Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 25, February 2011

Nationalism and Religious Abjection
in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony

Taeko Teshima and Andrew W. Jones

  1. Julia Kristeva argues that prior to learning language young children live in what she calls the 'semiotic' mode, a place of unity and passions. Later, as they learn language they turn their backs on the semiotic mode and enter the realm of the father, the symbolic mode. And yet, for Kristeva, the semiotic mode is never entirely eclipsed; the semiotic is what gives energy and passion to the symbolic, and the semiotic always lies in the unconscious of the symbolic. However the transition from the semiotic to the symbolic is not smooth; rather, it is fraught with tensions. In order for the child to differentiate him- or herself from the mother she must notice where she is different from the mother, and Kristeva argues that this happens through disgust with the female body – what Kristeva calls 'abjection.' During the semiotic phase there is unity in the child-mother body, and so abjection involves noticing what is disgusting in that unified body (faeces, vomit, etc.) and using that disgust as a way of differentiating the child's self from the mother's.[1]
  2. Kristeva argues that religion often replicates this individual drama of development. Yet with patriarchal religion the mother is displaced, or abjected, from the semiotic. This is what we find in the religious rituals Japanese nationalists have drawn upon to justify the emperor as a 'living god' and imperialist leader. The sun goddess, Amaterasu, who is the mother of Japan and the Japanese people is partially sidelined in favor of the emperor. This myth history was revived in the 1998 Olympics opening ceremony.
  3. This paper analyses they way that the 1998 Nagano Olympics opening ceremony used elements of religious myth similar to those that the nationalists used during the fascist period of Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. This is no accident: neo-nationalists in recent years have been trying to revive nationalism in Japan, and the organiser of the opening ceremony was responsive to these currents. Yet nationalists are posed with a dilemma. They wish to make the emperor a 'living god' and yet in Japanese myth the origin of Japan, and the emperor's authority, comes from the goddess Amaterasu. Thus, nationalists must simultaneously draw on Amaterasu's power, while preventing Amaterasu from overshadowing the emperor. They do this by sidelining Amaterasu and all female power for the first half of the ceremony. When she is first represented, it is in what Kristeva calls the symbolic phase; Amaterasu as the mother of Japan is abjected from the semiotic space that mothers occupy, and in her place the male warriors of the emperor give birth to the neo-colonial children of Japan, the snow children. Only at the end of the ceremony does Amaterasu appear in her full semiotic power, to light the Olympic cauldron, but only after the whole of Japan and its people has been constituted without her female presence.
  4. The Olympic ceremony consists of seven scenes or acts: (1) the Onbashira ritual, establishing the Japanese community, (2) Sumō purification and fealty to the emperor ritual, (3) dosojin ritual to protect Japan from foreigners, (4) the inclusion of the rice children into the purified centre of Japan and their transformation into snow children – the children of the countries of the world, (5) the first central female actor of the ceremony, perhaps representing Amaterasu, singing with the snow children 'Children Rule the World,' (6) the parade of Olympic athletes guarded and led by the sumō worriers and snow children, and (7) the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, by what is clearly a representation of Amaterasu. But space in this paper only permits me to focus on several of these acts in detail.

    Act 1: Onbashira Ritual – establishing the Japanese community
  5. The first two acts of the ceremony are unambiguously based on myth. Act 1 uses the first part of the tenson kōrin myth of the Kojiki (a key text of fascist-era Japan), which describes the descent to earth of the descendants of the sun goddess (Amaterasu). Act 2 is based on the second part of tenson kōrin, the 'land ceding' myth. After Amaterasu receives Japan from the earthly gods, she sends her grandson, Ninigino to the earth and he wrestles and defeats the rebellious leaders and the land is ceded to the gods. Sumō wrestling replicates this myth; and sumō wrestlers swear loyalty to the emperor (as a god).[2] The detail of the myth is replicated in the Olympic opening ceremonies. But first the myth.
  6. Because Shintō is a religion that ties together the spirits of heavenly gods and specific earthly gods (kami in mountains, forests, and trees), neo-nationalists' intention is to use Shintō to unify local kami under a central authority. This is done in two ways: (1) by making a central shrine to which all other shrines are subordinate, and (2) by creating a special ceremony for that central shrine. Both of these goals are accomplished by raising the pillars of the Great Suwa Shrine. These goals are shown in the myth of the Great Suwa Shrine, a form of the kuni yuzuri (land-ceding) myth in the Kojiki. This myth is about the legitimacy of Amaterasu's rule of the Central Land of Reed Plains (ancient Japan), which the head of earthly gods, Ōkuninushi no Mikoto, governs.
  7. According to the 'land-ceding' myth, after Amaterasu (the sun goddess) decides to let her descendant govern ancient Japan, she orders the head of the earthly gods to cede it to her. In opposing the land ceding, Ōkuninushi's second son, the deity Takeminakata, dares to wrestle one of Amaterasu's officials. After he loses the wrestling match, he promises to obey Amaterasu. So she deifies him in the Great Suwa Shrine; thus, the deity of the Great Suwa Shrine becomes the first local official and the emperor's warrior, and he fights the invasion of outsiders from the north of ancient Japan.[3] After that, his father returns Japan to Amaterasu. Then she goes back to the heaven and sends her grandson down to rule Japan.[4] In this way, the myth eliminates Amaterasu and displaces her power into the first imperial grandson; after she has accomplished this purpose her power is taken away. The fascist text Cardinal Principles of the National Entity of Japan contends that this myth exemplifies the role of the emperor's subjects, who devote themselves to the imperial enterprise.[5]
  8. In Act 1, the Onbashira-matsuri in the Great Suwa Shrine of the Nagano Prefecture, participants raise 15-metre high pillars to bring the gods down to earth and unify the community. The ceremony consists of hundreds of people pulling on ropes attached to four sets of very tall logs which are being slowly raised to the chants and the rhythmic clapping of the onbes. When fully erect, the pillars allow the gods to come down to earth. The masculine symbolism of this is obvious. Only men are allowed to climb on the pillars, and when they are fully vertical the men on top of them release colourful streamers which cascade down toward the earth, presumably fertilising the land below.
  9. Participants in the ritual wear black trousers, colourful happi coats over black sweaters, and white headbands; they wave colorful onbes, on which many thin slices of wood are attached to the top of a long, narrow wooden handle. Pillars are yorishiro, places where gods come down to earth. By raising two pillars, residents make an entrance gate which marks the boundaries between the stadium and the rest of the stadium for the community, and they consecrate the area as a sacred place.
  10. In Act 1 we have all the elements of the semiotic realm – non-verbal rituals of unification, chants and rhythmic sound – and yet women play no central role, and only assist in raising the pillars without climbing on them or welcoming the gods down to earth.

