Tokyo Metro Off Peak 1

With a population of over 37 million people, the Greater Tokyo  Area is the most populous city in the world.

So what is it going to be like when the Olympics come to Tokyo next year when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics takes Tokyo by storm from July 24 to August 8. That’s when an expected 650,000 spectators are expected to arrive, so there are legitimate concerns for the average city denizen, who can’t get tickets to the Show and just wants to get to work on time.

I see three major acts by both public and private institutions to decrease congestion in Tokyo during the Olympics next year: shifting of public holidays, restrictions on the Tokyo expressways, and encouragement of changes to commuting behaviors.

Public Holidays: Tokyo is the Land of the Public Holiday. There are so many, I get stressed in June because there isn’t one, let alone two or three like we have in January, May, September, October and November. With hopes of easing congestion in Tokyo around the beginning and end of the Olympics, “Marine Day” is being moved a week later to Thursday, July 23 (day before opening day), while “Sports Day” (traditionally in October) will be moved to Friday, July 24. Additionally, “Mountain Day”, will shift a day early to Monday, August 10, the day after the closing ceremony.

Restrictions on Expressways: Drivers were frustrated to find they could not access the highway where they wanted to on July 24 and 26 as the Tokyo government enacted a large-scale highway test by closing some 30 entry points to the Metropolitan Expressway, including entrance and exit points near event locations, for example those near the new National Stadium and the site of the Olympic Village. They had hope to reduce traffic on the expressways by 30%, but traffic only diminished by about 7%.  That has put more momentum behind plans for congestion pricing, where rates to enter the highway may rise by another 1,000 yen between 6 am and 10 pm.

Flex-Time: If you work for a global multi-national, particularly a technology company, then “work anytime, anywhere” is a cultural norm. Except for technology companies in Japan, the cultural norm may likely be, “if I don’t see you, then you’re not working, are you”. In other words, the idea of measuring performance on output, not on how many hours you are at your desk, has become a talking point among government officials and leaders upon passing of the “hatakaki-kata kaikaku kanren ho,” or the Act to Overhaul Laws to Promote Workplace Reform.

More specifically to the Olympics, the government is encouraging tele-work, and commuting during off-peak hours. The government is running a trial from late July through early September this year in which 2,800 employees at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office were given laptops so the can work outside the office once a week during the times this year when the Olympics and Paralympics will take place next year. (One day a week only? Well, it’s a start.)

Tokyo Metro Off Peak 4
Tokyo Metro ad explaining the gold, silver and bronze-level points you get depending on when you commute to work on their trains.

If you take the subway in Tokyo, you will see the ubiquitous posters of Tokyo Metro marketing their Pasmo Card and its point system. Take their trains and accumulate points and prizes! And from July 22 to August 2, and August 19 to August 30, you can get bonus points if you take their trains from 7~7:30 am (25 points!), 7:30~8:00 am (15 points), and 9:30~10:30 am (10 points).

“This is a chance to make telework a legacy of the games that will take root” in society, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko was quoted as saying in The Japan Times.

As Hemingway wrote, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

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Meiji 3

It was a normal Saturday morning, out shopping with the wife at the local supermarket when I spotted the display of chocolate with the now omnipresent Tokyo 2020 mascots, Miraitowa and Someity.

The 4th largest chocolate confectionary producer in the world, Meiji, has the Olympic and Paralympic mascots hawking their famous chocolate snacks, kinoko no yama (mushroom mountain) and take no sato (bamboo village), which are essentially morsels of cookie topped with chocolate in the shape of a mushroom and a bamboo shoot respectively.

Meiji 5

And then I saw the price for a bag of these snacks – JPY1,000 (a little less than USD10). Holy moly, I thought.

That’s when my finely honed investigative journalistic instincts sent tingles though my body like a Bob Woodward version of spidey sense. As they always say, follow the money!

I went down aisle five to see if the regular kinoko no yama/take no sato snacks were available. And there I saw it, the truth as plain as day – a pack of 12 for 275 yen. The Tokyo2020 bag was a pack of 8 for 1,000 yen! I took a few nervous minutes to crunch the numbers checking them several times over because I simply could not believe my eyes.

