News & Commentary, Screen, Video Games

Is this what will open the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games?

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One of the highlights of the Rio Olympics was the closing ceremony’s sneak-peek of Tokyo 2020’s opening event.

In a few short minutes we were provided with something startlingly Japanese in every way imaginable. There was Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, decked out as Nintendo’s Mario, and a projection of Pac-Man running the sprint (surely a competitor for Usain Bolt’s record if ever there was one).

As one of the oldest and most traditional cultures in the world, Japan has also long embraced technology. Its unlikely marriage of old and new is unique and one we’re sure to see played out when the sun rises on the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

So will there be a Japanese version of Sydney Olympics 2000’s mistress of opening ceremonies, Nikki Webster? Or will Japan use its red carpet moment to show the world what differentiates it from the rest of the globalised world?

The Tokyo event is bound to be “The Technological Games”.

Japan is deeply proud of its achievements in technology. If the Rio closing ceremony wasn’t enough to convince you, consider that Japan’s Olympic bid included an adorable little robot trained to mimic the motions of a fencer.

The Tokyo event is bound to be “the technological Games” in which video games and digital entertainment will play a key role in the opening ceremony.

My prediction is the centrepiece of the Tokyo Olympic Games will be Hatsune Miku. There is no invention more Japanese than a computer-generated voice brought to life through an anime idol who can can perform ‘live’ in concert, courtesy of expensive animation and projection technology.

She was wildly popular in her first tour of the North America. She’s performed in sell out concerts throughout Asia. Haute couture fashion designers have used her as a model and she’s appeared in top fashion (Vogue) and music (Clash) magazines. She might not be entirely mainstream yet, but Hatsune Miku is destined to be the first global digital superstar.

And she’s done so without her creators, Crypton, compromising anything Japanese about her. The Japanese arts and business worlds have long operated on two assumptions; either what they produce is too unconventional for a global market (and is therefore created and distributed exclusively for the domestic scene), or they go out of their way to make globalised products that de-emphasise their Japanese qualities. Within reason this makes sense, because the Japanese do have a unique culture that doesn’t resonate with everyone, but Hatsune Miku’s global star is rising precisely because she is so Japanese.


She’s not the only candidate to headline the 2020 Games, of course. AKB48 is an all-girl music group that is controversial to say the least (one of the group got caught on video with a boy and shaved her head in penance to her fans). It’s also a unique Japanese cultural product that has never quite been replicated in other markets.(Shinzo Abe is a friend of the group’s producer which might also help their case.)

And have you heard of the Japanese boy band Exile? It sells out the largest stadiums in Japan within minutes of ticket sales going live but is relatively unknown outside Japan. The 2020 organisers might decide to show Exile off to the world in a bid to push J-Pop music outwards.

Miku’s star is not even close to peaking yet.

And for sheer quirk factor let’s not forget the adorable Hello Kitty, Doraemon, and Studio Ghibli characters. Japan’s rich history in mascots and anime will almost certainly put in a showing.

Despite the competition, Miku is my candidate to launch the Tokyo Olympics. The vocaloid ranked inside the top 20 as “Top sounds from Japan” last year and her star is not even close to peaking yet. Four years from now, there might well be rioting otaku throughout Tokyo’s suburbs if the Olympic committee doesn’t let her belt out whatever anthem is written to represent Japan to the world.

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