    Act 2: Sumō purification of the centre of Japan and fealty to the Emperor
  11. In Act 2, women are excluded entirely. The Onbashira ritual ceremony builds the nation, but the sumō ritual gives Japan to the emperor. This act eliminates Amaterasu and displaces her with the first imperial samurai. Although in the myth Amaterasu gives her emissaries orders, after she accomplishes her aims, her power is taken away.[6] Here we can see 'abjection.' Although this is a nation-building, all of the actors are men. In this way, the Olympic matsuri displaces Amaterasu's power with the emperor, and it shows male power over women. Unlike the opening ceremonies of previous national events, such as the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics, Expo '70, and the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, the Opening Ceremony of the Nagano Olympics deployed sumō ritual.
  12. As the media guide to the Nagano Olympics claims, the centre stage of the Olympic stadium was modeled on a sumō ring, specifically on religious sumō.[7] There are two kinds of sumō: popular sumō and religious sumō. Although popular sumō has some religious connotations, it is mainly just a popular sport, involving a match in which two sumō wrestlers fight in a ring until one of them is defeated. On the other hand, religious sumō takes place in Shintō shrines when people hold a seasonal matsuri.[8] Religious sumō does not involve sumō matches. Instead, a sumō wrestler performs a ritual. As part of the ritual, a wrestler raises his leg and stamps in the ring. With this performance, he drives out evil and dead spirits. In this case, the ring symbolises a community. So with this ritual, a sumō wrestler symbolically purifies his community and protects it from outsiders.[9]
  13. The sumō that is deployed in the Opening Ceremony is a 'ring-entering' ritual, called the gozen-gakari (modern court sumō ), and is performed only when the crown prince or the emperor visits Kokugikan (the sumō stadium) in Tōkyō.[10] The modern 'modern court sumō' ritual is a religious sumō modelled after sumai no sechie (sumō matsuri), which, from the eighth through to the twelfth centuries, the emperor held to reinforce the imperial hierarchy.
  14. By showing their nudity, the warriors of local officials promised to be loyal to the emperor, as being nude symbolises their submission to the emperor.[11] This sumō matsuri was ritualised based on the 'land ceding' myth.[12] One day every June, the sumō stage was built, and the emperor sat to the north of the stage. Before a tournament, warriors of local clans, who were divided into east and west groups, performed the sumō matsuri ritual.
  15. The Olympic sumō includes two kinds of modern court sumō rituals: one is the modern court sumō ritual performed by sumō wrestlers, and the other is performed by the yokozuna (grand sumō champion).[13] The Olympic sumō ritual draws on some elements from the modern court sumō ritual. Among these are its setting and the style of performance.
  16. First, to the sounds of the assembling drum, and as the ring attendants call their names, the gyōji (referee) of each group leads the sumō wrestlers, who wear their colorful ceremonial aprons, into the stadium from the east and west gates. With an assembling drum, the ceremony expels the devil and the dead spirits while wearing ritual aprons, a symbol of divinity of sumō wrestlers, suggest that sumō are related to the emperor. After the sumō wrestlers climb onto the centre stage, they then face the royal box and perform rituals of clapping and raising their hands in unison, then stamping, thus expelling the dead and the devils from the ring, making the ring sacred.[14] Then, flanked on each side by referees, sumō wrestlers in two rows step down from the centre stage and surround it. On the other hand, they prepare the sacred place to let the foreign athletes into the stadium. After the ritual, the sumō wrestlers climb down from centre stage and stand around the stage, which is symbolically Yamato. This arrangement implies that the sumō wrestlers are samurai guards there to prevent the invasion of foreigners.
  17. Second the two gyōji (referees) lead the yokozuna (sumō champion) though the gate formed by the Onbashira pillars, and they climb up the stairs to the centre stage to the sounds of the assembling drum. He wears his colourful ceremonial apron, and once he has ascended the stage, faces the Royal Box along with his tsuyuharai (herald) and tachimochi (sword bearer). Then the orchestra plays 'My Dear' (a Western type song of loyalty to the emperor), and the royal couple come to their seats in the Royal Box. In response to the applause of the audience, they bow slightly and wave their hands to the audience. When 'My Dear' ends, the yokozuna performs a modern court sumō ritual similar to the one that sumō wrestlers have done earlier. The yokozuna then stamps his legs on the earth, kicking off the dead spirits and making the ring sacred. By stamping his legs, yokozuna drives away enemies and marks boundaries. As he does this he raises his arms high, thus suggesting the disarmament of the champion and his submission to the emperor. Whenever the yokozuna raises his right arm and stamps on the ground with his right leg, the gesture of purifying Yamato, the audience chants the phrase 'Yoisho!' By placing sumō wrestlers in the centre of Japan, Asari shows that sumō warriors are samurai of the emperor and swear to be loyal to him, thus implying that Japan is a militaristic country.[15] This is a far cry from the sumō of sport; in the Olympic ceremony the sporting champion has been transformed into a nationalist figure loyal an emperor-god, a ritual that had not occurred in such important ceremonies since the fascist era.

    Act 3: The Dōsojin ritually protects Japan from foreigners
  18. Very briefly, in Act 3 the dōsojin, giant figures made of rice-straw, ritually protect Japan from foreigners. In Japanese myth, dōsojin guard the four directions from foreigners through ritualistic displays of aggressiveness. The dōsojin take two forms; there are the giant rice-straw figures that stand guarding the stage, and then there are the rice-straw clad men with dōsojin faces formed from rice straw on their backs. It is these 'little dōsojin' that dance aggressively, with their backs facing outwards, to scare away the foreigners from the stage.

    Act 4: The birth of the snow children
  19. Act 4 begins immediately following the ritual repelling of foreigners from Nagano, the centre of Japan. One hundred and fifty Japanese children, representatives of public schools in Nagano City, mount the centre stage from the four gates. The male announcer says, 'The snow children are representatives of public schools in Nagano City. Each school has chosen one of the participating nations of the XVIII Olympic Winter Games in Nagano and has studied its culture and history.' At first, the snow children wear hooded rice-straw cloaks and boots that closely parallel the material that make up the dōsojin. Here, they are 'rice children,' kin of the dōsojin.
  20. The rice children approach the stage from all four directions; they wander in, apparently, from the countryside. As they ascend the stage they are met by the 'little dōsojin.' The rice children dance around the little dōsojin in four circles, then all the rice children gather in the very centre of the stage and the little dōsojin surround them. The next scene makes it apparent that this is a birth scene, because immediately following this the rice children run to the edge of the stage, turn around, take off their straw cloaks that they throw away over their shoulders; then they remove their straw boots and throw those away too. This is the birth of the snow children. Importantly, this is a birth without mothers.
  21. Underneath, the rice children (now snow children) are wearing sweaters 'bearing motifs incorporating the colours of the national flags of the each participating country.'[16] In addition to sweaters, the children are wearing white hats, gloves, tights and skirts (for the girls), and pants (for the boys). Except for the flag patterns on each of their sweaters, everything they are wearing is white. Thus, rice children are transformed into snow children.
  22. Asari uses the rest of the tenson kōrin (descent to earth of the descendants of the sun goddess) myth to explain this transformation. This myth is about children's loyalty to the emperor of Japan. When Ninigino descends from heaven to the 'Central Land of Reed Plains,' what was once barren is transformed into a fertile land that produces abundant rice and grain.[17] That is because Ninigino has the seeds of grain and rice that Amaterasu has given him. From this episode, the emperor is considered inadama no shusaisha (the officiate in rituals for the rice soul), who is able to secure the harvest.[18] According to the Cardinal Principles of the National Entity of Japan, this blooming of the land shows his legitimacy to rule Japan, and, in this way, emperors nurture the Japanese; in turn, subjects are to be loyal to emperors.[19] By using this myth, the transformation of rice children into snow children implies the transformation of the legitimacy of the emperor's rule over Japan to the emperor's rule over the world. Since the rice children bloom because of the emperor's power, they should be loyal to him.
  23. But the transformation of the rice children to snow children is a symbolic transformation from national to international actors. When their rice straw costumes are discarded to reveal their sweaters with the pattern of each of the participating countries' flags, we have snow children representing the international. But what kind of international regime do they symbolise? It is clearly not one of all the children of the world, as children from each of the participating countries could have been invited to participate in a truly international ceremony. Of course, it could be argued that Japanese children could be standing in for the world's children from each of the participating countries. But the symbolism of the snow children does not do this. Not only does their rice children phase emphasise their Japanese identities, but also a particular kind of highly nationalistic Japanese identity that depicts a religious loyalty to the emperor. Thus, snow children—the children that represent most of the countries of the world—are at root rice children, and rice children gain their identity from a ceremony that depicts the emperor as a descendant of the gods and is concerned with protecting Japan from outsiders. The militaristic element is enhanced by their participation in the ceremony with the dōsojin, the symbolic soldiers of the emperor. And further along in the ceremony we see the snow children symbolically dominating each of the participating countries with another kind of the emperor's soldiers—the sumō. The snow children represent the countries of the world, yet they are intensely Japanese and religiously loyal to a militaristic emperor. With the addition of the song 'When Children Rule the World,' the implication is that when the snow children grow up, they (or the Japanese) will rule the countries depicted on their sweaters. Thus, the international regime that the snow children symbolically represent is a colonial or imperialistic regime, with the Japanese emperor at its centre.
  24. It could be argued that although the rice children are associated with a religious and militaristic version of the emperor, in their transformation to snow children, they lose their loyalty to the emperor and Japan and are transformed into peaceful international symbols, as ceremony organisers claim. There are a couple of reasons to doubt this. First, the announcer calls them snow children when they are wearing rice straw clothing, thus affirming the continuity between the two forms these children take. Second, a viewer later sees snow children being escorted by sumō wrestlers, the emperor's warriors. Thus, there is further continuity: both rice children and snow children are accompanied by the emperor's warriors, rice children by dōsojin, and snow children by sumō.

    Acts 5 & 7: When Children Rule the World and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron
  25. The next act directly ties into the final act of the play, the lighting of the cauldron. Here female power that has been abjected for most of the ceremony returns, first in a neutered form with the portrayal of the goddess Amaterasu in a fully-tamed symbolic phase. Finally, though, in the last act of the ceremony, Amaterasu is tied into the semiotic realm, but only as a final act passing power onto a fully patriarchal and nationalist Japan. (In between these two acts, the snow children—which Amaterasu has not given birth to, but has consecrated in the safest possible male symbolic space—participate in the parade of athletes, where they symbolise both the dominated foreigners and the dominating of foreigners.)

