Japan’s Next Big Global Moment

Dr. Koji Murofushi at the 2017 USC Global Conference in Tokyo. (USC Photo: Daiki Suzuki)

Japanese Olympic hero discusses opportunities to inspire a new generation

As Japan prepares to host the next Summer Olympics in 2020, it is looking for ways to increase interest in the Olympics among youth around the world, according to Dr. Koji Murofushi, sports director of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizing committee and gold medal winning hammer thrower.

“Some say there is declining interest from youth, that the Olympics are fading,” said Murofushi. “But many of the traditional sports seem elite and exclusive. We are striving to raise awareness of the Olympics through inclusivity.”

The Japan Olympic Committee has chosen sports like surfing, skateboarding, and rock climbing that appeal to the younger generation and give young athletes an opportunity to shine. They have also added sports that increase participation from women.

“Tokyo 2020 will be the most gender-balanced games in history,” added Murofushi.

In a discussion with Dr. Duncan Ryūken Williams, founding director of the USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, the two addressed how each generation needs to find an identity and recognize that external influences enhance our experiences and shape our perspectives.

Dr. Koji Murofushi and Dr. Duncan Ryūken Williams at the 2017 USC Global Conference (USC Photo: Daiki Suzuki)

“The most dynamic and productive periods in Japan’s history have come with collaborative efforts looking outside the country for inspiration,” added Williams during the discussion.

Murofushi shared a story of attending school in the U.S. as a child, and completing an assignment in a way differently from his classmates. The teacher helped the class understand that both approaches were valid – that cultural influences affect how we approach everything.

“You can’t be multicultural without having an experience outside your own culture,” said Murofushi. “It helps you better understand your own culture.”

According to Wiliams, an essential part of Japanese culture is the concept of “omotenashi” – a tradition of hospitality where people go the extra mile, or do things that are not their job, because they want people to have a good experience.

Omotenashi will play a significant role in how Tokyo is perceived as an Olympic location, just as their focus on inspiring youth and drawing from experiences in other cultures will help Japan realize the importance of its influence on the rest of the world.