As Japanese cheer Taiwan’s Olympians


As a Japanese writer living in Taiwan, the author chose to cheer Taiwan, not Japan, during the Olympics. This is not just because of his deep affection for Taiwan; it is also due to something that happened 29 years ago.

The Tokyo Olympics are over.

In the 17 days of competition, Taiwan, which competed as Chinese Taipei, achieved a bumper that far exceeded original expectations with a total of 12 medals, including 2 gold, 4 silver and 6 bronze medals. This more than doubled Taiwan’s previous record of five medals in Athens in 2004. The exciting events were broadcast on Taiwan’s Internet TV channels for days and went viral on social media.

How did the Japanese living in Taiwan, including me, view this spectacle? My impression is that almost all of us were full of benevolence and joy when Taiwanese athletes won medals. “Congratulations Taiwan!” That is a clear feeling.

The situation changed, however, when I saw the ultra-light (under 60 kilograms) men’s jurassic final between Taiwan and Japan. As a Japanese, it is natural for me to cheer the Japanese Jūdōka, but I didn’t want Taiwan to lose either. I think a lot of people watched the game with similarly complicated feelings.

Even so, as a Japanese, I decided to cheer on Taiwan during the Olympic Games. Some may think I’m weird or abnormal, but I have my own reasons. I would like to share what I have been through so far and what I think about Taiwan in relation to the Olympics.

The first battle between Taiwan and Japan

The first battle between Taiwan and Japan took place in 1992, when the Taiwanese media was still using the “Sino-Japanese Battle” to describe games between the two sides. I first heard the term in the baseball semifinals of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, when baseball first became an official Olympic event. Back then, professional players weren’t allowed to attend the event, and the teams were very different than they are today. Cuba was considered the team with overwhelming strength, followed by Japan, Taiwan and the United States as the second most powerful powerhouse. A total of eight countries participated in the tournament, and the preliminary rounds were played in a single round-robin tournament, with the top four teams advancing to the semi-finals.

Japan finished second in the preliminary rounds while Taiwan finished third (both had the same number of wins, but Japan ranked higher because it gave up fewer runs), making it to the semi-finals. At that point the matchup between Taiwan and Japan would take place and the winner would advance to the game for the gold medal.

From the point of view of the Taiwanese, who had not won any medals at the Olympics for some time, they absolutely wanted this victory. Thanks in part to the popularity of baseball in Taiwan, the Taiwan-Japan game gained national attention.

At the time I was working in a publishing house in Taipei. On the day of the competition, I felt a strange atmosphere when I got to the office. I didn’t feel any different myself than usual, but nobody wanted to talk to me. Even when I asked my assistant, “Is something wrong?” She just smiled and said nothing.

After hearing what I asked, the director of the art department next to me replied, “It’s about the Sino-Japanese battle tonight.”

“The Sino-Japanese Battle?”

Perhaps because of my unsuspecting expression of surprise, the art director added a word: “Baseball!” It was then that I realized that Taiwan and Japan would play against each other in the semifinals.

Though I thought to call it a battle was still a bit too much, the office had already switched to “fight mode” and I could feel the high hopes of the people in the Taiwan team. When I replied, “Got it. I think it would be great that Taiwan wins, so I’ll be cheering Taiwan on too, ”the art director flatly dismissed this idea:“ No. ”

In the end, Taiwan won the game and made it to the finals. When I got to the office the next day, the atmosphere was still a bit strange. Everyone seemed to be waiting for my arrival and when I got settled in the art director asked:

“Do you want to say something?”

“About what?”

“Japan lost, didn’t it?”

“I know.”

“So how are you feeling now?”

Everyone laughed and seemed very happy. When I looked at her sincere and harmless smile, I found her adorable. I couldn’t be angry with this situation.

From sympathy to empathy

On the day of the semi-final match between Taiwan and Japan at the Barcelona Olympics, my words to the art director that it was great that Taiwan won came from the heart. I really meant her.

There was a reason for my statement – an experience I had two years before the Olympic Games in Barcelona, ​​during the Asian Games in Beijing in 1990.

That year, Japanese athletes collected medals like digging a gold mine. Meanwhile, Taiwan only occasionally won a few bronze or silver medals, but not gold.

At the time, I was living in a rented house in Japan with some Taiwanese friends, and we met every night to watch the games on the NHK satellite channel.

“Japan is powerful, isn’t it?” I was kind of proud to say that. Given the Asian competition, Japan looked very strong.

“That’s good. We just want a gold medal for Taiwan, and there is still hope.”

What my friends were looking forward to was the men’s decathlon, in which Taiwan’s top athlete Lee Fu-an had the best record ever in Asia. This was the most likely gold medal for the Taiwanese team.

The men’s two-day decathlon finally began. On the first day, Taiwan’s athlete prevailed. A few days ago my friends had been suppressing their emotions, but at that moment they could no longer hide their passions. “Go to Taiwan!” They shouted. “Let’s win the gold medal!”

The next day I came home from work and my friends were watching the games on TV. They looked a little depressed, however. “Did Taiwan win the gold medal?” I asked her.

“No way,” one replied dejectedly.

“Why that? Wasn’t Taiwan in the lead yesterday?”

Lee had failed the pole vault three times on the second day, left no record in this event and dropped out of the race for a medal. (A second Taiwanese competitor, Ku Chin-shui, took the silver medal, but this wasn’t the gold they were hoping for.)

My friends looked very disappointed. The greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment. I found that my own pride – “Japan is Mighty” – that I had previously felt was gone. My heart was full of compassion for my friends.

My friends hadn’t given up yet. There was still a chance an unknown athlete might unexpectedly win gold, so they kept cheering. I decided to cheer Taiwan on with them. But even though several Taiwanese athletes made it to the finals, they lost and won either silver or bronze medals.

“We don’t need silver or bronze anymore,” sighed my friends. “Even if there is only one, I only want a gold medal.”

I thought to myself, “Japan won gold medals every day; we have enough. Let’s save our efforts and instead win more at the Olympic Games next time. ”That was also an extravagant thought, I have to admit, because my friends next to me were so eager to see even a gold medal for their homeland .

This led to a sudden rethink – I wished with all my heart that Taiwan could win a gold medal. My sympathy reflected my girlfriend’s feelings and eventually turned into empathy.

There were few events left at the Asian Games, and I cheered Taiwan on at every single one. I didn’t care if Japanese athletes were involved. I was just hoping Taiwan would definitely win gold.

Unfortunately, after a few days, the Asian Games ended without first place for Taiwan.

The dream is finally coming true

The Asian Games in Beijing are over. However, this was a fresh start for me.

From then on, whenever there was an international sporting event, especially the Olympic Games, I would cheer for Taiwan and hope for a Taiwanese gold medal. I moved out of this old flat share and my friends, who had seen the Asian Games with me in Beijing, also moved. Even so, I still remembered the strong desire we had when we longed for the gold medal. “Oh god, please let Taiwan win gold!”

More than a decade later, during the 2004 Athens Olympics, I saw the news that Taiwan had won a gold medal. The winner was Chen Shih-hsin in the women’s taekwondo event. Even though I didn’t know anything about the sport, it was great to hear the news. I was overwhelmed with joy because Taiwan had finally prevailed.

At that time I was working for an airline’s in-flight magazine. I immediately contacted the editors and asked for permission to publish the news. When I finished the article, the editorial team made a great presentation of the news.

Almost two more decades passed. This time it was the Olympic Games in Tokyo. As I mentioned earlier, Taiwan achieved excellent results this time around, taking home a total of 12 medals. Compared to the Taiwanese at the Asian Games in Beijing in 1990, this seems like a completely unexpected achievement.

Right now I’m not as emotional about winning gold medals in Taiwan as I used to be. In some tournaments, Taiwan has improved to levels that could overshadow Japan. Still, I cheer Taiwan.

Whenever a Taiwanese athlete wins a medal in the Olympics, my Facebook is flooded with news and reports about it. Everyone grins from ear to ear. Seeing their adorable faces makes my day.

My 30 years of cheering for Taiwan during the Olympics and other global tournaments finally brought me here – to this joyous experience.

(Originally written in Japanese. Translated by Leung Thomas King Tong on an internship program at Ritsumeikan University and edited by Banner image: The Taiwanese baseball team celebrates their victory over Japan in the baseball semifinals of the Olympic Games in Barcelona on August 4, 1992. © AP / Aflo.)

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