    Nationalism in 'When Children Rule the World'
  26. First, the nationalist interpretation of the ceremony. After their transformation into snow children, the children on the centre stage, turn around, face the royal box, and raise their hands as if to perform banzai (an exclamation of loyalty to the emperor). So does the woman singer. She is dressed in Japan's national colors—red and white—which are symbolic of the Japanese flag. Next, to a prelude of 'When Children Rule the World,' the snow children run with their arms stretched out to her, kneel in front of her, then stand; then some of them face the royal box and raise their hands again. At the same time, a woman announcer says, 'The song we hear is the Olympic theme song based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's popular song When Children Rule the World. The executive director of the ceremony, Asari Keita, composed its Japanese lyrics; the title of this song is Ashita koso kodomotachi ga (It is Tomorrow When Children Rule the World).' Then the snow children kneel in front of the woman singer again, and the circular platform on which she stands rises out of the red circle in the centre of the stage, until she is raised several metres above the children. Significantly, the Olympic cauldron is shown in the background as she sings. As the song comes to the phrase 'When children rule the world tonight,' the children join in the singing.
  27. Asari's Olympic song hides a message of Japan's symbolic conquest of the world in the disguise of 'peace and love.'[20] When the snow children sing in English, 'When children rule the world,' the message is very clear. It means that when the snow children grow up, Japan will rule the world. That is because, as I have mentioned earlier, snow children represent the countries of the world, and yet are loyal Japanese. So if the snow children were not to sing this phrase, there would be some argument that the Olympic theme song is only about 'Hope for global peace to come in the next century.'[21] But by letting snow children sing 'When Children Rule the World' over and over again, the ceremony tells foreign and Japanese audiences that Japan will rule the world in the future. So with this phrase, the ceremony encourages the Japanese audience (in the stadium and watching on TV) to work for the emperor to rule the world. At the same time, the ceremony does not entirely hide this message from the international audience.
  28. At the end of the song, the woman singer's platform rises even higher. At the same time, all the snow children descend the steps of the stage and form a circle on the stadium floor; they dance around the red and gold centre stage, a symbol of the sun. Whom does the woman singer symbolise? She might be Ama no uzume (Amaterasu's maid, also a goddess), who is accompanied by Ninigino to earth and, in myth, sings and dances to awaken Amaterasu. She is clearly not a mere mortal. By raising the woman's platform and by letting children kneel in front of her several times, the ceremony suggests her divinity. Resplendent in her white-lined red robe, the woman singer sways and sings to awaken the spirit. Though the singer dances (slightly) and sings, as does Ama no uzume, the singer does not evoke the laughter that Ama no uzume does (as described in the myth below). More likely the woman singer is Amaterasu herself. Several times as she sings, the director shows the Olympic cauldron in the background, where later Amaterasu emerges from a cave underneath it. In the myth, Amaterasu only temporarily resides in the cave. Her more accustomed role is ruling Japan (or the world, in the later fascist adaptation of this myth). During this ceremony, having a powerful feminine deity sing about the ruling of the world, gives the audience reason enough to suspect that she is Amaterasu. But no matter whom this performer symbolises, the woman singer clearly is a symbol of sun worship. She stands and sings from an elevated platform that has been raised from the centre of a red circle on a stage that is surrounded by a golden background, all the while wearing robes that symbolise Japan's sun flag.
  29. This sun worship stems from the ama no iwaya, 'heavenly cave' myth, in the Nihonshoki and Kojiki. This myth is about legitimising Japan's superiority and defending it from outsiders. According to the 'heavenly cave' myth, after Amaterasu secludes herself in her palace (cave), the world becomes entirely dark and chaotic. Eight hundred gods gather to hold a matursi and to discuss a how to get Amaterasu to come out of her cave. During the matsuri, Ame no Uzume, Amaterasu's maid (also a goddess), stands in front of the cave door and performs a kagura (mimic dance).[22] She puts on a headband made of the holy masaki vine, lights a fire, and sings an oracle as she stands on an overturned bucket. After Amaterasu hears the gods laughing, she comes out of the cave, and light and order are restored to the world.[23] During wartime, fascists used this myth to legitimise Amaterasu as the ruler of the world; her descendant, the emperor, represented the sun on earth and therefore could rule the world in the name of hakk ōichiu.[24]
  30. The Olympic ceremony uses several elements of this myth. The ceremony includes a matsuri, lighting a fire, the emergence of Amaterasu out of the cave, and perhaps Ama no Uzume singing on an overturned bucket in front of the cave door. The matsuri has already been described: the fire includes the Olympic torch and cauldron, as well as the matsuri fires at the four corners of the stage; Amaterasu emerging from her cave is portrayed quite literally, as the athlete, Ito Midori, comes out from a cave under the Olympic cauldron, receives the torch from another athlete, and lights the cauldron; and Ama no Uzume is depicted by the woman singer, just described, who sings 'When Children Rule the World' on a raised platform with the Olympic cauldron in the background. Asari claimed that, at first, he thought that the Opening Ceremony could be held at night. And he later wondered whether he would have accepted the job as executive producer if he had known that the Opening Ceremony would be held in the morning.[25] But holding the Opening Ceremony at night would have caused the international broadcast to lose money, so it was held in the morning.[26] If the Opening Ceremony had been held at night, as originally intended, it would have shown symbolically how the world was in darkness before Amaterasu emerged from her cave and, combining Japanese and Olympic myth, how she restored light to the world by lighting the Olympic cauldron.

