Tokyo tree battle further damps Japanese Olympic enthusiasm -- May 31
At any other time in Yoyogi Park, the sight of workers going about their business with power saws would pass unnoticed. It’s a densely-treed spot and the glorious 57-year-old oaks and cedars won’t prune themselves.

But in mid-2021, with the Olympic spectacle just 50-odd days away and its momentum now seemingly impervious to medical, media or public calls for cancellation, the woodsmen have become convenient villains. The park must be readied as an “Olympic Live Zone”.

A few dozen trees have to be cut back to make space for the site, whose usage, as with everything else, will ultimately be dictated by coronavirus. And however limited the tree-surgeons’ activities may be in practice, to their fiercest online detractors they are vandalous, ecology-hating stooges for an Olympic project that is eroding Japan’s sanity and sovereignty.

The rising indignation at the Olympic tree-cutting offers a neat encapsulation of much (beyond the global pandemic) that has gone wrong with the games at this point. That includes the tin-eared “barring Armageddon it’s a go” messaging from International Olympic Committee officials and the many unforced errors of local organisers, including the resignation in February of the president of the Tokyo Olympics, Yoshiro Mori, over sexist remarks. Meanwhile, the Japanese public has a darkening, frustrated sense of the unstoppable arrival of tens of thousands of athletes and their teams. 

Yoyogi Park is a fitting setting for the latest battle over the wisdom of holding the Olympics in a still-untamed pandemic with less than 3 per cent of the country fully vaccinated. The 134-acre expanse of central Tokyo land was used as the Olympic Village in 1964. In a fine example of a legacy that was neither large public debt nor decaying facilities, the village was afterwards converted into one of the capital’s loveliest parks.