Meiji 4

Miraitowa’s version was selling for 125 yen a pack while the traditional version was about 23 yen a pack. Miraitowa has a heck of a brand that he can hawk his version of the same product for over 5 times the normal rate!

It’s like finding out that Supreme T-Shirt you bought for $1,150 was actually made for about $10. (Please don’t fact check me on that last point. I have no idea.)

Meiji 20
And they taste exactly the same!

Ok, but then my eagle eyes caught the fine print on the back of the packaging:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Tokyo 2020 Official Licensed Products will be used to help stage the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

I did check on the internet, including Meiji’s site. This packaging and price was released on July 23, to commemorate the Tokyo2020 Year to Go campaign. But to be honest, there is no mention about how much of that 1,000 yen is going to Tokyo 2020. I hope it is a large percentage.

I fear though that most people are not going to put a premium on the chocolate-covered-mushroom-cookie. I hope they do, and contribute to the coffers of Tokyo2020…but mom’s probably not going to shell out 5 times the price so that Taro-kun can get the sticker inside.

But who knows?

Olympic fever is rising with the temperature.

Meiji 9
The “free” sticker in side.
Failed Shopping cart
At least they said they were sorry.

I felt terrible. Crestfallen. Could not really focus on work when I got the email from Tokyo2020.

Thank you for your interest in purchasing Tokyo 2020 tickets.

The demand for tickets was incredibly high, and unfortunately, you were not awarded any of the tickets you requested in the lottery.

As a resident of Japan, I was able to register for a lottery that gave me a chance to buy tickets to events of my choice…an opportunity that up to 85 million other people in Japan also took up.

In an interview with the hosts of the podcast Olympic Fever, Ken Hanscom, the chief operating officer of TicketManager in the United States, explained why I was left brooding all day June 20.

This lottery has been extremely successful. At the close of the lottery, seven and a half million registered for what is really a total of 7.8 million tickets in its entirety. So Tokyo 2020 is already super popular.

The way I look at Tokyo is, it will be in my opinion the highest demand Olympics of all time. It could be the highest demand event of all time.

Of course, that is fantastic news for Japan (and the IOC) – Tokyo 2020 will be a hit! But I was still left wondering if the only way I’m going to see the Tokyo Olympics is from my living room a few kilometers away from the Olympic venues.

But later in the podcast, Hanscom provided some additional context on the lottery in Japan that ran from May 9 to 28, which gave me  hope.

We’re talking about requests for 85 million tickets when there is only 3.5 million that are going to be granted as a part of this lottery process. Roughly 90% of people making requests are not going to receive any tickets, assuming everything is similar to London. So they’re only making a sub-set of these tickets available.

In other words, a relatively small percentage of the overall ticket numbers were made available in this lottery in Japan. This is just the beginning of the ticket sales process, which he said will continue in earnest in the opening months of 2020. And more significantly to me, Hanscom said that 75% of all tickets are made available to those in Japan.

For those outside of Japan, Hanscom explained that most other countries will have their own official re-seller and that there were about 8 to 10 authorized sellers of Olympic tickets around the world, including such companies as Kingdom Sports, CoSport, and Cartan.

Hanscom explained that that each country gets an allotment of tickets based on historical allotment numbers and number of participating athletes, for example, and that those tickets can be purchased only through the authorized seller for their country. The exception is in Europe, where a person living in France, for example, can buy tickets in France, or in Germany or in any other country that is under the European directive.

If tickets are not selling in certain countries, Tokyo 2020 has the right to take back those unsold tickets and re-sell them, or sell them on behalf of that country. But as Hanscom pointed out, this is unlikely for Tokyo2020, which is going to be a must-see Games.

Scalping will be illegal, as Japan enacted a ticket scalping law ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. So for those in Japan, Tokyo 2020 will make a re-sale site available for those people who are not able to use their tickets, in order to offer their tickets to the public at face value.

Hanscom tells those of us who did not land tickets in the lottery to stay positive, that there will be other opportunities.

Tickets are released in blocs over time, so if you miss out on one or two of these opportunities, you’re going to continue to have opportunities next year if you are very diligent, and you put a lot of hard work in. You are going to be able to get a lot of the tickets you want from the market.

