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The Truth About Tokyo 2021

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: In March 2021, Tokyo 2020 organizers announced that overseas spectators would be barred from attending the games. While some zombie “Japanese-only” version of the event might still end up proceeding, the Tokyo Olympics are now dead as far as I’m concerned. I won’t be updating this page any longer, but can you read about visiting Japan in 2022 here.

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The Postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

For many weeks at the beginning of the Wuhan 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 March 2021. Olympics or not, tourists will not enter Japan again until well into 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 though several successful Covid-19 vaccines will 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 February 2021, 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 January 2021 found that more than 80% of Tokyoites want the Tokyo Olympics canceled or further postponed.

Is the Olympics still happening?

If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s a spin of the roulette wheel whether the Tokyo Olympics will take place or not. Between public sentiment and the likelihood that the coronavirus pandemic will be raging well into the summer, an outright Tokyo Olympic cancellation is still possible, the iron will of the Tokyo governor and the IOC president notwithstanding. Additionally, officials begin telegraphing in March 2021 that foreign tourists would not be allowed to enter Japan in time for the Olympics. Keeping in mind the reason for holding the games in spite of the public’s opposition to them—a symbol that humanity has triumphed over Covid-19—having a “Japanese-only” Olympics would seem to be an admission of defeat.

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. Due to recent rumors about imminent cancellation (which both the Japanese government and the IOC quickly quashed), the topic is more ubiquitous in the global news than it’s ever been. Here are some some indicators I’m looking for:

  • How many Covid-19 vaccines received approval around the world? As of March 2021, vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, all of which the Japanese government has already pre-purchased, have received authorization in the US and several other countries, which authorization of jabs from Oxford/AstraZeneca and Novavax are imminent. Japan has started its own vaccination campaign, albeit at a glacial pace.
  • 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, say, May than it is now, in March, the Olympics may well be canceled.
  • 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. Or, I should say, it was: Japan’s government fully re-closed the border in December 2020, due to largely unfounded hysteria over new Covid-19 “variants” in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere.

If the Olympics are to take place this July, the Japanese border will need to be significantly more open 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 before the summer, 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 Golden Week 2021, the Japanese border is not open at least to all foreigners with medium- and long-term visas, 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 remains largely closed a year after the pandemic began, and moves to re-open it have proven as perilously slow as they have of limited impact to the vast majority of travelers. 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!


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