JAPAN: Language and Gender Spark Debate at 2020 Olympic Press Conference

LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – Is it English or ego? Former Prime Minister and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Organizing Committee President Yoshiro Mori sparked controversy at a news conference held at the Main Media Center for the Sochi Games when questioned about why he spoke in Japanese rather than English.

Mori, 76, began by addressing the fact that in his generation, there were very few people who spoke and understood foreign languages. “I was in the second grade when the war (World War II) ended and English was considered the enemy’s language. And if I should make a huge mistake (by speaking English incorrectly) it could lead to problems,” he continued.  Mori then asked the journalist if he were to travel to Japan, would he make an effort to speak Japanese.

According to reporter Duncan Mackay of Inside the Games, Mori was “visibly agitated” with the inquiries, including when another journalist questioned him about the lack of females and younger people on the planning committee. Mori vowed to find candidates who are well qualified for the positions, promising that he “will take a woman’s appointment into full consideration,” and try to fill open spots on the executive board with some younger applicants.

Mori’s appointment as president of the committee was announced on Jan. 24 and met with quite a bit of backlash on social media, prompting comments like “He is known for his careless remarks…Having him as chairman means there is a high risk of inappropriate comment.”  In addition, the Japanese pressMainichi Newspaper and Weekly Bunshun, to name a few, have reported that Mori allegedly had ties to the Yakuza in the past. Under so much media scrutiny, can we really blame Mori for being a little defensive?

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