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Tokyo 2016 can only wish its governor would go away

April 17, 2009 |  9:46 am

Shint  

The governor problem.

It could have haunted Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics had Rod Blagojevich not been impeached after his arrest on political corruption charges last December.

It is haunting Tokyo's bid because the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, once again stirred up enmity with his words at a Thursday news conference, which took place during the International Olympic Committee evaluation commission's visit to the Japanese capital.

No wonder, as my colleague Ed Hula reported in Around the Rings (aroundtherings.com), Tokyo bid officials tried to prevent Ishihara from answering a question about Korean feelings that the IOC should reject Tokyo because of comments the governor previously had made about Japan's 35-year subjugation of Korea and other historically sensitive subjects.

I pointed out those feelings in a blog this week.  A Western journalist raised them in the opening question
of the Thursday news conference.

Hula, on the scene in Tokyo, sent me this transcription, from the official translation, of what Ishihara answered:

             I never said that governing Korea was all correct.  I never said that.  But it's a matter of comparison.  European developed counties had some colonies in Asia.  And compared to the governance of those colonies, in comparison to what they did, Japanese governance was gentle and fair and equitable.  And I heard this comment directly from (Korean) President Park, so I commented on this once.
           
I will leave it to Koreans to decide whether the Japanese rule was "gentle and fair and equitable.''  And there is no doubt European countries oppressed and abused (and worse) many of their colonial populations.

But history records brutal Japanese repression of Korean liberation movements; confiscation of Korean land; and forced conscription of Korean men for Japan's army and of Koreans as laborers in Japan.
   
There is an Olympic component to that history as well.

A Korean, Sohn Kee-chung, was forced to take a Japanese name, Son Kitei, and run in Japan's colors when he won the 1936 Olympic marathon in Berlin.  (In 1948, Sohn carried the newly independent Korea's flag in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics; in 1988, he was among the final torch bearers in the opening ceremony of the Seoul Olympics.)

Gov. Ishihara long has been known as an ultranationalist.  In his 1989 book,  "The Japan that Can't Say No,'' Ishihira called the 1937 Rape of Nanking (China) a fabrication, even though evidence shows Japanese troops killed tens of thousands of Chinese in what has been called "The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.''

The New York Times reported that in a 2000 speech, Ishihara referred to immigrants as sangokujin,  a derogatory term used in Japan after World War II to tell Korean and Japanese residents to leave. Ishihara said such residents were likely to riot after a major earthquake and that, according to the story, "atrocious crimes have been committed again and again by sangokujin and other foreigners.''

Such comments don't exactly jibe with the ideals espoused by the Olympic movement.  They also refuel longstanding enmity toward Japan in Asian countries, like South Korea and China, that remain upset by  Japan's incomplete acceptance of responsibility for its actions in World War II (and, in North and South Korea's case, after imperialist Japan annexed the Korea peninsula in 1910). 

A recent revival of nationalism in Japan -- as exemplified by statements like Ishihara's -- has exacerbated the animosity.  No wonder the Tokyo bid worries about getting little support from IOC members in other Asian countries.

Yet Tokyo 2016 officials committee trumpet the role Ishihara is playing in their bid, sending out a news release this week emphasizing the "major role'' the governor was to have during the evaluation commission visit.

Even if the IOC visitors were not immediately aware that the governor had done something major Thursday -- a big misstep -- there is no doubt his words would quickly resonate around the world.

So the bid committee was left scrambling to minimize the impact of Ishihara's latest gaffe.  It issued a statement saying, "Governor Ishihara is deeply committed to the long-term benefits of the Olympic Games. This includes the principles of peace, harmony and friendship through the region.''

But, as Hula noted in a Thursday dispatch from Tokyo, the statement did not address what Ishihara said abut Korea.

Nor, may I add, did it address his swipe at Europe, which has nearly half the IOC members who will vote Oct. 2 for the 2016 host.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara welcoming media covering the IOC evaluation commission visit Wednesday.  At a news conference a day later, his words weren't as welcoming to the world.  Credit: Tokyo 2016

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