Asia Sports & Recreation

2020 Tokyo Olympics officially postponed until summer 2021

#Tokyo2020 will now officially start in 2021. The Olympics are a big deal for any host nation, but Japan in particular invested more money, more hope, and more civic pride into these Olympics than the typical host country does. Everything from the state-of-the-art stadiums to the customized manhole covers will be left unused or unappreciated until summer 2021. Plus, learn the phrasal verb “call off.”

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  • The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will begin on July 23. That’s July 23, 2021.

    Hi there, welcome to another Plain English lesson—this time number 250. I’m Jeff; JR is the producer; and like always, the full lesson can be found at PlainEnglish.com/250.

    Coming up today: In a blow to Japan’s civic pride, the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed. Japan, and especially its largest corporations, had been looking forward to the opportunity to re-introduce themselves on the world stage after a long economic slump. But their moment to shine will have to wait, as the Games have been postponed for the first time in their history. Later on in this lesson, we’ll talk about the English phrasal verb “call off.” The video lesson online talks about how to show cause and effect with “due to.” And we have a quote of the week, as well. This one is about sleep.


    Tokyo’s Olympic dreams postponed

    The Olympics are postponed. It was inevitable, but that doesn’t lessen the sting for Tokyo, which has had to call off its second Olympics in three attempts.

    This was going to be a big moment for Japan, Inc. Hosting the Olympics is a big deal for any nation, but Japan in particular invested more money, more hope, and more civic pride in these Olympics than the typical host country does.

    To understand how important these Olympics are, it’s useful to look back at the last 30 years. Japan was flying high in the late 1980s, with corporate titans like Toyota, Honda, and Mitsubishi in carmaking and Sony and Panasonic in electronics dominating the world in their respective markets, based on high-quality, affordable manufacturing. At their peak, Japanese carmakers owned a third of the American auto market. Americans and Europeans fell in love with home electronics, scooping up VCR’s, cameras, camcorders, televisions, and stereo systems. The house I grew up in was no exception. We had Honda cars in the garage, Sony electronics in the living room, and Canon cameras in our suitcases.

    Then came a crash. The Japanese stock market and real estate markets crashed in 1991 and 1992, leading to a prolonged economic slump in the 1990s—a slump so deep that it became known as the “Lost Decade.” As the calendar flipped into the 2010s, the Lost Decade had lasted twenty years; Japan’s electronics industry has been eclipsed by that of nearby South Korea during the smartphone boom. New smartphones and TV’s around the world are more likely to be made by Samsung and LG. A devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011 led to a nuclear accident, which was a blow to Japan’s national pride.

    Japan has clawed back a lot of its lost ground, economically. The Tokyo Olympics were supposed to be a moment in which Japan’s corporate titans reasserted themselves on the global stage. Japan’s carmakers are investing in self-driving and electric technology. Japanese design is back in fashion. After years of cheap technology and ever cheaper clothes from lower-cost parts of Asia, the world is beginning to appreciate the higher quality represented by Japanese brands and the Marie Kondo ethos of deriving joy from things around you. SoftBank, a financial heavyweight, is investing in cutting-edge startups around the world. The Olympics’ 47 corporate sponsors had been counting on the attention to show the world how forward-looking they are.

    Japan built a state-of-the-art new stadium for the games. Toyota was planning to light the Olympic flame with a flying car. Toto was going to impress Western visitors with the luxurious heated toilets installed in the new high-end hotels built just for Olympic visitors. The government of Japan designed an all-new taxi to ferry foreigners around town. The JPN Taxi—made by Toyota, of course—looks like a cross between a Land Rover and a traditional London taxi, painted a Japanese indigo. Pedestrians would marvel at the artistic manhole covers designed specifically for these games.

    Instead, come July, the stadium will be dark, the hotels empty, the taxis idled, the manhole covers unappreciated. The Olympic flame, which travels the world on its way to the opening ceremonies in the year leading up to the Games, was stuck in Fukushima—ironically the site of the nuclear meltdown in 2011. The countdown clock outside Tokyo Station was frozen; stunned tourists took pictures of the stalled countdown clock. Eighty thousand people who had plans to volunteer will have to reschedule their trips to next year.

    This is the second time Tokyo has had to call off the Olympics. The first was in 1940. Those games had been moved to Helsinki, before being canceled altogether. These Olympics have been postponed a year. Japan is putting a brave face on it: rather than renaming the Games, they will have the 2020 Olympics in 2021. People are disappointed but resolved to make the Games a success next year. The countdown clock outside Tokyo station has been reset.


    Oh boy, this lesson was a stroll down my consumerist memory lane. I mentioned that Japan dominated home electronics and one of the examples I gave was VCRs. A VCR, for those of you who are younger than, say, 30, was the thing that came before a DVD player. And a DVD player, some of you may not know, was the thing that came before streaming! Sony invented the VCR, I think. In fact, so much of Japan’s electronics industry dominance came from Japanese companies inventing the format. The first camcorder was a Sony, I think, too. The Sony Walkman—do you remember those? It was the world’s first portable, individual music player. I had a Sony Walkman until probably 2005 when I got my first iPod.