Ok. Time to prepare for trench warfare.

Looking dashing in suit and tie, Rui Hachimura stepped up to the stage with a bright smile, greeting the legendary basketball player, Julius Erving. Erving had just announced that Hachimura had won the 2019 Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award, and was asked by the ESPN announcer how it felt to shake Erving’s hand.

Hachimura replied without missing a beat – “His hand is very big.”

The announcer laughed. The audience laughed. And Hachimura beamed as he looked at the award in front of him.

This is the confidence of a young man who is about to become the first Japanese to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft on June 20, 2019.

Only three years earlier, that confidence was not so apparent.

Rui Hachimura high school Rui Hachimura competes during the All-Japan Tournament in late December. | KAZ NAGATSUKA

Born of a mother from Japan and a father from Benin, a nation in West Africa, Hachimura grew up in Toyama, a relatively lightly populated part of Western Japan. In a culture where the phrase, the “nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” is often thought or heard, Hachimura, due to his size, his skin color and his hair, stuck out.

“My family was the only blacks in our prefecture,” Hachimura said in this CBS article. “A lot of people looked at me weird. They’d never seen black people before.”

Although baseball is Hachimura’s first love, he found that basketball and its constant movement and flow allowed him to leverage his boundless energy and athleticism. A star on the Meisei High School team in Sendai, Hachimura took his team to three straight All Japan high school tournament titles. At an appearance at the 2014 FIBA U17 in Dubai, the then 16-year-old Hachimura caught the eye of basketball scouts, including the assistant coach at Gonzaga University, Tommy Lloyd.

“Moved well, really good hands, could dribble the ball, had a normal follow-through, strength and explosion,” Lloyd said in The Spokesman-Review. “A lot of great tools.”

Rui Hachimura and Tommy Lloyd Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura and assistant coach Tommy Lloyd,(Photo: Young Kwak, AP)

Major college programs wanted Hachimura – Arizona, LSU, Vanderbilt and my hometown team St. John’s. But in the end, Lloyd helped convinced Hachimura to come to Gonzaga, which houses a powerful NCAA Division 1 basketball team made up in good part by players outside of America.

“I like that this program has teammates and coaches who are like family,” Hachimura said in The Gonzaga Bulletin. “I knew there were a lot of international players playing here and they know the process of developing international players.”

The 18-year old moved to Washington State in America in early 2016 and he had significant challenges. Hachimura had never lived overseas. He had been to the US only once. He spoke very little English. His first task was to become eligible to even enter Gonzaga as his acceptance was dependent on passing the SAT test, the most common aptitude test used by universities and colleges in America. After several attempts, Hachimura scored well enough to satisfy Gonzaga in May, 2016, and announced that he would move to the United States to enter Gonzaga’s English Language Center that month, according to the Japan Times.

With hopes of playing as a freshman in the 2016-2017 season, Hachimura had to improve his English so he could at least understand instructions from coaches and talk to teammates. As a result, he had to miss 50% of the team’s practices so he could attend Gonzaga’s English language program.

In the early stages, it didn’t appear the language lessons were working, as explained in late 2017 by Coach Mark Few in The Gonzaga Bullettin.

He’s a professional at nodding and acting like he knows. Then when you pin him down he has no idea. So I’ve been trying to pin him down a lot to make sure, because we have to make sure. But he’s getting better inch by inch.

Rui Hachimura u17 Team Japan Rui Hachimura in 2014 FIBA 2017 World Championship in Dubai – Canada vs Japan, Day 2, Group phase

Hachimura was also adjusting to the faster, more aggressive level of play in America, according to Few.

He’s pretty laid back. At his size, he needs to be a physical entity… that’s tough to match up with and tough to block out… he’s just got to get a little more intense.

Or as Lloyd remarked more succinctly, “Early on, he looked like Tarzan, but sometimes was playing like Jane.”

Today, Hachimura is definitely playing like Tarzan, and will become not only a potential piece in an NBA team’s success in 2019, but a potential marketing bonanza for Hachimura, particularly in his native Japan. Kyodo News reporter Akiko Yamawaki said that Hachimura’s impending draft selection is big news in Japan.

