Smiling behind the mask: Tokyo Olympics and its volunteers

Wed, Oct 13, 2021, 7:00 pm
Virtual, ZOOM
East Asian Studies Program

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With the last Paralympic athletes heading home a month ago, Tokyo 2020 in 2021 has closed its gates. The world’s largest sport mega-event, a matter of contention even without a raging pandemic, has been on the drawing board in Japan for more than a decade. This long road from the failed application for Tokyo 2016 to the successful bid in 2013 to the first-ever postponement of the Games due to COVID-19, to eventually holding them in the summer of 2021 is a road heavily travelled by numerous stakeholders in the economy, in politics, and in the media. The road had a relatively smooth beginning yet turned extraordinarily rocky. This presentation revisits the hopes, dreams, and desires originally connected with Tokyo 2020, and attempts an evaluation of what remains. A particular focus here lies on the Field Cast – the Olympic and Paralympic volunteers. Volunteering was supposed to get a huge boost in popularity in Japanese society, after having volunteers experience a fun-filled time at the Olympics. Yet thousands of volunteers either were let go due to the ban on spectators, or they quit their (unpaid) jobs. Fieldwork through participant observation highlights the heterogeneity of those volunteers that remained, shedding light on their motivations and dreams – and what they took away from the experience.

Barbara Holthus has been deputy director at the German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo since April 2018. Her research is on marriage and the family, child care, happiness and well-being, volunteering, media, gender, rural Japan, as well as demographic and social change. She was principal investigator of a German Science Foundation (DFG) funded research project on comparing parental well-being in Germany and Japan (2014-2017). Her most recent publications are Japan through the lens of the Tokyo Olympics (2020; co-editors I. Gagne, W. Manzenreiter, F. Waldenberger). Parental well-being: Satisfaction with work, family life, and family policy in Germany and Japan (2018; co-editor H. Bertram), Life course, happiness and well-being in Japan (2017; co-editor W. Manzenreiter), Happiness and the good life in Japan (2017; co-editor W. Manzenreiter).

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