    Now I’m looking around and I don’t see a lot of Japanese brands in my house. My TV is a Samsung. My computer and accessories are American companies—Dell, HP, Logitech, Anker. Phone from Apple, speakers from an American company—all assembled in China.

    One thing that hasn’t changed in my lifetime: the reliability of Japanese cars. My first car, a Toyota, lasted 15 years and my current Mazda runs like a charm. Maybe my next car will be a flying Toyota, who knows?

    Call off

    Here’s a phrasal verb for you: “call off.” Do you know what it means to “call something off”? It means to cancel it or postpone it. And we usually use “call off” when we’re talking about plans or events.

    The Olympics have been called off. They were a big event, big plans, and now they are not going forward. In this case, they will happen a year from now. So the Games have been called off for now. Hopefully in a year, things will be back to normal. The Olympics are not the only major sporting event to have been called off this year. We talked about all the big sporting events that were canceled or postponed. Even more events were called off since then, including the Wimbledon tennis tournament in London.

    It’s April and it tends to be rainy where I live. It’s dangerous to plan things outside for April. If it rains or if it’s too cold, you might have to call things off. You might have plans to play golf on the weekend. If so, and if it’s too cold, you might have to call your plans off. “Weren’t you supposed to play golf today?” your spouse might ask. “Yes, but we had to call it off. It’s too cold outside.” That means you had to cancel your plans.

    Baseball games are often called off due to weather this time of year. If it’s raining too hard, they can’t play. These games aren’t canceled; they are simply delayed. They’re played on another day. But we still say “the game was called off due to weather.” The game was delayed.

    Do you know what sometimes gets called off? Weddings. The couple got into a huge fight and the bride called off the wedding at the last minute. That’s not good, but it happens. It’s better to call off a wedding than get married if it’s going to be a mistake, right? If someone calls off a wedding, it leads to some awkward questions. If the bride calls off the wedding, she probably should return the ring. But if the groom calls off the wedding, he probably can’t expect to get the ring back.

    Japanese investor SoftBank was supposed to invest another $3 billion in the struggling office rental company, WeWork. WeWork was supposed to do several things by April 1, and SoftBank says they didn’t do those things. So SoftBank called off the deal. The canceled the deal: they will no longer invest the additional $3 billion they had planned to invest.

    I want you to notice that there’s a difference between calling something off and simply deciding not to do something. In all of these examples with “call off,” the decision had been made to do something, and that decision was then reversed. Tokyo had decided to host the Olympics. You decided to play golf on the weekend. The happy couple decided to get married. SoftBank decided to invest $3 billion in WeWork. But something happened to cause the planned event to not happen after all. When circumstances change and force you to cancel plans, that’s when you use “call off.”

    There are a couple of other ways to use “call off,” which we might explore in future lessons, but in this sense it means, to cancel something that had been planned.

    Quote of the week

    We talked a while ago about how to stay in balance, mentally, during these difficult coronavirus times. We all have to adapt to a new reality—a temporary new reality for now, but possibly a permanently changed reality in the future. Part of the adjustment is sleep schedules. If you’re like me, your sleep might be better now than it was before, without having to worry about getting up too early to commute into work.

    However, your sleep might be worse, depending on your situation. If you’re worried about friends and family, if you’ve lost a job, if you’re concerned about the future, then you might find it harder to sleep. And the less you sleep, the harder it will be to focus on doing good work or being a good parent the next day. That’s why it’s so important to stay in balance mentally; it can really affect your sleep if you’re not.

    This is a long-winded introduction to this week’s quote, which is from the author Charlotte Bronte. She says, “A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.”

    “A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.” Ruffled is like, unsettled. Not calm. And a pillow here is a metaphor for your ability to sleep. So if you have an unsettled mind, a lot of unresolved turmoil, then it’s bound to affect your sleep. And indeed I have found that my ability to get good sleep is always affected by my stress level at work and in my personal life. The less stress, the better I’m able to sleep. So indeed I find this quote by Charlotte Bronte to be true, “A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.”


    I mentioned before that we’re going to do live events on Zoom. We’ve had several so far and they’ve been a huge success. If you haven’t yet had a chance to join one of our live calls on Zoom, you can see the schedule by visiting PlainEnglish.com/live. And I decided, as I was writing this lesson, that we should take a break from talking about coronavirus. So I scheduled one that’s going to be all about the electronics we grew up with. That one will be this Thursday, April 16.

    If you missed it, that’s okay. Check out PlainEnglish.com/live anyway because that’s where we’ll be posting the dates and times of future calls. PlainEnglish.com/live.

    Thanks for being with us again for episode 250. It’s a big one for us, not just because it’s a round number. I can’t tell you exactly why this is a big day for us—I want to tell you, but JR won’t let me. I’ll be able to share more in a few weeks. In the meantime, I do want to say that I am thrilled that you are here, and so very grateful that you are making Plain English part of your routine.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

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