A couple of weeks ago, I was taking out the rubbish, when I spotted a neatly bound pile of manga in the corner of my apartment block’s refuse area.
Just two months before that, I found a perfectly functional electric guitar, complete with stand and shoulder strap! So I always keep an eye out for throwaway items.
This particular stack of comics was published in 2017 by the Japan Sports Agency, which is the government department overseeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The 12 volumes highlight regional regeneration projects in specific parts of the country through different Olympic sports. They try to paint a picture of how sport can be used to help revive declining communities and local economies.
The combination of a stagnant economy since the mid-90s, an ageing population a low birthrate, and major environmental catastrophes have contributed to the decline of many of Japan’s smaller regional towns.
[If you want to get a sense of how deep the repercussions of this transformation are, take a look at this short film called “Valley of the Dolls” by German director, Fritz Schumann.]
To give you an example of one of the stories in these manga, volume one focuses on a sports ground in Abashiri City, Hokkaido, built to coincide with the Seoul Olympics in 1988. The story follows the development of the ground into a major rugby training camp.
The characters in the manga are faced with the challenges and dilemmas that come with turning a local facility into a world-class rugby camp, touted as being the “best turf in Japan.”
As you might expect from a government sponsored publication, these manga tend to paint a very positive picture of each region and locality.
It’s great that Japan has been selected to host the 2020 Games, but at the same time it’s hard not to be skeptical about the real regional impact of the games, particularly given the poor track record of past Olympic development programs in other host nations.
Many countries use the premise of economic revival to justify the incredible sums of tax-payer’s money allocated to Olympic Games, and yet so many projects are never seen through or fall into disarray once the world’s media has packed up and gone home.
Here’s hoping that Japan is able to break this recent trend. If you can read Japanese and/or you are studying Japanese, I recommend reading the two free sample volumes that you can get here and here. If you do decide to read them, I’d love to hear what you think, so please feel free to comment below.
Finally, here is a map of Japan with the 12 regions and their respective manga. I have scanned and uploaded the covers of each one below and added translations of the titles. For more information about the series, visit the Japan Sports Agency website.