Japanese at world’s busiest intersection slowly warm up at Olympics

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TOKYO – For 16 years, Kichitaro Kawada took Tokyo’s temperature from his perch at the Kishimoto newsstand in Shibuya Crossing, which is billed as the world’s busiest intersection.

In recent weeks, he has noticed that small talks with repeat customers shifted from fears the Tokyo Olympics would worsen the Covid-19 crisis to “Japanese people are winning medals,” Kawada told NBC News .

Kawada, who, unlike many of his compatriots, has been pro-Olympic from the start, said he has also seen an increase in newspaper purchases by customers keen to hear about Team Japan’s latest exploits.

The iconic Shibuya Crossing is a popular level crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.Eiko Yahashi

“I noticed because people don’t buy as many newspapers anymore,” Kawada said via a translator.

But Kawada, who was a teenager when Tokyo first hosted the Summer Games in 1964, said “there was more of the Japanese spirit then.”

“With these Games there is not the same passion,” said Kawada. “I just hope it ends safely.”

The sentiment was echoed in interviews with other Japanese at Shibuya Crossing, which is like Times Square in Tokyo and where every few minutes up to 3,000 pedestrians cross the street from several different directions at once in a display. of bitumen ballet which has come to be called the “Shibuya Scramble”.

And this has been reflected in other recent man reports on the street of the Japanese showing reluctant and gradual acceptance of the Olympics as the home team racked up an impressive 38 medals on Wednesday, half of which was gold.

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An exterior view of Shibuya Choraku restaurant where owner Hideki Dagawara explains that he has received more ‘foreign’ visitors since the Tokyo Olympics, but business has mostly remained stable due to Covid-19 restrictions.Eiko Yahashi / NBC News

Just before the start of the Games on July 23, a survey conducted by Asahi Shimbun, one of the largest national dailies, found that despite the best efforts of local organizers and the International Olympic Committee, much of the Japanese public was opposed to hosting the Games.

At Shibuya Choraku, a Japanese-owned Chinese restaurant, chef Hideki Odagawara said he was among those who questioned the wisdom of hosting the Games during a pandemic, but is now happy that ” Japan wins medals and he is in Tokyo “.

“I just wish it didn’t happen this year,” Odagawara said, adding that it would be easier “to show Tokyo” if there wasn’t a pandemic.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the big boom in foreign tourist business has never happened, although in recent times there has been a trickle of “visitors” coming in for a bite to eat after completing their quarantine.

An Italian TV crew was filming a segment near the statue of Hachikō, the Akita who faithfully waited for his master outside Shibuya Station for 10 years and whose story was transplanted to America in the 2009 film by Richard Gere, “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. “

Yamada Wakana, 20, was waiting there recently.

When asked for her take on the Olympics, Wakana said young people like her follow the Games, but admitted it was difficult to generate a lot of excitement “because we can only watch them. ‘on the television”.

Wakana said Covid-19 restrictions and a state of emergency that barred fans from accessing the stands made it “less of an event.”

“The younger ones want to meet and support the Japanese team but cannot because of Covid,” she said.

A line of teenage girls waits to take a photo with a poster of Japanese boy group “Sexy Zone”, which released a new single on Wednesday.Eiko Yahashi

Across the street near a Starbucks, a long line of teenage girls waited their turn to take a photo with a huge poster of Japanese boy group “Sexy Zone,” which released a new single on Wednesday.

Ayako Kato and Ayano Hirai, both 18, said they were watching the Olympics at home with their families.

“We’re in it, but today ‘Sexy Zone’,” Hirai said and the two laughed.

Eiko Yahashi contributed.


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