Toshiko Ishii, 64, who runs a traditional hotel in the city’s Taito Ward, spent over $180,000 converting the building’s first floor into an eatery in anticipation of a flood of tourists.
It was already a bit of a risk, and when the pandemic hit, Ms. Ishii became worried that she might have to shut down. Even with the Olympics, she has had no guests for weeks.
“There’s nothing you can really do about the Olympics or the coronavirus, but I’m worried,” she said. “We don’t know when this will end, and I have a lot of doubts about how long we can keep the business going.”
Pandemic or no, reality was bound to fall short of the grand expectations set by Japanese leaders.
They pitched Tokyo 2020 as an opportunity to show the world a Japan that had shaken off decades of economic stagnation and the devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that touched off the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Appealing to nostalgia for the 1964 Olympics, when Japan wowed the world with its advanced technology and economic strength, Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister, framed the 2020 Olympics as an ad campaign for a cool, confident country that was the equal of a rising China.
After decades of perceived decline, “more and more Japanese, the elder generation, senior people, wanted to remember, wanted to repeat that successful experience again in 21st-century Japan,” said Shunya Yoshimi, a professor of sociology at Tokyo University who has written several books about Japan’s relationship to the events.
Instead, the pandemic brought a sense of fear and uncertainty that were worsened by the decisions of Japan’s leaders.
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TOKYO — As he visits Washington this week, it would seem as if Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan could take a victory lap.
Mr. Suga is the first foreign leader to be invited to the White House by President Biden, who has vowed to reinvigorate alliances. Japan already had the distinction last month of being the first international destination for the new U.S. secretaries of state and defense. And Mr. Suga will not have to contend with threats of higher tariffs or the need for constant flattery that drove Mr. Biden’s mercurial predecessor.
But even as relations between the two countries are calming, Japan faces a perilous moment, with the United States prodding it to more squarely address the most glaring threat to stability in Asia: China.
It is the latest step in an age-old dance between the two countries. Ever since the United States forged an alliance with Japan during its postwar occupation, Tokyo has sought reassurance of protection by Washington, while Washington has nudged Tokyo to do more to secure its own defense.
Jennifer Lind, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College and a specialist in East Asian international security.
“The U.S.-Japan alliance is at a crossroads,” Ms. Lind said. “The alliance has to decide how do we want to respond to the growing threat from China and to the Chinese agenda for international order.”
Analysts and former officials said it was time for Japan to expand its thinking about what a summit with its most important ally could accomplish.
repeatedly ignored diplomatic or legal efforts to contain its aggressive actions in both the South China and East China Seas, some say Japan needs to be more specific about what it might do in the event of a military conflict.
“Who doesn’t want freedom and openness?” said Jeffrey Hornung, an analyst at the RAND Corporation. “By signing up for those things, you subtly take a jab at China. But what are you going to do when those things you say you’re going to defend come under attack?”
Japanese leaders usually use summits with American presidents to seek assurances that the United States, which has about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, would defend the country’s right to control the uninhabited Senkaku Islands. Over the past year, China, which also claims the islands, has sent boats into or near Japan’s territorial waters around the islands with increasing frequency.
Taiwan Strait, where China has been dispatching warplanes to menace the democratic island, which Beijing considers a rogue territory. When Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Tokyo last month, they and their Japanese counterparts issued a statement stressing “the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
statement in which the Japanese leader said that “the maintenance of peace and security in the Taiwan area was also important for peace and security of Japan.”
The gritty details of how Japan might support the United States and Taiwan in the case of an invasion by Beijing are probably beyond the scope of this week’s talks. While Mr. Biden is unlikely to make any blunt demands that Japan pay more for its defense, as President Donald J. Trump did, the current president could amplify recent signals from his administration about efforts to deter China. One possibility is that Japan could be asked to host long-range missiles, a proposal that would probably face significant domestic opposition.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Suga are expected to discuss not just China’s military actions, but also its human rights record, as well as the coup in Myanmar — likely areas of difference between the leaders.
The Biden administration has called China’s repression of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region a genocide and imposed sanctions on Chinese officials. It has also placed sanctions on military generals in Myanmar. But Japan tends to be more circumspect in addressing human rights or taking direct actions such as economic sanctions.
Tobias Harris, an expert on Japanese politics at Teneo Intelligence in Washington, said the Suga administration addressed human rights only “rhetorically.”
fear of backlash, and an understanding that Beijing can turn off the spigot at any time.
Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo, noted that at the outset of the pandemic, China designated certain medicines and surgical masks as “strategic goods” and stopped shipping them to Japan. “We can no longer rely on the free flow of goods from China,” Mr. Watanabe said.
Some Japanese officials say Mr. Suga should not rush to follow Mr. Biden’s harder line on China and Myanmar. Kunihiko Miyake, a former Japanese diplomat who advises Mr. Suga, said Japan’s approach to such countries is “more dialogue than punishment.”
hosting a climate summit next week. One goal is to persuade Japan to stop its financial support of coal projects abroad, which it has already started to reduce.
decision to host the Olympic Games this summer.
The trip’s success may depend in part on whether Mr. Suga develops a rapport with Mr. Biden. Seasoned watchers of Japan will be closely tracking Mr. Suga, who is not known for his charisma, especially after his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, spent considerable time and effort wooing Mr. Biden’s predecessor.
“We have two older and very traditional politicians in a lot of ways,” said Kristin Vekasi, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine. “I will be curious to see what they do.”
Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.
