Some sad news today regarding the Olympic effort for 2020. When I woke up this morning, I found out through NHK's "News Watch 9" that a very energetic fellow who had been spreading his brand of Japanese joy for the Games for decades passed away at the age of 92 back on March 9th.
Naotoshi Yamada（山田直稔）, aka Olympic Ojisan（オリンピックおじさん...Uncle Olympics）, was someone that I often saw during any Olympics coverage whenever NHK or any of the private TV stations focused their cameras onto the audience no matter where the Games for that year were staged. Decked out in a getup which was half Uncle Sam and half ultimate Japanese superfan, Olympic Ojisan could have also been seen as an Olympian version of Santa Claus for all of the happiness that he liked to bring out in everyone, whether Japanese or not.
What I found out through the NHK tribute to Yamada was that like a lot of longtime traditions, Olympic Ojisan was born from a happy accident. Yamada had been at the Opening Ceremonies at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 (the Summer Games right after Tokyo 1964) and with his mighty chutzpah, he had thought that he was cheering on the Japanese team when in fact, he was cheering on the Mexican team (both teams were apparently wearing blazers of the same colour...red). I don't know whether the fellow was embarrassed by his supposed faux pas but Mexicans were impressed and charmed by Yamada kindly roaring in support of the home country, and from then on, Olympic Ojisan became a fixture at future games, including the boycotted 1980 Games in Moscow.
I think that he had a great life and Yamada was even bestowed the Medal of Dark Blue Ribbon in 1984 by the government of Japan. Such recipients, according to Wikipedia, are given this particular award for having "...made exceptionally generous financial contributions for the well-being of the public." Not quite sure how the financial component played in with Yamada, although perhaps he did make some generous donations for the Olympics effort. But that didn't show up on the NHK tribute; I think his biggest gift was his overt excitement for the Games. It's just sad though that he wasn't able to live long enough to see the 2020 Games in Tokyo next year.
As my own personal tribute to Olympic Ojisan, I've decided to go with this article for Mariko Takahashi's（高橋真梨子）"Haruka na Hito e" (To The Faraway People) which was NHK's official theme song for the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Her 22nd single released in February 1994, it was written by Takahashi and composed by Ryo Matsuda（松田良）.
To be perfectly frank, this probably won't get up into my Top 5 list of beloved Mariko songs, but it does have that feeling of hope and optimism as Takahashi sings about people still doing great things although time and distance may have separated them. Moreover, it is indeed Takahashi singing this so it's always a solidly delivered tune. "Haruka na Hito e" was her 3rd single to break into the Oricon Top 10 (peaking at No. 6), after "Momo Iro Toiki"（桃色吐息）in 1984 and "Hagayui Kuchibiru"（はがゆい唇）in 1992, selling north of 500,000 copies. In terms of her most successful singles, it also ranks in at No. 3, behind "Gomen ne..."（ごめんね…）from 1996, and the aforementioned "Hagayui Kuchibiru". On the annual rankings, the song was No. 64.
Since its debut as an Olympic song, "Haruka na Hito e" has become cherished even as a graduation song due to its lyrics. Here's hoping that Olympic Ojisan, despite his own graduation to a better place, has bequeathed his energy to a lot of the folks left behind when July 2020 finally arrives.