All of Japan finds it so exciting. Everybody thinks, everybody knows he’s going to change the culture of Japanese basketball. It would be really huge news. When Ichiro signed with Seattle, (Shohei) Ohtani signed with the Angels, I think it would be the same kind of news in Japan.

And after an NBA season under his belt, who knows what Hachimura can accomplish as a member of Team Japan at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 5

It’s a bright airy arena – the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza in Chofu, Tokyo.  I attended the NHK Cup on Sunday, May 19, a national championships for artistic gymnastics in Japan, and it was exciting to watch the very best male gymnasts in Japan, and in the world.

Now, if only I could understand what Was going on.

I’m not a deep fan of gymnastics. I knew that Kohei Uchimura, the winner of the previous 9 NHK Cups, was unable to qualify this time around. I knew that one of the most promising young gymnasts, Kenzo Shirai, did poorly to qualify for the NHK Cup, so was not in good shape to win. But I had my guide book and was ready to watch a great competition.

The problem is, the arena – this new arena that opened up in November of 2017 – was so poorly outfitted electronically that it was impossible to know what was going on…unless you were really familiar with gymnastics and could recognize faces and names from a far.

As you can see in the photo at the top of this post, there was only a single large screen to my left. That screen basically provided an NHK feed of the tournament, except without any critical information, like the name of the gymnast being displayed.

In fact, spectators at this new 10,000-seat facility, which will house Olympic badminton, pentathlon fencing and Paralympic wheelchair basketball, were bereft of any basic information about what was happening before them, except for small digital signs at each event site on the floor.

It’s true, that artistic gymnastics, where six different  disciplines are happening at the same time, can be hard for the casual fan to follow. But if the idea is to attract as many fans as possible, particularly casual fans, then providing basic information to the spectator is critical. At the most average arena in the United States, one would expect to see a jumbotron hanging from the ceiling over center court, where the most basic information about scores, player information and video replays can be provided.

But the experience at Musashino Forest Sports Plaza was frustrating at best for the casual observer. You give up to the fact that you have no idea which person is doing what, where and when.

From the sponsors’ perspective, one would hope that their company name and logo is highly visible. But the main arena in Musashino Forest Sports Plaza has no such electronic signage. Instead, small placards hung awkwardly off the edge of the first and second level stands.

If you believe that stadium and arenas should be designed for the spectator (as well as sponsors), then you will have issues with many sports venues in Japan.  Most of the stadium and arena in Japan are owned by government authorities, and that they view these venues as cost centers, not profit centers. In other words, if there is a soccer stadium in some town somewhere in Japan, it will be very hard for a person with an idea to do anything other than soccer in that stadium, this despite the fact that concerts, obstacle sports racing, eSports and other such activities could attract many more and different people.

To change the conservative nature of stadium and arena administrators in Japan, the Japanese government through the Sports Agency have been pushing a plan to triple sports business revenue in Japan from JPY5.5 trillion yen in 2015 to JPY15 trillion yen in 2025. The Sports Agency want stadium and arenas to transform so that they can help contribute to those greater revenues.

In recognition of this need, the Sports Agency published in June, 2017 a report in Japanese called Stadium and Arena Revolution Guidebook. In this report, they highlighted 14 recommendations to drive this revolution.

You can find a fuller translation of that part of the report in this pdf.

Fourteen Requirements for sustainable management that attracts spectators and supports community development:

  • Requirement 1. Improvement to Customer Experience
  • Requirement 2. Realization of various usage scenarios
  • Requirement 3. Establishment of profit model and transformation to profit center
  • Requirement 4. Stadium/arena as the core of community development
  • Requirement 5. Identification of stakeholders and improvement in consensus building
  • Requirement 6. Attracting new customers and providing information
  • Requirement 7. Designing for profitability
  • Requirement 8. Management (operation, maintenance, repair, etc.) critical to sustainability
  • Requirement 9. Compliance and risk management for stadium and arena maintenance
  • Requirement 10. Leveraging the vitality of the private sector
  • Requirement 11. Various financing schemes
  • Requirement 12. Goal setting, evaluation, feedback
  • Requirement 13. IT and data utilization in stadium and arena management
  • Requirement 14: Stadium and Arena management personnel
Japan Taxi_author
Another shiny black Japan Taxi.

Designed by committee, Toyota’s Japan Taxi becomes an expensive Olympic symbol.

That’s a damning headline, one that Olympic-haters love to see. News editors like it because they know readership will want to read and moan about the waste that the Olympics and other big-tent events incur. That’s why so many news channels picked up this May 22 Reuters story.

Toyota built a taxi that sticks out on the Tokyo roads – a black high-roofed automobile that boasts the Olympic and Paralympic logos – and they’re called “Japan Taxi”.

The Reuters article leads with the premise that the Japan Taxi has become a “high-priced icon of Tokyo’s budget-busting 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.” It goes on to state that the taxi was designed to answer too many stakeholder needs, including an air purifying conditioner, wheelchair ramp, liquefied petroleum and gas-hybrid engine – in other words, a Frankenstein-sort of taxi had been created. As a result, the car ended up retailing for over USD30,000, some USD7 to 8,000 more than the Toyota Crown that are gradually being replaced as taxis in Tokyo.

That is indeed a high price and Toyota admits to finding few interested buyers outside  Tokyo and Japan. Toyota admits they are losing money on this, manufacturing only 1,000 of these cars a month.

According to the article, taxi drivers have expressed discontent, although reasons beyond an unwieldy rarely-deployed wheelchair ramp are not provided. Additionally, taxi operators are concerned subsidies from the city and federal governments will disappear after the Olympics, although it is unclear in the article how big that overall cost is.

But what does the number one stakeholder think – the ones who are transported in Japan Taxi?

I’ll start with a highly unscientific study of one – myself. I LOVE these taxis! And I suspect I’m not alone. They’re easy to enter and they’re spacious – a business-class taxi with economy fares. You can cart your luggage in with ease. They’re classic looking, harking back to the design of the big old London taxis. And those who are wheelchair bound appear to have found an easier option.

The video report on this Reuters story (below) quotes Josh Grisdale, a wheelchair resident of Japan, who commented on the fact that before Japan Taxi you had to rely on specialized vans. Now he says you see Japan Taxi on the street all the time. “The most important thing is to have something available when you need it,” said Grisdale, the Head of Accessible Japan. “Up till now, you’ve had to book way in advance to book a taxi, and that’s very difficult for people who are not from Japan.

All the way at the end of the article, Reuters admits that taxi distributors actually like their Japan Taxis because “they consume half the fuel of older vehicles and their anti-collision sensors have reduced accidents by 10%,” and that “Toyota made other tweaks when it addressed the wheelchair ramp problem. It also made the automatic sliding passenger door close 1.5 seconds faster, reduced rear windscreen wiper noise with an intermittent setting and lowered the money tray on the driver’s seat to reduce shoulder strain.”

If a news agency comes out with a story on Japan Taxi about significant taxpayer money being wasted on something that  taxpayers don’t like, then fine. But my guess is that if you had a line of people waiting for taxis and the next two cars on the queue were a Japan Taxi and an older Toyota Crown (a perfectly fine car), the person first on line will likely be happy he’s not second.

Tokyo2020 tickets lottery application completed

The lottery has begun.

On May 9, 2019, Tokyo2020 began a registration process that allows people living in Japan to select tickets to events with an intent to purchase. This registration ends on May 28.

If you are a resident of Japan – meaning you have an address and telephone number in Japan – you can participate in a lottery for tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. However, it is likely  you will have to wait. Last night on the first day of registration, wait times were an hour or so. More frustratingly for some was navigating the closing process.

I waited for about 60 minutes, started the process, and somehow lost the connection. When I tried to re-establish the process, I ended up re-starting the count. Another 60 minutes to kill. According to this article, “180,000 applicants were simultaneously in a waiting line.”

Waiting for Registration_Tokyo2020 tickets

The second time around, I selected tickets for opening and closing ceremonies, men’s basketball finals and a day of a bunch of track finals, which took me about 30 minutes to do. After pushing the complete button, I had to give final verification by calling a number, and I had about 2 minutes to do so, according to the site. Unfortunately, I got about 3 minutes worth of busy tone after dialing the number over ten times.

Somehow, I was able to figure out how to re-start the phone verification process, and in the end, persistence prevailed. At 11pm that night, I secured my place in the lottery. And so too, can you, if you live in Japan. According to the above-cited article, residents in Japan not only get first dibs, they get tickets that will be less expensive than those sold outside Japan, as ticket re-sellers tack on a handling charge of 20%. For a JPY300,000 ticket to the Opening Ceremony, that’s a hefty charge increase.

You have until May 28. Officials have emphasized and re-emphasized that the time you register and select events for the lottery is irrelevant. You have an equal chance of tickets whether you were the first or last person to register. First, get your ID, and then find a quiet time of the day (pre-dawn) to go to the site, and start picking events!

Ticket Price List

Ichiro Suzuki batting practice
Ichiro Suzuki during batting practice in MLB’s Opening Day game on March 20, 2019_Kyodo

It was opening day for Major League Baseball, and the Seattle Mariners were taking on the Oakland Athletics in Japan at the Tokyo Dome.

The A’s were winning 5-4 in the top of the fourth, and Ichiro Suzuki was coming up to bat. The future first-ballot hall of famer extended his right arm, holding his bat straight up, and awaited the pitch.

Six people on the 2019 Oakland roster were not even born when Ichiro started his career as a rookie for the Orix BlueWave in 1992. The hair on his head and face was trimmed nearly to the skin, but even that couldn’t hide the gray of a grizzled 45-year-old veteran.

Ichiro in the batters boxOpening day 2019
Ichiro awaiting a pitch at the opening day match up between the Mariners and the A’s. (photo by author)

Ichiro took a first-pitch strike, worked it to a 3-2 count, hitting a ball off his leg twice, before ripping a ball foul down the right field line, electrifying the crowd, all of whom were essentially willing Ichiro to get a hit – one more to the 4,367 hits in his professional baseball career.

Ichiro walked, and then, as the Mariner’s took the field for the bottom of the fourth, Ichiro jogged back in, embraced teammates around third base and entered the dugout to the applause of the fans.

I was one of those 45,787 fans, wondering if we had seen the last appearance of Ichiro on the field. Joining an American Chamber of Commerce of Japan event, I got a unique behind-the-scenes look at Major League Baseball. Jim Small, Senior Vice President of International Business at Major League Baseball, took us on a tour of Tokyo Dome: the press room, the bullpen and the field to watch batting practice.

Ichiro on lineup
Peeking inside the Mariners’ bullpen, with the game’s lineup written on the board. Ichiro batting ninth.

We watched Ichiro’s replacement in right field, Dan Vogelbach slash balls in the batting cage as Small pointed to the red patches in the green sea of artificial turf. He told us that two tons of clay on the mound and around the bases had been shipped in from the United States….by plane…after issues at the Panama Canal thwarted the forward progress of the freighter ship.

Getting the proper clay to Japan for two exhibition games and two official games was vital to Major League Baseball (MLB). With tens of millions of dollars of assets on the field in the form of professional baseball players, MLB didn’t want to have a repeat of what happened to Robin Ventura of the Mets, when they took on the Chicago Cubs in Japan in 2000, the first time any regular-season games had taken place outside North America. According to the New York Times, Ventura slipped twice in the batter’s box during a game, the Japanese clay being of a looser, drier consistency.

When we got into a meeting room for an Inside Baseball talk before the game, Small got down to business. Japan is a critical market, and a major source of revenue for MLB, whether it is media (e.g.: streaming of MLB games), sponsorships (e.g.: commercials or corporations that want to market themselves using the MLB logo or Japanese players in MLB uniforms), consumer products (e.g.: jerseys and caps), and events (e.g.: exhibition or regular-season games).

And MLB, like so many other businesses, want to grow smartly around the world. According to Small, investing in markets like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Latin America is a no brainer – baseball is a popular part of the culture and so the fandom and infrastructure are in place for MLB to plug and play. That’s why MLB is holding 2019 regular season games not only in Japan, but also in Mexico.

MLB is also looking at emerging markets, those with strong economies and perceived  to have the potential to grow the sport. Thus, games between teams in one of the fiercest and famed rivalries in baseball – The New York Yankees and The Boston Red Sox – will take place in London, England on June 29-30.

