When Toyota Motor Corp. said this week it wouldn’t run any ads in Japan tied to the Olympics, it sent a message louder than any TV commercial about the host nation’s grim mood.
Toyota is Japan’s most valuable company and a global Olympics sponsor, the top rank shared by only 13 others world-wide. For U.S. audiences, it spent millions of dollars on a Super Bowl commercial featuring the Olympic rings. But in Japan, any link to the Games was too sensitive for the auto maker to advertise.
The Olympics open on Friday a year late and during a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo. Anticipation and expectations for an economic windfall have largely evaporated. Stadiums and arenas that cost over $7 billion to build or renovate for the Games will be mostly empty after spectators were banned.
Japan wanted the Tokyo Olympics to show the country is still a global force despite its declining population and a maturing economy eclipsed by China. The Games would also show how Japan rebounded from a devastating tsunami in 2011. Instead, the Olympics has compounded a malaise over the pandemic that has put its leader under pressure to keep his job.