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In Session: Sickness, State, and Subjectivity in Modern Japan
3: Narratives of Disaster: 3.11, Tokyo 2020, and COVID-19
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
The University of Texas at Austin, United States
Declared the “Reconstruction Olympics,” the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were explicitly to be a chance for the national government to re-debut Japan, and the northeast in particular, as recovered and rebuilt from the triple disasters of March 11, 2011 (3.11). The Olympic flame, dubbed the “Flame of Recovery,” arrived in Japan on March 20, 2020 and was first exhibited at the Tsunami Recovery Memorial Park in Ishinomaki, one of the cities hardest hit in the disasters. The flame was to be exhibited around the northeast before the torch relay, called “Hope Lights Our Way,” was to officially begin in Fukushima with members of the 2011 World Cup-winning women’s soccer team, Nadeshiko Japan, as the first torchbearers. But, after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Games were postponed on March 25 until 2021.
My paper examines how official, national narratives of recovery instrumentalized on the international stage of the Olympics came into conflict with local narratives of 3.11 as an ongoing and unresolved disaster within the space of the Ishinomaki Memorial Park and the planned torch relay. I examine how COVID-19 disrupted and is currently rewriting this clash into a narrative of pandemic and precarity that spans from the local to the global. Within this still unfurling narrative, we see how the language of disaster deployed after 3.11, particularly of “self-restraint [jishuku],” uncannily returns in the time of COVID.