strengths of every individual team member who committed their blood, sweat, and tears before the Games were postponed. I wish we could have all worked together to deliver a pragmatic, forward-looking plan. A plan without waste. A plan predicated on honest, open communication.
I wanted to create a ceremony that would do justice to all the staff members who tightened the logistical nuts and bolts behind the scenes. A ceremony that would let the performers shine. A ceremony that would have dazzled the world.
I wanted to create the kind of ceremony that would inspire all the athletes who have burned with the brightness of the Olympic flame in anticipation of reaching new heights on a world stage that only comes once every four years.
And I still want to celebrate the miracle that is this opportunity for the whole world to unite in Tokyo.
As someone who participated in the 2016 Rio Closing Ceremony, I have seen the Olympic spirit at its best. In the service of the Olympics, I tried to stay the course and see the project through to fruition, but it was regrettably not to be.
Rest assured, I will harness these emotions, and give them shape for sharing in my own future work.
The experience also presents an opportunity to reflect upon our generation’s legacy and what baton we will pass into the future.
I intend to remain positive and continue the search to reach a receptive audience, in a way that resonates true to the values I cherish.
I believe that there is an honor code, a sense of what’s just and right, that ought to be upheld whether as an individual, a member of a larger organization, or that organization itself.
Granted, this “rightness” may ostensibly be a matter of perspective.
But from my perspective, at least, righteousness now means letting sleeping dogs lie, and devoting myself fully to each of my other projects currently at hand.
I do not plan to comment further on what has transpired and ask for understanding to that extent.
However, if the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics do end up being held as scheduled, I hope from the bottom of my heart that they will feature opening and closing ceremonies that will not only make Japan proud, but will also make our children proud. I hope that the ceremonies will be imbued with a message of humility and gratitude, fostering joy in everyone who watches, in every detail.
I also ardently dream of a world where the uniqueness and dignity of every person is not only respected but also celebrated, regardless of nationality, gender, age, and appearance.
As for myself, my physical condition has been improving, and I am fortunately on the road to recovery.
I was touched by the well-wishes, even if I was unable to respond sooner.
I likewise hope that everyone has stayed safe, healthy, and well at this trying time.
With love from Tokyo,