The last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics, Kohei Jinno was 30 years old. Japan was recovering from its defeat in World War II and establishing itself as a global modern power. Excitement pulsed through the air; there was money to be made, gold medals to be won. So when the government handed Jinno eviction papers to build the National Olympic Stadium in the Japanese capital, he was enthusiastic. Anything to help, he thought.
But when he was handed those same eviction papers a second time, in 2013, nearly 50 years later, he was distressed. Now 80 years old, Jinno didn’t want to move away from the community that raised him. He had his friends, his tobacco shop, his routine. He also wasn’t entirely behind Tokyo hosting the Olympics. Japan was recently hit by a series of devastating disasters, such as the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima. He felt the government should spend its money addressing those issues instead of splurging on a sporting spectacle.
But it was the government. So he cooperated. Now 87 years old, Jinno reflects in a July 24 interview on what’s changed for him and Japan, as it hosts the 2020 Olympics in the midst of a global pandemic.
VICE World News: How do you feel seeing this stadium, which has now replaced your home?
Jinno: Too much has changed. The greenery that used to surround this area used to calm me, but now that peace feels far. This is where I was born, where I grew up. I also had my store here. My entire life was here.
How did you react when the government evicted you the first time, before the 1964 Olympics?
Japan felt like it was in a state of recovery. I thought, “The Olympics! Great! I should cooperate.” I was all for it.
Is it different this time around?
I think there were other ways the government could’ve spent their money than on the Olympics. These years, there are so many natural disasters in Japan. I wish they considered how the people were feeling more.
What did the government tell you when they were evicting you the second time?
One day, they told the residents in our building that they needed to ask us for something. They told us to come to the fifth floor of the Nippon Seinen-Kan Hall [a hotel and convention venue]. By that point I had a bad feeling, but they said, “Because we’re having the Olympics, you’re going to have to move,” as though they had no regard for how us residents were feeling.
I wish they had consulted us and asked us for our opinion. To be frank, it felt like they were telling us to get out of the way. That was my impression. And there were a lot of elderly residents, which made moving physically difficult.
Were you satisfied with the government’s handling of these eviction notices?
Well, it’s coming from the government, so we felt we had no choice but to cooperate.
Did you receive any support from the government to help you move?
They said they were going to give us some money to help us move. They didn’t tell us how much at the time. Afterward, they did transfer us some money, but it covered one-tenth of moving costs. It is better than nothing, I suppose. But more important than that, it was the sadness I felt when I was told to leave this place. I've been living here for over 80 years. I didn’t want to leave. I wish they considered how we might be feeling.
What kind of community did you have in your building?
When I’d go down to open my store in the morning, my customers were already waiting outside. They’d ask me to quickly open the store, and I’d ask why they were in such a rush. But they weren’t there to buy anything—they just wanted to talk to me. I used to keep a bench outside my store that’d fit about five people. They’d all wait for me, and just launch into conversation as soon as I arrived. Now, that entire community has disappeared.
Do you think the Olympics should be cancelled?
At first I was against it. I thought it was too soon to have the Olympics in Tokyo. There was more for the country and prefecture to do. But after it’s been decided… it is what it is. So now, we must welcome the athletes coming to Japan with smiles. I want them to be thankful they came to Japan. But at the same time, I don’t know how to help. And with COVID-19 restrictions, there just isn’t the same enthusiasm.