    Abjection in When Children Rule the World
  31. We should note that throughout Act 5 Amaterasu has been singing in words—no chants, or dances or rituals, things that would indicate the semiotic realm. This is the first part of the opening ceremony that a woman is a central character, yet the main female character is entirely verbal—the realm of Kristeva's symbolic. The combination of women's marginality in Act 1, exclusion from Acts 2-4, and restriction to the symbolic realm in Act 5 clearly indicate that abjection is key to the structuring of this ceremony. This becomes clearer as we continue.
  32. As the woman sings the following in English and then in Japanese, the director focuses on her upper body, with the Olympic Cauldron shown in the background. All the snow children join hands in a circle around centre stage, which is a symbol of the sun. Then they repeatedly approach and withdraw from the stage, joining hands each time. The woman sings (first in English, then in Japanese):

      So whistle down the wind
      Then you'll raise a banner.
      Send a flare up into the sky.
      Try to burn a torch.
      And try to build a bonfire.[27]
      Kuchibue ni nosete [Whistle down the wind.]
      Hoshi ni sasayaku. [Whisper to the stars.]
      Kagaribi kakage [Let's build a bonfire.]
      Hoshi ni sakeb ō. [Let's cry toward the stars.][28]

  33. Here the song proposes that the foreign and Japanese audiences 'burn a torch' and 'build a bonfire' to open the Olympics. This is part of a double-voiced discourse. For the foreign audience, 'burning a torch' means burning the Olympic torch to open the Nagano Olympics. On the other hand, most Japanese cannot understand the English part, and for the Japanese, burning a torch has a special meaning from mythology. In the matsuri of the myth of the sun, Amano uzume burns a Japanese pine torch, a taimatsu, to lead Amaterasu out of the cave.[30] Later, Amaterasu ignites the Olympic cauldron with a modern version of the Japanese bonfire resembling a taimatsu.[31] By leading Amaterasu out, the ceremony connects her with the emperor, thus making the emperor the ruler of the world. This part employs the ceremony of the emperor's enthronement, during which he declares in front of a mirror (a substitute for Amaterasu) that he is the emperor. Amaterasu's spiritual power is then transferred to him, thus suggesting that he gains divinity from Amaterasu and becomes a living god. After that, a bonfire is lit to brighten heaven and earth. Actually, the inner part of the Olympic Cauldron symbolises a mirror: it is made of polished titanium. [32] Just as the emperor does in the enthronement ceremony, the Opening Ceremony connects the emperor and Amaterasu, with the shiny caldron substituting for a mirror. To celebrate the emperor's world enthronement, a global chorus sings 'Ode to Joy,' and, during the chorus, dancers ignite bonfires set at each corner of the centre stage to fill both heaven and earth with light. With the phrases 'burn a torch' and 'build a bonfire,' the female singer is foreshadowing what will occur in the next scene. The theme song ends with the woman and children singing 'When Children Rule the World.' So, Ama no Uzume calls for the audience to burn a torch, and she causes the wind to send a flare up to Amaterasu. In response to her oracle, the athletes, representatives of 800 gods in the stadium join the rite to revive Amaterasu.

