This page introduces columns about art and culture from various viewpoints by Arts Council Board members, professionals in the field, etc.


What can we achieve beyond 2020 with the cultural program?
―"If you want legacy, then you have to plan for it"

Director of Center for Arts and Culture, NLI Research Institute / Board member of Arts Council Tokyo
Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto

There are five years to go until the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

It is increasingly understood in all quarters that the Olympics are not only a celebration of sports but also of culture, something which the organizations concerned are now examining in earnest. In July Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs announced its foundation plan (in Japanese) for the implementation of the Cultural Olympiad. Tokyo Metropolitan Government also formulated its “Tokyo Vision for Arts and Culture” at the end of March, the other day Tokyo Council for the Arts had a discussion about the policy and strategy for the cultural program to be developed by the city.

This is not limited to a national or metropolitan level. Local public bodies and business groups throughout the country are enthusiastic about the cultural program of Tokyo 2020 Games as a way of revitalizing their regions, and quite a few of them have announced basic plans.

Those of us who have long maintained that 2020 represents a huge opportunity for culture are delighted about this. However, the extent of the brouhaha by all and sundry over culture in 2020 is also cause for concern on some points. I worry that showy cultural events will be held all over the country but nothing will be left when they are over. And I believe we would do better to steadily maintain and develop existing cultural undertakings even without special emphasis on 2020 or the fuss about the Olympics. There is no limit to my concerns.

At any rate, it is precisely now when momentum is building towards the cultural program for the 2020 Games that we need to clarify its value, vision and mission.

◎London 2012: the Games that inspired youth

It is well-known that a Cultural Olympiad and Festival of unprecedented scale and content was carried out for the London 2012 Games. It is frequently referenced in reviews for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Recently I read a very thought-provoking report called “London 2012: Have We Inspired A Generation?” put out by Legacy Trust UK, one of three principle funders for the London 2012’s Cultural Olympiad

The official slogan for the London 2012 was “Inspire a Generation.” The objective of the Cultural Olympiad was “to give everyone in the UK a chance to be part of London 2012 and inspire creativity across all forms of culture, especially among young people.”*1 The report included the results of a survey of over one thousand 16 to 25 year olds throughout the UK, designed to verify whether that aim was achieved. The key findings were as follows.

84% thought that London 2012 made a positive difference to the UK; 61% agreed that London 2012 had transformed the lives of young people; 70% were inspired by Paralympic athletes; 73% have gone on to participate in another project as a result of their involvement. The report also carries the words of a 23-year-old male from the South East of Britain as a representative comment: “The Games… made me feel proud to be British, and I haven’t felt proud in years.”

The London 2012 Games went beyond sports to showcase British culture, and the cultural events were deemed indispensable to the Olympics and Paralympics. In fact, the Games offered various opportunities that supported the enrichment of young people’s talents and abilities. Reflecting this, 65% of young people in the survey replied that as a result of their experience there was a strong possibility they would get involved with regional art and cultural organizations. Looking at this report, it would be fair to say that the London 2012 achieved its hoped-for objectives in terms of its cultural program as well.

◎Vision and the cultural program for the Tokyo 2020 Games

What about the 2020 Tokyo Games? Based on the “Tokyo 2020 Games Foundation Plan” announced in February this year, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has set up a culture and education commission, and is currently studying Culture and Educational Programmes concepts for submission to the IOC and IPC next February. The foundation plan hints at the thinking behind the vision it has in mind for the cultural program.

Firstly, the Games’ Vision begins with the following line: “Sport has the power to change the world and our future.” “Sport” here can be replaced by “culture” as in “culture has the power to change the world and our future.” The Games’ Vision continues thus: “The Tokyo 2020 Games, as the most innovative in history, will bring positive reform to the world by building on three core concepts: Striving for your personal best (Achieving Personal Best); Accepting one another (Unity in Diversity); Passing on Legacy for the future (Connecting to Tomorrow).” The cultural program can share this objective as well.

Furthermore, in order to expand beyond Tokyo in terms of fields, time and regions, the Games’ Vision outlines the five following pillars, which all have an affinity with culture.

