Japan-related news picks show power of sports amid pandemic stagnation

Amid the sense of stagnation in society due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the achievements of athletes apparently cheered up many people.

The top news related to Japan as chosen by Yomiuri Shimbun readers in this year’s poll was Shohei Ohtani being named the MVP of the American League.

A two-way player who broke the mold of what a conventional pitcher or hitter is, Ohtani throws heavy 160 kph fastballs and hit many home runs. His gentlemanly demeanor on the field earned him respect even from opponents. Being honored in the birthplace of baseball deserves praise.

In golf as well, there was a remarkable accomplishment, with Hideki Matsuyama winning the Masters, which placed number nine in the poll. Young Japanese people in sports increasingly have been able to hold their own against the world.

At number eight was Sota Fujii winning the Ryuo title to become the youngest shogi player to hold four major titles. The arrival of a young star has broadened shogi’s fan base.

Coming in second was the Tokyo Olympics and a Japan-record haul of 58 medals. The nation’s judoka won nine of the 14 individual weight categories for men and women, and Japan even captured gold medals in baseball and softball. The Tokyo Olympics had plenty to talk about, with one topic being the teen and preteen athletes who gave outstanding performances in the new Olympic sport of skateboarding.

In addition to the Tokyo Games having been postponed by a year, actually holding the event was in doubt at one point, due to the rampant novel coronavirus variants, which placed sixth in the poll. The Games were eventually held with no spectators in principle, the 10th-ranked news item. Overcoming such an unprecedented crisis is likely to be a story that will be passed down for generations.

The hope is that people will also remember the 14th-ranked news that Japan won 51 medals in the Tokyo Paralympics, the second most for the nation. Even now, expectations are high for Japanese athletes to shine in the Beijing Winter Games next year.

Under a prolonged state of emergency, the start of COVID-19 vaccinations, regarded as the game changer to suppress infections, ranked third. Japan initially lagged behind Western countries, but its inoculation rate has reached about 80%. A sharp drop in infection numbers in the second half of this year is likely attributable to the effects of vaccines.

In September, then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced his intention to step down after being criticized for his handling of the pandemic, the 15th-ranked news pick. Following Suga’s departure, Fumio Kishida, who called for realizing a new form of capitalism, became the prime minister, which placed seventh in the poll. Kishida is now facing the test of whether his government can overcome the pandemic and draw up a new growth strategy.

The news that Princess Mako and Kei Komuro were married ranked fourth. In consideration of public sentiment, the couple married in an unusual manner as no ceremonies were held and a lump-sum marriage allowance, which is paid to a princess leaving the Imperial family upon marriage, was also not provided.

A mudslide that battered Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, caused many casualties, the fifth-ranked news item. It is hoped that measures will be taken so that people can live with peace of mind in disaster-prone Japan.

The fight against the novel coronavirus is likely to continue into next year. Community-acquired infections of the omicron variant have also been confirmed in Japan. Precautions must continue to be taken.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 27, 2021.