    Act 6: The parade of athletes
  34. The parade of athletes in the Nagano Olympics demonstrates Japan's domination over the participating countries of the world by subtly controlling foreigners' actions in the name of Japanese culture. Again, this is a space where there are no women, only male and female snow children and imposing male sumō.
  35. At the start of the parade of athletes, Takanonami, the 'sumō champion' (ōzeki ), leads the Greek delegation into the stadium from the east gate. On his shoulders, he carries a female snow child who wears the pattern and colours of the Greek flag on her sweater and wears a flag coming up from her back (a hatasashi mono) printed with the word 'Greece.' Hatasashi mono are banners that sumō wore on their backs to show their family names in war.[33] The ōzeki is dressed in traditional, formal Japanese clothing (haori and hakama). Then the rest of the sumō wrestlers lead the delegations from the first half of the participating countries (from Andorra to New Zealand). They walk hand in hand with snow children who wear hatasashi mono printed with the names of the participating countries. Next, from the west gate, sumō wrestlers with snow children lead delegations from the rest of the countries (from Norway to Yugoslavia and Japan). During the parade, miny ō (traditional folk music) from several Japanese prefectures is played. This music enhances the traditional Japanese elements of what is otherwise a very international ritual.
  36. The parade of athletes at the Nagano Games was different in two respects from past Olympics: it differed in the arrangement of the parade and in the use of the east and west gates for the entering delegations. In the parade of athletes, the director divided delegations from participating countries into groups entering from the east and west gates. This was the first time in the history of the Olympics that athletes entered the Olympic stadium from different gates.[34] Here Asari draws on the sumō ritual, in which sumō wrestlers are divided into two groups that enter the court from east and west.
  37. This arrangement of the parade of athletes from the participating countries has a further neocolonial implication. Olympic protocol requires athletes of participating countries to carry their own national flags, but before we see a flag carrier from each participating country, we see a Japanese warrior along with a snow child whose sweater matches that country's flag. As the sumō ritual shows, sumō wrestlers are the emperor's loyal warriors. As the previous ritual shows, snow children symbolise Japanese imperialism. So this representation allows us to see the Japanese emperor's warriors symbolically controlling delegates of the world during the parade of athletes. Also, the representation of the sumō and the snow child who lead the Greek delegation is highly suggestive of the desired relationship between Japan and the participating countries and sets the scene for the countries that follow: the sumō champion, an extraordinarily strong and powerful man, carries the snow child on his shoulders, a girl who wears the colours of the Greek flag and on her back, a flag imprinted with the word 'Greece.'[35] This representation allows us to see that Greece is treated as a girl who is physically carried by the emperor's loyal soldier.
  38. By deploying Japanese cultural icons here, in the form of sumō wrestlers and snow children, Asari makes the parade look quaint and innocent; however, the ceremony lets foreigners into the sacred stadium only under the control of Japanese, in this case under the control of a soldier of the emperor. Thus, Asari symbolically establishes a worldwide Japanese hierarchy and a triumph over the countries of the world by the emperor's warriors.
  39. The next act in the opening ceremony is the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, described in the previous section.

  40. The 1998 Olympics opening ceremony combines the abjection and exclusion of women from most of the ceremony with the reintroduction of neo-nationalism into Japanese consciousness. We see rituals of birth (of the snow children) in the absence of mothers; important female actors are only introduced in the second half of the ceremony, and at first only in the male, symbolic realm. At the very last possible moment in the whole ceremony, the sun goddess Amaterasu appears in her full semiotic glory, as she must if the emperor is to receive any legitimacy. But she appears after the stage has been thoroughly tamed by the patriarchal control of almost every aspect of the ceremony.
  41. The 1998 Olympics opening ceremony demonstrates that religious abjection supports a strong form of militaristic nationalism. The abjection in this ceremony, through each of its seven acts, mostly involved separating women from the semiotic realm and from the nation-constituting ritual, rather than any direct abasement of women. This is consistent with Kristeva's argument, as she argues that abjection often takes place covertly and unconsciously. Nevertheless, the exclusion of women, especially Amaterasu as the nation's mother, from national ceremonies is plain.
  42. This raises the question of whether ultra-nationalism would be possible without abjection. In this present case, it seems doubtful. It is precisely in the separation of Amaterasu (and other women) in their semiotic modes that empowers a militaristic nationalism. Without this segregation and abjection of women Japanese nationalism would be milder.


    [1] Julia Kristeva, Power of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

    [2] N. Saigō, Kojiki no sekai [The World of the Kojiki], Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1967, p. 48.

    [3] Mutō Takemi, 'Takeminakata to Suwa,' in Nihon shinwa [Japanese Myth], ed. Nihonbungaku kenkyū shiryō sōsho, Tōkyō: Yūseidō shuppan, 1953, pp. 149–65, p. 165.

    [4] Mitsuo Masuzawa, 'Sumo No Soshi Wa Suwa Myojin' [The Founder of Sumo is the God of Suwa Shrine],' in Zusetsu Onbashira Matsuri [The Illustration of the Onbashira Festival], ed. Masaaki. M. Ueda, Nagano-ken, Matsumoto-shi: Kyodo Shuppansha, 1998, p. 92; Mutō, 'Takeminakata to Suwa,' p. 132.

    [5] J.O. Gauntlett (trans.), Cardinal Principles of the National Entity of Japan [Kokutai No Hongi], Cambridge, MA: R.K. Hall, 1949, pp. 66, 106–07.

    [6] Communities that participated in the Onbashira Festival of the Opening Ceremony of the Nagano Olympics were Suwa City, Kayano City, Okatani City, Shimo-Suwa Town, Fujimi Town, and Hara Village. For this, see The XVIII Olympic Winter Games, Nagano 1998: The Opening Ceremony Media Guide, 1998, p. 45.

    [7] Media Guide, p. 12.

    [8] Ikeda Masao, Sumō no rekishi [History of Sumō], Tōkyō: Heibonsha, 1977, pp. 34–35.

    [9] Yamada Tomoko, 'Dohyo-matsuri to shugendō,' [The Sumō Ring Matsuri and Mountaineering Asceticism]' in Sumō no uchūron [The Cosmology of Sumō], ed. Sōgawa Tsuneo, Tōkyō: Heibonsha, 1993, pp. 53–69, pp. 60—64; Ikeda Masao, Sumō no rekishi [History of Sumō], pp. 33–36.

    [10] Media Guide, p. 25.

    [11] Yamaguchi Masao, 'Sumō ni okeru girei to uchūkan' [The Ritual and Cosmology of the Sumō], in Kokuritsu rekishi minzokukan kenkyū hōkoku 15 (Mar, 1987):105–11, p. 109. Yamagushi draws on Miyamoto Tokuzō's study of sumō. See Miyamoto Tokuzō, Rikishi hyōhaku [A Wandering Sumō Wrestler], Tōkyō: Ozawa shoten, 1985, p. 35.

    [12] Sōgawa Tsuneo, 'Sumō no kigen to tennō [The Origin of Sumō and the Emperor], in Sumō no uchūron, [The Cosmology of Sumō], ed. Sōgawa Tsuneo, Tōkyō: Heibonsha, 1993, pp. 15–56, p. 45.

    [13] The ritual performed by yokozuna is not called the modern 'court sumō' ritual but the 'ring-entering' ritual, and it is performed whenever a professional sumō is held, but the form is elaborated based on the modern 'court sumō' ritual. See in detail Yamada, 'Dohyo-matsuri to shugendō,' pp. 36–47.

    [14] Media Guide, p. 26.

    [15] Kawade Kiyohiko, Saishi gaisetsu, Tōkyō: Gakuseisha, 1979, p. 141.

    [16] Media Guide, p. 32.

    [17] Emiko Ōhnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 129.

    [18] Ōhnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self, p. 45.

    [19] Gauntlett, Cardinal Principals, p. 80.

    [20] Media Guide, p. 32.

    [21] Media Guide, p. 12.

    [22] According to Plutschow, Ame no Uzume's performance originates in the kami asobi, and refers to placating a deity through such entertainment as song or dance. Her dance is also developed into kagura, designated as classical religious and ceremonial performances in Shintō temple. Also, he claims that when Ama no Uzume dances for Amaterasu to come out of the cave, after she possesses divinity, 'the dance is simultaneously hers and that of the sun goddess.' For this, see Herbert E.Plutscow, Matsuri: The Festivals of Japan, Surrey, Japan Library, 1996, pp. 52–56.

    [23] Saigō, Kojiki no sekai, p. 67; Ōsawa Masachi, 'Kokkakeisei no hutatsu no sō: Kojiki no bunseki kara (Shōzen)' [Two Stratums of State Formation: From the Analysis of the Kojiki (Continued from the Previous Number)], in Jendāi shisō, vol. 20, no. 4 (1992), p. 237.

    [24] Gauntlett,Cardinal Principals, p. 107.

    [25] Asari Keita, Asari Keita chojutsush? [The Collections of Asari Keita's Works], Tōkyō: Keiō daigaku shuppan kabushikigaisha, 1999, vol. 4, p. 416.

    [26] Abe Kiyoshi, 'Supōtsu ibento to 'nashonaru na mono': Nagano Orinpikku kaikaishiki ni okeru "Nihon rashisa" no hyōshō' [Mediated Sports Events and the 'Politics of Nationalism': Representations of 'Japaneseness' in the Opening Ceremony of the Nagano Olympic Winter Games], Kanseigakuin daigaku shakaigakubu kiyō, vol. 90 (2001):85–94, p. 87.

    [27] Media Guide, p. 13.

    [28] Taeko Teshima's translation based on the Olympic Version, 'When Children Rule the World,' in Media Guide, p. 33.

    [29] Media Guide, p. 13.

    [30] Sakamoto Tarō (ed.), Nihonshoki, Tōkyō: Iwanami shoten, 1965, vol. 1, p. 112; Tobe Tomio, Shinpi no dōDōgu [Means of Mystery], Tōkyō: Shin kigensha, 2001, pp. 182–83.

    [31] Media Guide, pp. 12, 46.

    [32] Adrian C. Mayer, 'Recent succession ceremonies of the Emperor of Japan,' in Japan Review, vol. 2 (1991):35–61, pp. 40, 56.

    [33] Mayer, 'Recent succession ceremonies of the emperor of Japan,' p. 35.

    [34] Media Guide, p. 34.

    [35] Unlike in Western traditions, Japanese children, before age of puberty, are considered to be incomplete persons and gender neutral. Therefore, she could represent a little samurai (warrior).

Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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