Jim Small on Bloomberg

It’s unclear whether baseball will take off in England – there is so much competition for the English sports fans’ mindshare and wallet. But MLB believes that the Asian emerging markets show tremendous potential for growth, particularly China and India.

China: As China prepared for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Small told us that leaders in China recognized that they were not competitive in baseball compared to its Asian neighbors, like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. They saw baseball as an Asian sport and they wanted to be better. Today, 650,000 viewers watch each MLB game broadcasted in China, in Chinese, which actually dwarfs the Japanese market. Some 300 stores sell MLB goods. And there are actually 7 Chinese nationals in the farm systems of major league baseball teams. China may not make the top 12 for the Olympics in Tokyo, but they are determined to catch up to their Asian brethren.

India: In 2008, the Pittsburgh Pirates created some media buzz by announcing the signing of two pitchers from India to minor league contracts. As interest by Indians in American baseball has grown, so too has MLB’s interest in growing the India market. As Small explained, India’s love for cricket is an advantage, particularly from a talent perspective, as the throwing and catching movements, on the whole, are similar to those in baseball. But perhaps even more intriguing is this: India has an incredibly high percentage of people who own connected devices like smartphones and tablets – 90%. That’s 90% of 1.1 billion people, of which 89% interact on social media. That’s the kind of market where the right steps can grow brand awareness very quickly.

Ichiro maybe saying goodbye to baseball. But the MLB is saying hello, konnichiwa, namaste and ni hao to the world.

(Oh by the way, Seattle won 9-7.)

Spartan_Emily 3
Emily Downey

Bear crawl under barbed wire. Scramble over a 2-meter wall. Climb a rope 5 meters, hand over hand. Flip a 100 kg tire. Get a strong grip and hoist a pack weighing 50 kilograms up about 10 meters. Lug a heavy bucket for what seems forever to many.  Jump into mud, run through fire, exert your body and your will to its fullest…for what?

According to Emily Downey, Managing Director of Global Partnerships for Spartan Japan, it’s about the camaraderie, the sustainable boost to confidence, and ultimately a lifestyle that contributes to better health, and a greater chance of living a longer, more satisfying life. Spartan Race makes that happen.

Downey gave a talk at the American Chamber of Commerce Japan on November 6, 2018 entitled “Spartan: The Business of Selling Mud, Barbed Wire, and Fire – Creating a Multi-million Dollar Sports Brand in Japan in Less than 2 Years”.

Spartan_Emily

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand in the world, with over 1.2 million enthusiasts competing in over 200 races in over 40 countries. It is the fastest growing obstacle race, if not one of the fastest growing sports in the world. And Spartan races in Japan have been a turbo engine to the company’s global success.

Founded in 2010 in the US by Joe De Sena, a born entrepreneur and former Wall Street trader, Spartan Race established itself in Japan in 2016, thanks to circumstances that brought De Sena and Downey together in Tokyo. Thirty minutes into an initial meet-and-greet, the two immediately started making plans for Spartan’s first race in Japan.

Two years later, Spartan Race Japan is hugely successful and garners the highest ATV (average ticket value) in the world for Spartan. Additionally, thanks to Downey’s initiative, Spartan secured Spartan’s largest global partnership to date – The giant Japanese brand Rakuten, which runs the largest e-commerce platform by sales in Japan. This global partnership provides Spartan Race, in addition to financial support,  the ability to more powerfully leverage Rakuten’s digital and marketing services. The partnership also provides Rakuten with access to the massive markets of middle America, as the Rakuten logo will be seen on over a million race ‘Finisher’ shirts, as well as in Facebook livestreams of races.

Rakuten values the highly-educated, high income and diverse demographics of Spartan Race participants, making Spartan Race Rakuten’s third significant sports global partnership, after the vaunted global brands of La Liga’s FC Barcelona and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

At the heart of Spartan Race’s business model is the ability for organizers to engage participants in life-changing ways. Overcoming our fear of trying new things, of attempting activities that are perceived to result in failure, or even pain, is a significant part of Spartan Race’s value proposition. Through a series of challenging but achievable activities laid out across a race course in a natural open vista or a closed Stadium grounds, the organizers and its countless evangelists exhort and cajole their fellow Spartans to push themselves to climb that wall, to keep carrying that weight, to keep their eyes on the goal.

