As Games face coronavirus risk, Tokyo flags chief hoists standard for perfection


TOKYO (Reuters) – At 79, Tadamasa Fukiura has never lost his boyhood love of flags. But now the man in charge of supplying more than 10,000 of them for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics has a flag obsession of a different stripe – whether the Games will go ahead.

Doubts are mounting around the world that the Olympics can proceed as planned amid the coronavirus pandemic, with countries in all continents implementing drastic social and travel lockdowns. Still, Tokyo Games and Japanese government officials insist the event will go ahead as scheduled.

For Fukiura, whose lifelong fascination saw him asked to supervise displays at Tokyo’s 1964 Games, a call needs to be made, and soon, on whether to proceed with meticulous preparations for over 10,000 flags representing nations around the world at this year’s event.

“I think by the end of March, we have to decide whether to stop or continue preparations for the Olympics,” Fukiura told Reuters in an interview.

Despite the coronavirus outbreak, flag manufacturing plants in Japan are currently up and running to meet their own May deadline, Fukiura said.

Currently an advisor for the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Fukiura describes his passion as an “addiction” and literally wrote the book on flags of the world when he was a 22-year-old college student at Waseda University supervising displays at the 1964 Olympics.

At the time, there was no official policy on what shade of red Japan’s flag should have. After reviewing 2,000 lipstick colors from cosmetics maker Shiseido, he selected the shade that would become standard for the national flag.

Fukiura said 1964 was a defining moment of national unity for Japan, then rising from the ashes of the World War II less than 20 years earlier on its way to become a major economic power.

“It was really exciting. Nineteen years after losing the war, Japanese people concentrated on the Olympics,” he said.

But Fukiura said organizing flags for this year’s Games was as nerve-wrecking as in 1964, involving twice as many participating nations and sports event as well as major corporate sponsors. A fear of mistakes, like flags being hoisted upside down, never leaves him.

He also knows what it feels like to be haunted by the prospect of a cancellation, recalling the eve of the opening of ceremony when sudden heavy rains threatened the historic moment.

“I was preparing for the opening ceremony for two and a half years. I thought to myself, this rain would cancel the event,” said Fukiura.

But that rain melted away, giving way to glorious sunshine, and the spectacle of flags saluting the world, just as he had planned.

(This story has been refiled to add missing letters in paragraph 2, remove extraneous word in paragraph 7)

Reporting by Ju-min Park and Ami Miyazaki; Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell