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Tokyo 2021 Olympics

The Truth About Tokyo 2021

Although it should technically be called “Tokyo 2021,” on account of the fact that it will now take place…well, in 2021, the Tokyo Olympics have retained their “Tokyo 2020” moniker. I wish the weirdness of the delayed Japan games ended there.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. Assuming the Tokyo games do end up happening, they will be wrought with uncertainty and complication, likely right up until July 23, 2021.

Continue reading to learn about the past and present of the Tokyo 2021 debacle, and why I’m cautiously optimistic that the unluckiest Olympics in history might just see the light of day after all.

UPDATE: A January 2021 re-closure of Japan’s border has called the re-scheduled Tokyo Games into question once again. Here’s why I’m not ready to panic (yet).

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The Postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

For many weeks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Japanese government insisted the games would proceed as originally scheduled. It wasn’t until the beginning of April 2020 that Japan began to face down the reality of a Tokyo 2021 Olympics. This coincided with a broad closure of the Japanese border that is largely still in effect as of December 2020. Olympics or not, tourists will not enter Japan again before 2021.

Postponing the Olympics for a year seemed like a long delay all those months ago, but in fact it buys the governments of Japan and Tokyo (not to mention the IOC) very little time in the grand scheme of things. Even thought several successful Covid-19 vaccines will likely have been rolled out by July of 2021, huge swathes of the world’s population (and even of Japan’s own) may still be waiting to be immunized by the time the opening ceremony begins. Moreover, the Japanese government will apparently not mandate vaccination for either the athletes or spectators, which makes no sense to me.


FAQ About the Tokyo 2021 Olympics

Are the 2020 Olympics being held?

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics have been postponed to begin on July 23, 2021. It’s possible that the Olympics will be canceled outright, however. As of December 2020, IOC officials remain as bullish about the prospects of the Games taking place as they were during their November 2020 visit to Tokyo.

How much will it cost to go to the Tokyo Olympics?

Ticket prices for individual Tokyo 2021 Olympics events vary greatly. As far as how much a trip to Japan to see the Olympics will cost? Even without Olympics tickets, two weeks in Japan will cost a minimum of 3,000 USD per person, not including airfare.

Are Tokyo 2020 tickets sold out?

Many people have requested refunds of their tickets in the wake of the Olympic postponement, so some tickets are still available for Tokyo 2021. Visit this official website to browse a list of official ticket resellers by country.

Is Tokyo ready for 2020 Olympics?

The leadership and infrastructure might be able to cope with Tokyo 2021, but much of the population would prefer if the games did not take place. A poll in late June 2020 found that 51.7% of Tokyoites want the Tokyo Olympics canceled.

Is the Olympics still happening?

If I were a betting man, I would bet that the Tokyo Olympics will take place, but I would be highly uncertain in placing that bet. Between public sentiment and the likelihood that the coronavirus pandemic will be raging well into 2021, an outright Tokyo Olympic cancellation is still possible, the iron will of the Tokyo governor and the IOC president notwithstanding.

How to Know if the Tokyo Olympics Will Be Canceled

The good news is that we won’t have to wait long to know whether the delayed games will go on. The IOC stated it would make its final determination in December 2020, but so far nothing remotely “final” seems to have been stated. In the absence of a more definitive answer, here are some indicators I’m looking for:

  • Have any Covid-19 vaccines received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? In particular, I’m paying attention to the partnership between AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, whose vaccine the Japanese government has pre-purchased. (UPDATE: As of December 2020, two vaccines—from Pfizer and Moderna, both of which the Japanese government has already pre-purchased—have received an EUA, or emergency-use authorization, from the US FDA.)
  • Is Japan’s border still totally closed? I’ll explain more about why this matters in a second, but if Japan’s border is not significantly more open in December than it was in August or September, the Olympics may well be canceled. (UPDATE: As of December 2020, the Japanese border has slowly begun re-opening, albeit not to tourists.)
  • What’s the mood on the ground in Tokyo? If Japanese authorities remain unable to control the spread of Covid-19, it could further sour the public mood on the Olympics, and lower approval numbers of the officials promoting them.
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Will Japan’s Border Even Be Open in 2021?

I’ve been a passionate advocate for the end of the #JapanTravelBan—and not just because of my personal and professional interests in travel to Japan resuming. The country’s heavily tourism-dependent economy was fragile even before coronavirus; I’m not sure it can withstand both a year without tourists and an Olympic cancellation. Unfortunately, re-opening the border is occurring in a slow, piecemeal fashion. They’re doing it country-by-country, and only for a dew dozen travelers at a time!

If the Olympics are to take place next July, the Japanese border will need to be fully re-opened by then—can you imagine an international sports event with spectators of just one nationality? If Japan’s hopes to Covid-proof its ports of entry by then, they will need to start now. Certainly, I’m skeptical of a plan recently published in the Nikkei Asian Review*, which seems more befitting of North Korea than Japan. If, by the end of 2020, the Japanese border is not fully open to any person willing to test and quarantine, I can’t see the Tokyo 2021 Olympics taking place.

*TIP: Get around Nikkei’s paywall by opening this article in an incognito/private window!

The Bottom Line

Tokyo 2021, if it ends up happening, will be the most unusual Olympic games in history. That’s a big “if,” of course, and not just due to the question mark of the never-ending coronavirus pandemic. Japan’s border remained largely closed a year out from the opening ceremony, and moves to re-open it have proven as perilously slow as they have of limited impact to the vast majority of travels. When you couple this with an inconvenient on-the-ground truth—that the majority of Tokyo citizens do not want the games to move forward any longer—the future of 2021’s “Tokyo 2020” Olympics becomes very uncertain indeed. All the more reason to hire a professional who can absorb all the nonsense to plan your 2021 trip to Japan!