Japanese-Australians celebrate Tokyo Olympics Games: 'It's given hope'

If there's a regret Mika Nishimura has about the Tokyo Olympics it's been the inability of the Japanese, constrained by the vagaries of the pandemic, to fully deliver their cherished "omotenashi": to unreservedly tend to their guests in a country renowned for its hospitality.

The term, entrenched in Japanese culture, is derived from "sado", literally "the way of tea". Mika Nishimura is originally from Kyoto and one of almost 43,000 Japanese-born Australian citizens in Australia, with more than half living in the three most populous states of NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

With the spectator-deprived Olympics due to end Sunday night with the closing ceremony, Ms Nishimura, a creative producer and director, and her Australian-born daughter, Aya Richardson, 21, this week reflected over her own kind of ceremony as the pair took tea together in their Japanese-style living room.

"Despite the opposition to the Tokyo Olympics going ahead, including my initial reaction due to the worsening COVID situation there, I think the Games has given some hope to people facing huge obstacles," says Mika Nishimura, who lives in South Turramurra on Sydney's North Shore. "It has made us think about how we have to learn to co-exist with COVID."

Aya, a university student who has been cheering on both Australia and Japan, shares her mother's ambivalence and says the Olympics have lifted her own spirits during lockdown and provided a sense of hope. She particularly appreciated how mixed-race Japanese athletes, such as the tennis star Naomi Osaka, were represented in the Opening Ceremony, both as torch and flag bearers.

"I connect pretty strongly to my Japanese heritage but have sometimes questioned the extent to which that's recognised and appreciated when I'm over in Japan. Seeing people who probably relate to those experiences, celebrated in that way was uplifting."

Before the pandemic, Japan, which has been sharing the coveted top-five medal tally status with Australia, was a hot destination for Australians with 552,400 of us visiting the Land of the Rising Sun in 2018, an almost 12 per cent increase on the previous year.

Despite the difficulties surrounding the staging of the Tokyo Olympics due to the pandemic, Alison Roberts-Brown, country manager in Australia for Tokyo Tourism, believes the relative success of the time-zone friendly event as well as the high viewer ratings, will only encourage more visitors from Australia.

"The Tokyo Games have been such an immediate experience thanks to the time zone. The more Australians succeed, the more eyes on Tokyo. When international travel opens up we have been anticipating Tokyo to be a popular destination of choice, these games are accentuating the appeal," she says.

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"Tokyo is also already seen as safe, clean and kind with organisational skills and efficiency inspiring confidence in future travellers. The Games have really helped to showcase the human side of Tokyo too."

So, with such a compelling and fascinating home country, why do so many Japanese choose to live in Australia?

"The main reason Japanese migrate to Australia is because we are seeking better work-life balance," says Akira Shinkai, retail manager of Tanto, a precision Japanese knives store at the QT Melbourne Hotel in the CBD. "In Japan we live to work but in Australia we work to enjoy our life. We also have many natural disasters at home."

Married with two children and originally from Tokyo, Akira Shinkai came to Australia in April 1988 to study English after backpacking along the east coast. Similarly to Mika Nishimura and her daughter, he had misgivings about the Olympics proceeding in the middle of a pandemic.

"Japan has an ageing population and the risk of spreading the virus has worried us all, especially because both my parents back in Japan are in their 70s and have been stuck at home avoiding crowds to keep themselves safe," he says.

"However, at some point in time we have to live with COVID and maybe the Tokyo Olympics have been a good occasion to show that we can do so and enjoy things from our pre-COVID lives."

The first recorded Japan-born settler to arrive in Australia, according to the Department of Home Affairs, was Sakuragawa Rikinosuke, an acrobat who settled in Queensland in 1871. There are now 8515 Japanese-born people in Victoria compared with 14,008 in NSW, based on the last census.

When asked what Australians' most common misconception about being Japanese was, Akira Shinka offered a ready and raw confession.

"Most of my Australian friends assume I eat sushi every day, which is not true," he says. "I also don't even know how to make it. This is not as common a skill among Japanese as people think."

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