Olympic Closing Ceremony
Photo: Carl Court/Getty ImagesThe Japan National Stadium during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony

Tokyo 2021 wrapped: how the city came through this year

The year has been a rough one, but the city came through with brand new openings, a successful Olympic Games and more

Emma Steen
Written by
Emma Steen
Advertising

We’ll say it: 2021 has been messy, frustrating, discombobulating and everything in between. But we’d be remiss not to give credit where credit’s due. Tokyo has been through a lot in the past year, but that hasn’t stopped our beloved city from shining through dark times. 

Amid emergency declarations and hosting the world’s largest international sporting event, we also saw the inauguration of a new prime minister and the marriage of a princess. If all these pandemic months at home made you feel like not much has happened in the past year, read on – here’s everything Tokyo (and Japan) accomplished in 2021.

Olympic Closing Ceremony
Photo: Carl Court/Getty ImagesThe Japan National Stadium during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony

Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games

Tokyo 2020 quickly became a touchy topic when the pandemic broke out. Many felt that it would be impossible to hold such an event in a safe way, while others didn’t see the point in going forward with such an expensive, high-profile competition at such a time. Despite the impossible circumstances, Tokyo went ahead with hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games last summer with some surprising results.

A no-spectator policy initially put a damper on the long-anticipated tournament, but watching those gold-medal victories on screen was exhilarating all the same. Six new sports including sport climbing and skateboarding were introduced to the Games this year. As a result, Japan went on to win the most medals the nation has ever been awarded in the history of the Games – that’s no small feat. 

But the Games weren’t just about winning this year. There were record-breaking triumphs and dozens of other heartwarming moments where both athletes and Tokyo residents demonstrated exceptional strength, grace and kindness. (Remember this man who stood outside the Olympic Village everyday holding up a motivating sign?)

In the end, our survey results showed that people found the Olympic and Paralympic Games provided a much-needed distraction from all the doom and gloom of the months prior. And while Tokyo 2020 may have officially ended, we’ll be reliving those moments though TikTok for years to come.

vaccine
Photo: Towfiqu Barbhuiya/Unsplash

Covid-19 vaccine rollout 

Last spring, the frustration surrounding Japan’s delayed start to the Covid-19 vaccine rollout was palpable. Then a surprising thing happened once residents received their free Covid-19 vaccine coupons. Japan began inoculating people at an impressive rate and in November, it surpassed Canada to claim the highest vaccination rate among G7 countries. As of December 6, roughly 77.1 percent of Japan’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Rollout for booster shots began for medical workers and healthcare professionals on December 1. 

Dawn Avatar Robot Cafe
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

New openings 

It was hard saying goodbye to some of the city’s most iconic venues this year, with places like Harajuku’s Kawaii Monster Café and the hot-spring theme park Oedo Onsen Monogatari shutting down permanently. There is, however, a silver lining to these departures. Kawaii Monster Café, for instance, quickly opened up a pop-up location in Osaka. And Tokyo has seen its own fair share of exciting new spots emerge, ranging from the Haruki Murakami Library designed by Kengo Kuma to the mind-boggling Dawn Avatar Robot Café, proving that the future truly is now

We had everything thrown at us from travel restrictions to alcohol bans and through it all, Tokyo still managed to thrive with a never-ending list of fresh places to explore and things to see. That’s no small feat. 

Belle movie
Photo: Screenshot from 'Belle' trailer, ©2021 Studio Chizu

‘Belle’ gets a 14-minute standing ovation at Cannes Film Festival 

Some industries have been hit harder than others during the pandemic, with the film industry among them. Blockbuster premieres were pushed back and production schedules for films and TV series got thoroughly scrambled across the board. Nevertheless, Japanese productions still dazzled audiences with features like the Demon Slayer movie becoming the second-highest-grossing anime of all time in the United States upon its 2021 release in North America. Meanwhile, at the Cannes Film Festival, Mamoru Hosoda’s most recent animation ‘Belle’ made global headlines after receiving a 14-minute standing ovation. Certainly one for the books. 

So you see, despite reignited fears over the Omicron strain and a tightening of international travel restrictions, this year also gave us some good things, leaving us cautiously optimistic for what’s to come. It can be hard to stay positive in the face of uncertainty, but Tokyo’s here to remind us that things get better with time. Frankly, we can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store. 

More from Time Out 

The Ghibli Museum is seeking donations from fans around the world

Suntory whisky will be up to 28 percent more expensive in 2022

Tokyo now has three ramen restaurants with a Michelin star

The best Harry Potter events happening in Tokyo right now

The male erotic art at Niigata’s Kokujoji Temple will be removed in May 2022

Want to be the first to know what’s cool in Tokyo? Sign up to our newsletter for the latest updates from Tokyo and Japan.

Latest news

    Advertising