Plastered in Nagano

In Nagano, locals are grumbling about the license given Olympics sponsors to advertise all over town.

Published February 17, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

In Nagano, there is an area where hundreds of small taverns are situated. If you are interested in what the citizens of Nagano really think about the Olympics, you should visit one of these pubs instead of the PR section of the Nagano Olympic Organizing Committee.

"I'm so sick of the Olympic officials telling us what to eat, drink and wear. I don't call this a 'sports festival.' This is a sponsors' festival." These are sentiments I frequently encounter in this part of town.

Drinkers are not the only ones critical of the Olympics. "The current Olympic-first trend reminds me of the time during World War II," says Mr. Ariga, mayor of Matsumoto, a town in Nagano prefecture. The mayor compares the current situation in Nagano to the national atmosphere during the war, when anyone who refused to cooperate with the officials carrying out the war was accused of being "unpatriotic" or a "traitor."

Nagano struggled very hard to win the fierce battle against other candidates to host the Olympics. So why on earth should people in Nagano feel so unhappy about the Olympics at this stage?

One of the major reasons is NAOC's strict license control and the sponsors' heavy advertising presence.

For example: A local volunteer offered to treat visiting tourists with a free snack (oyaki, a local specialty bun, and tonjiru, hot pork miso soup). The NAOC official said no, because "oyaki conflicts with the product of one of the sponsors, and tonjiru conflicts with that of another sponsor."

Recently, many companies have been running ads on the whole body of a bus. An advertising salesman for a local bus company says, "One NAOC official told us that carrying ads of non-sponsors is 'not favorable.' So we are now declining offers from non-sponsors." As a result, many buses from different bus companies are appearing covered with the same sponsors' ads. This is causing trouble for local users who can't distinguish the buses.

In the background of the Olympic Stadium, where the Opening Ceremonies took place, there is a big signboard of a local tavern rising into the sky. The sign features a very Japanese design and is not as sophisticated as the advertisements of the Olympic sponsors. Since it happens to be situated right behind the stadium, officials knew it would always appear in TV broadcasts, and NAOC had to turn to the International Olympic Committee for advice. As it turned out, the IOC replied, "It's no problem as long as the sign is written only in Japanese." However, NAOC is said to have bought off the right to the rooftop advertisement of the building behind the signboard for 3 million yen ($25,000) to prevent non-sponsors from putting up ads there.

Yamamoto Photo Studio, a local shop on the street in front of the
stadium, fell prey to the aggression of Eastman Kodak, another
sponsor. The shop, since its establishment back in 1922, has
been dealing with Fuji Film, and there always has been a green
Fuji signboard on one corner of the shop. One day, Kodak
requested that the shop take down the Fuji signboard. The shop finally decided to save the faces of both Kodak and Fuji by putting
up a yellow Kodak signboard on its other corner.

Recently a huge red signboard for Coca-Cola, another sponsor,
appeared on the wall of a building in front of Nagano Station. A man
working for a local advertising agency says the government made an
exception in permitting the gaudy advertisement just because of the
Olympics. "Generally, signboards in that district are strictly
regulated by the prefectural scenery code. A signboard with that
color and size could not have been permitted if not for the Olympics.
I thought Japan was supposed to be a law-abiding society," says the
frustrated man.

But the prefectural government denies this allegation. "Neither the
size nor the color is in violation of the prefectural code. We
would never allow even a single signboard that violated the law just because
of the Olympics," says an official. But with official Olympic
sponsors' ads flooding the town, many people find this hard to believe.

Nagano Station, the terminal station of the Nagano Shinkansen, or bullet train, which
was built in a rush in preparation for the Games, put up a drop
curtain with a welcoming message on the wall of the station
the week before the Games started. NAOC complained about the small
picture of a torch in the corner of the curtain, saying, "This curtain
cannot be permitted because the torch reminds people of the Olympic
flame." Eventually, officials decided to cover the picture.

Mocking the official concern with sponsors-only advertising, some people are asking, "If we bring some Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pepsi into the stadium,
do we get thrown out? If we wear a Nike coat, will the officials
cover the mark with tape? What if we bring along a Sharp portable

One local reporter laments, "It is indeed idiotic that the officials
should have to ban even the offering of a free snack of oyaki by
volunteers because it would infringe the rights of the sponsors. But
the problem is, when we report on what NAOC officials are
doing, they take it as a compliment for their faithfulness to their
jobs, not as criticism. It's impossible!"

In the end, ironically, those advertisements abounding in the city -- and
all the efforts exerted by the sponsors as well as by NAOC -- will not
bring about as much effect as expected. Why? Because Nagano, like many Japanese
cities, is full of signboards with all kinds of colors -- bright red,
blue, yellow -- due to historically lenient scenery regulations. The Olympic sponsors came into a place where signs are
already flooding, causing even harsher competition. No other Winter
Olympic host city in the past has ever been so crowded with signboards
as Nagano.

In this connection, it is probably the official Olympic sponsors that
should be grumbling out of frustration in a shabby tavern in
downtown Nagano.

(Translated by Hajime Sugimori)

By Koya Ide

Koya Ide is a journalist who lives in Nagano. He has worked for the newspaper Sankei Shinbun.


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