The first is “Sport and Health.” Arts and culture have the power to create a new joy of life in elderly people and extend healthy life expectancy. Results surprising to everyone involved in social welfare are being reported from all over Japan, concerning encounters with art and artists which have led to improvements in the condition of people in elderly care facilities and those with dementia on a level not seen with conventional rehabilitation. Many elderly people enjoy sports like citizen’s marathons. Now a super-aged society, Japan should be able to promote itself to the world with new initiatives based on arts and culture as well as sport, and present a new, mature model for a developed nation that is sustained by sports, arts and culture.

With regard to the second pillar, “Urban Planning and Sustainability,” there are already many efforts being made all over Japan towards regional regeneration using art. Art festivals which are not limited to the well-known ones in Echigo-Tsumari or Setouchi, and which are held in rural areas tackling depopulation and aging society, have a considerable impact on such regions. There is also a plethora of art projects with their sights set on regional revitalization. Regeneration of unused facilities or vacant houses through art and artist-in-residence schemes extends nationwide. By incorporating projects like these into the cultural program for the Tokyo 2020 Games, we should be able to sketch a desirable image of regional revitalization and sustainability.

The third pillar is “Culture and Education.” Aligned to the deliberation of the cultural program, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and Tokyo Metropolitan Government have been looking into Olympic and Paralympic education, and recently released interim reports on the subject. Encounters and experiences with arts and culture, and initiatives concerning artistic activity have a significant educational effect, in terms of children’s confidence and recovery of self-esteem, and on the nurturing of communication skills, creativity and powers of imagination. By a combination of the sending of Olympians and Paralympians to schools, visits to schools by artists, workshops etc. as part of the educational activities under consideration, it will be possible to develop a program that fuses culture and education.

The potential for interaction with arts and culture is also strong in the fourth pillar, “Economy and Technology.” In recent times we have come to see many artistic expressions that make use of IT technology. For the London Games, 40% of the cultural program used digital technology in some form or another. There were also many examples of collaborations with smaller businesses in the creative industry field: it’s said that more than 3,000 business partners were created for the sake of artists realizing innovative ideas.*2 Likewise in the case of the Tokyo 2020 Games, not only should the ideas unique to artists contribute to the development of new IT technology, but creativity in the arts ought to be critical to the future expansion of the Japanese economy, including the creative industries.

The fifth pillar is “Recovery (from the Great Earthquake), Nationwide Benefits, Global Communication.” Arts and culture have come to play a major role in recovery following the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Tohoku region is a treasure house of Japanese folk performing art, local rituals and festivals, many of which suffered enormous damage from the earthquake and tsunami. But they have been preserved through local efforts and nationwide support, and they foster regional pride and community bonds. By demonstrating this in 2020, we will be able to communicate this recovery through an “all-Japan” effort to a world audience.

In this way, the foundation plan for the Tokyo 2020 Games already incorporates the potential of a cultural program.

◎Olympism and culture

At this stage, I recall the first words of the basic principles laid out in the Olympic Charter: “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”(2014 edition)

The Cultural Olympiad for the Tokyo 2020 Games must do precisely that: work closely with sports and education, seek and create a future way of life, and show it to the world. To that end, it is necessary to develop a vision and a target for the cultural program which will clarify its legacy.

This past July, the Japan Association for Cultural Economics in conjunction with Arts Council Tokyo and the British Council held a symposium entitled “Social value and role of Cultural Olympiad and Festival ――From London 2012 toward Tokyo 2020 (in Japanese)” It contained an unforgettable phrase from the keynote address by Deborah Bull of King’s College London, “The impact and legacy of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival”:

“If you want legacy, then you have to plan for it.”

What legacy can we leave beyond 2020 with the cultural program? Now is the time for earnest discussion.

*1 Press releases “One Extraordinary Day of unforgettable action,” London 2012 Festival Media centre, July 15, 2012.
*2 Reference: Arts Council England and LOCOG, Reflections on the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival, April 2013