Tak Umezawa has been singing Tokyo’s praises his entire career. As a consultant for Cool Japan, he has introduced the world to the best the country has to offer and he takes particular pride in connecting Japan's artisans to major new audiences. He talks to Marcus Webb, editor of Delayed Gratification, about Tokyo 2020 and how the games are only the beginning.
2020 is just three years away – what excited you most about the prospect of the Tokyo Games?
2020 is a unique opportunity, but I am interested in the lasting legacy of both the Olympics and Paralympics. It has to be about more than one summer – it is a chance to show the world what Tokyo is capable of.
Do you mean in terms of tourism?
I think it goes beyond that. We need to leverage the opportunity, show that Tokyo is a creative city, a city driven by information technology and a city that is open and accessible to all. The Olympics are exciting, but the Paralympics are the real opportunity – we can bring accessibility issues to the fore and show that the city can adapt for everyone.
Do you think that Paralympians have changed the way people with disabilities are seen by the world?
Definitely. If you look at what the para-athletes achieved at London 2012, or Rio 2016 – they are superhuman. Tokyo is a city driven by technology and I’m very interested in what technology can do for people with disabilities in the future. Technology can change what we think of as physically capable.
What is next for you?
I am acting as a facilitator on the government-backed committee to make sure that Tokyo and Japan capitalise on the opportunity of 2020, particularly across certain industries – food, fashion, media, arts and craft, and tourism. Collaboration is key to this. The public and the private need to work together and people need to share across industries.
You mention media – how has that changed in Japan recently?
Well, fast media is clearly a global phenomenon. It has brought some positives – in some ways it could be seen to be democratising information sharing, but it has also had negative effects. Lots of media companies are now in a race for clicks, being sensationalist to encourage people to click on their link.
This is exactly why we set up Delayed Gratification – a Slow Journalism magazine that looks back on events at least three months after they occurred to give a final considered analysis…
I think that’s important. There’s a need to cool down and reflect. We saw that in the US presidential election.
Social media played a part in Tokyo 2020 already – when the original logo was replaced after a negative reaction on social media...
Yes, I think that was a mistake. I think it was an overreaction to replace a professionally designed logo on the back of a few tweets. It was replaced by one voted for by the public. Not everything can be a communal decision. Sometimes you need to push things forward and that can’t happen with design by committee. It is a minor thing though, and there’s plenty to get excited about. We have a lot to do, and not just in the next three years.
So you see 2020 as just the beginning?
Yes. 2021 is just as important as 2020. Maybe more important. 2020 should be the start of a period of sustained growth for Japan’s economy and continued development of Tokyo as the world’s leading creative city. It is one milestone rather than the end goal.