Japan said on Tuesday that it had decided to gradually release tons of treated wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean, describing it as the best option for disposal despite fierce opposition from fishing crews at home and concern from governments abroad.
The plan to release the water in two years was approved during a cabinet meeting of ministers early Tuesday.
Disposal of the wastewater has been long delayed by public opposition and by safety concerns. But the space used to store the water is expected to run out next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told lawmakers on Monday that the ocean release was “unavoidable” and could no longer be postponed.
The Fukushima crisis was set off in March 2011 by a huge earthquake and tsunami that ripped through northeastern Japan and killed more than 19,000 people. The subsequent meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Tens of thousands of people fled the area around the plant or were evacuated, in many cases never to return.
Ten years later, the cleanup is far from finished at the disabled plant, which is operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. To keep the three damaged reactor cores from melting, cooling water is pumped through them continuously. The water is then sent through a powerful filtration system that is able to remove all of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses.
said last year that both options were “technically feasible.” Nuclear power plants around the world routinely discharge treated wastewater containing tritium into the sea.
But the Japanese government’s plan faces strong opposition from local officials and fishing crews, who say that it would add to consumer fears about the safety of Fukushima seafood. Catch levels in the area are already a small fraction of what they were before the disaster.
WASHINGTON — Two ambitions lie at the center of President Biden’s foreign policy agenda: rebuilding ties with frustrated allies and assembling a united front on China.
This week, he is attempting both as he dispatches two of his most senior envoys to Japan and South Korea in his administration’s highest-level foreign travel since it took office in January.
The visits to the United States’ strongest partners in East Asia are a prelude to the Biden administration’s opening round of face-to-face contact with Beijing. One of the envoys, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, will travel on to Alaska and join Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, in a meeting with China’s two top diplomats.
The administration sees the gathering as a chance to establish ground rules and set red lines for a relationship that Mr. Blinken has called “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.” American officials have described it as “a one-off session” to identify issues where Washington can work with Beijing — and then “lay out, in very frank terms, the many concerns that we have,” Mr. Blinken told Congress last week.
month-old military coup in Myanmar and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which remain firmly in place after the Trump administration’s failed flirtation with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
The decision to make Japan the first destination for Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin was seen as a significant and reassuring development in Tokyo, which worked hard to maintain close ties with Mr. Trump even as he demanded huge increases in payments to keep American troops in the country. On Friday, the White House announced that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga would be the first foreign leader to meet with Mr. Biden in Washington.
“At the end of the Trump administration, with regard to Asia, we were bickering with our allies over how much to pay for the cost sharing in terms of defense,” said Victor Cha, who oversaw Asia policy at the White House during the George W. Bush administration and advises the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We had a very unilateral view when it came to alliances as a nation, almost a disdainful view with regard to them.”
“At the same time,” Mr. Cha said, “China was using its economic leverage all around the region to bully other countries.”
The Trump administration took an often contradictory approach toward China. Mr. Trump often flattered its authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, as he tried to strike trade deals. At the same time, his administration criticized Beijing’s human rights abuses, military and cyberspace incursions, and assaults on democracy.
The Biden administration’s strategy could prove just as dizzying. Mr. Blinken has described seeking a relationship that is based at once on cooperation, competition and, as needed, confrontation with China.
Tokyo has grown more vocal as the Chinese military has made incursions around islands that Japan administers in the East China Sea, known in Japan as the Senkakus and in China as the Diaoyu. Seoul has used its temperate relations with Beijing as a pressure tactic against North Korea, which depends on China to keep its economy afloat.
For their part, China’s leaders have said they are eager to get the relationship with the United States back on an even keel. Some analysts have warned that any steps toward a détente could just buy China more time to develop technological and military capabilities before a diplomatic breakdown.
“As two countries with different social systems, China and the United States naturally have differences and disagreements,” Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said at a news conference in Beijing on March 7. Mr. Wang and Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, will be meeting with Mr. Blinken in Alaska.
Mr. Wang called it normal to have a “healthy competition on a fair and just basis for the purpose of self-improvement and mutual enhancement, rather than finger-pointing or zero-sum competition.”
Yet Chinese leaders also appear concerned about the Biden strategy of rallying allies into a coherent bloc against China, something that could hurt Beijing politically and economically. Last week, for example, the Quad countries announced an effort to ship coronavirus vaccines to Southeast Asia, countering China’s own efforts at so-called vaccine diplomacy.
Mr. Wang cited the pandemic, the economic recovery from it and climate change as areas where China and the United States could cooperate, though he provided no details. But he said that the United States and others had no right to interfere in what he described as internal matters — human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang region, efforts to subvert democracy in Hong Kong and surveillance and repression in Tibet.
a cost-sharing agreement for stationing American troops in South Korea, a presence that Mr. Trump had also threatened to end.
After the meetings in Tokyo and Seoul, Mr. Austin will travel to India, which is at its lowest point in relations with China in decades after a deadly border incursion last summer. Mr. Blinken will arrive in Alaska on Thursday for the meeting with the Chinese envoys.
As he wished Mr. Blinken luck for the talks, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that “we cannot treat them as a normal adversary.”
“We are truly in an ideological struggle fighting for democracy against authoritarianism and promoting freedom over oppression,” Mr. McCaul said. He added that the United States had for four decades “turned a blind eye” to China’s ruling Communist Party in hopes of persuading its leaders to follow international norms.
“Unfortunately, it just didn’t work,” Mr. McCaul said.
Lara Jakes and John Ismay reported from Washington, and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul.