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Super Mario and Prime Minister Abe Took Centre Stage in Japan's 2020 Promo at Rio

During the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 21, Japan was given the opportunity to showcase the summer games scheduled for Tokyo in 2020.

Japan used the opportunity to promote its “soft power”, notably in a sequence where Nintendo character Mario travels via a green pipe through the center of the earth to emerge in Rio. For a brief moment Mario appeared before the crowd in Rio before being transformed into a business suit-clad Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who invited the world to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo:

It's “Abe Mario.”

Many Japanese Twitters reacted with delight:

I watched “Abe Mario's” entrance at the Rio closing ceremonies, and while I was impressed, I also thought to myself, “Doesn't he look a little bit goofy?”

While Shinzo Abe is not an unpopular politician in Japan, following his recent election win and supermajority in the upper house of Japan's bicameral parliament, there are fears he will move to revise Japan's Constitution.

There is also the danger Abe will lose his appeal as the economy continues to flounder despite several years of “Abenomics.”

So the popularity of the promo for the 2020 Olympics and “Abe Mario” must be welcome news for the prime minister.

Many Twitter users were impressed by the overall performance:

The thing that impressed me the most was how they used the cubes to create the Tokyo 2020 emblem, and then represented the Tokyo skyline.

I just watched the Japan part of the Rio closing ceremonies, and it totally captured the spirit of Japanese “otaku” culture. They really included all the little details.

The 2020 promo at the Rio closing ceremonies also allowed some Japanese Twitter users to wax lyrical on the “uniqueness” of Japanese culture compared to other cultures:

One of the characteristics of Japanese culture is an obsession over minute details, often to an extreme degree. Anywhere else in the world outside of Japan, nobody pays attention to the details (like we do), especially things that nobody will ever notice or see.

So this is something all Japanese should be proud of.

Besides Abe Mario, there were several Easter eggs and hidden details that appealed to viewers who watched closely:

The closing ceremonies paid homage to the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

The watch Prime Minister Abe is wearing in the promo is the same Omega that first went on sale in 1964, when Omega sponsored the first Tokyo Olympics. I wonder if the watch Abe is wearing is set to the same date and time as the watch (in the image from) 1964.

This attention to detail is one of the things I love about Japan.

So what was the deal with the female high school student?

Some, however, were troubled by the decision to include the image of a uniformed female high school student (女子高生, joshikosei, aka “JK”) in the Rio promo video.

jk shibuya

Screencap of Tokyo 2020 Olympics promotional video. Image widely shared on social media.

Writing for Joshi SPA, a weekly tabloid aimed at younger women, columnist Katsube Genki notes:

 映像に登場する女子高校生は、現役女子高校生の体操選手とのことですが、他のアスリートが全員競技中のユニフォームに身をまとっている中、なぜ冒頭の彼女一人だけがわざわざ制服姿にさせられているのでしょうか? 東京五輪に挑戦する未来の若者を表現したかったというのなら、なぜ制服姿の男子高校生も合わせて起用しなかったのでしょうか?

While the female high school student who appears in the PR reel appears as an athelete, why is she, the first athlete portrayed in the video, the only one wearing a school uniform? If they wanted to showcase the youth who are going to be the future athletes (representing Japan in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics) why didn't they show any boys dressed in a high school uniforrm?

In the Joshi SPA article, Katsube answers his own question:

[…] 「制服JKを性的アイコンにしています~!」と世界に向けて堂々とアピールやらかしました

The reason is because Tokyo 2020 organizers want to use a (uniform-clad) as sex icon when promoting the Olympics to a global audience.

The female high school uniform, argues Katsube, has a somewhat sordid history in Japan:

実際に、昔は援助交際やブルセラで、近年はJKビジネスと、制服が性的アイコンとして消費され、国連からも未成年女子の買春・人身売買が盛んな国として認定を受けるような状態です。

In fact, in the past the girls’ high school uniform, as a symbol of compensated dating (援助交際, enjo kosai) and used panty sales (ブルセラ, burusera) had a strong sexual connotation that has since been erased, after Japan was criticized by the UN for permitting child prostitution and human trafficking.

Other commentators simply celebrated the fact that one of Japan's up-and-coming athletes was showcased in the 2020 promo:

The female high school athlete who kicked off the 2020 promo is 16-year-old Dobashi Koko.

She's aiming to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She wasn't included by chance in the 2020 promo—she has big dreams for the future.

“Prime Minister Abe Should Have Been Eaten By a Piranha Plant”

Opposition politicians were unimpressed by Prime Minister Abe's grandstanding in the Tokyo 2020 promo at the closing ceremony in Rio.

Fujioka Yoshihide, a Communist member of the Nagano prefectural assembly got into hot water for criticizing Abe's appearance on Twitter.

He quickly removed his Tweet, but not before someone took a screenshot of the offending remarks:

(Screenshot of offending Tweet): “Abe should have been eaten by a Piranha Plant as soon as he emerged from the green pipe. Everything had gone so well up until that point.”

Kazuo Shi, the national leader of the Japanese Communist Party was more measured in his response:

The Olympic Charter says, “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.” There were many heartwarming scenes in Rio where the athletes, through their individual power, skill and passion demonstrating the Games truly are “a competition between athletes.” I hope that this same spirit will prevail in Tokyo in 2020.

The imagery of the games did generate a few playful conversations on Twitter as well.

The green pipe leading to Rio apparently can be found in central Tokyo.

Here's the real “Abe Mario pipe”—it's actually the mysterious “green thing” that's in front of Ikebukuro Station.

Read more of our special coverage: Joy, Disappointment and Injustice at the Rio Olympics

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