let the games begin

Thinking about it again, the most interesting about the Olympic opening ceremony beamed from Beijing last night was that it was exactly what many expected.

I happened to be out on the street when the program started, walking the distance between Tokyo Station and Yurakucho Station. I imagined gaggles of people watching it everywhere, but found only three places that had it on. I ended up catching it at the Bic Camera electronics shop, with about 50 other office workers pausing from their commute home (the photo above). The mood was totally different from the time when the football Word Cup came to town, or even the time after, when it was held in Germany. Then, televisions and crowds seemed to materialize in almost every restaurant and cafe in the city — it was a party. This time it was dour.

The ceremony — supposed to be the China’s official debut — was a marvel. Still, I couldn’t fully take it in — I was too busy watching the faces around me. Hardly anyone smiled at the cast of thousands replicated on multiple screens, and what few “oohs” and “ahhs” that escaped shriveled in silence. It was shocking and awesome, and no one here could have missed its message: intentional or otherwise, China’s first footfall on the world stage came down hard like a goosestep.

The very first act, depicting the evolution of Chinese writing and the character 和 in particular, seemed like a message directed at Japan: 和 usually means “harmony,” but in Japan it’s come to mean “Japanese.” “Harmony” and “lockstep” no longer mean the same thing in Japan,though, after the war, a boom and the present bust changed it. At Bic, on Japanese TV sets built in China, the people around me looked like they were watching a broadcast from the past.