Spartan_Emily 4

Initially Downey wondered if Spartan Race could be replicated in Japan. “I was told the Japanese, particularly Japanese women, hate mud, that the Japanese just won’t do mud! The bucket carry – that’s really hard. Japanese won’t do it. I was told I was crazy to do Spartan in Japan. But the reality is, the Japanese love it. They learn like everyone else that after you achieve all that, you’re just not the same person, you have changed.”

Spartan Race is about finding levels of confidence one never though were possible. Children from the age of 5 compete. Men and women in their 70’s and 80’s compete. The disabled compete.

Spartan_Marla
Marley Sweeney

Marla Sweeney is 73 years old and has a litany of health issues, as well as artificial vertebrae implanted after being run over by a drunk driver in 2006. And yet Sweeney, inspired by her son who competed in Spartan, decided to try it, and trotted to complete a three-mile Spartan race in 2015. Since that time, she has been unstoppable, completing another 15 spartan races. And as a result, arthritic pains have washed away, as did bouts of depression.

“It’s a passion, it’s addicting and the world is brighter,” she told Runner’s World.

Kacey McCallister lost his legs at the age of six after being hit by an 18-wheel truck. Surviving was one thing. Living was another. As he relates in this video, if his mother treated him like an invalid, he would become an invalid. McCallister liked sports, but couldn’t find the right avenue…until he discovered Spartan. People thought he was crazy to even consider an obstacle race like Spartan, but he went right at it, competing for the first time in a 9-mile race, on his hands.

“When people doubt me, when people tell me I can’t do something, that fires me up. That gets me going. In fact, in this recent Spartan run, my wife said this was going to kill me.  That makes me want to do it even more.”

McCallister completed the race and many more after. And he discovered the essence of his achievement, a lesson that applies not just to he disabled, but to all people.

Disability is in your mind. People out there with a totally functioning body have this mental block. That’s all it is for anybody. It’s a mental block that says I can’t do something because….. Sure there’s a lot of people out there in wheel chairs who think,  “Oh, I can’t do it, so I’m going to stay home and play Halo for eight hours a day. They can. You have to figure out a way.

Downey explained that the ripped athletes who look like they can conquer a Spartan race in their sleep, her so-called 1% of the population, are not the ones who ‘win’ the race. She said it’s the 99% who do – the housewife, the grandfather, the office worker, the casual sportsman. She has come to understand that winning the race is not the goal for so many, that in fact, the goal is realizing the potential within, a potential that many didn’t realize even lingered inside.

In fact, Downey challenges everyone to get off the couch, and tells them they’re not “special,” that they too can do so much more. “People participate in Spartan, gain confidence, and learn they can improve their lives.” More importantly, Downey notes, the results of achieving in a Spartan Race have longer-term implications, beyond the medals. “People say that money, family, children – these are the most important things. But really, health is. Without health you won’t have any of the other important things. Spartans treat their bodies well.  They don’t dump a lot of bad stuff in it.”

In fact, as obesity continues to grow as a global health threat, De Sena calls Spartan Race “a public service.”

This is not even a business. We have no choice but to do this and convince people to start getting healthy. This is not a want to do, this is a have to do.

Toyosu aerial view
The Toyosu fish market is pictured in this photo taken from a Mainichi helicopter on July 30, 2016. (Mainichi)

The Tsukiji era is over. The Toyosu era has begun today, October 11.

After decades in the planning, the government has finally moved the fishmongers of Tsukiji to a former gas storage facility in Toyosu, about a few kilometers southeast of the famed fish market.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan, tens of thousands visited Tsukji daily to enjoy the fresh seafood, and if they arrived before 5 am, as hundreds did every weekday, to watch the auction of frozen tuna laid out like lumber on the slick fishmonger floor.

Tsukiji was also a significantly large market, as over 1,540 tons of seafood valued at USD14 million or JPY1.6 billion traded hands every day. Around 650 businesses operated in Tsukiji, including 100 vegetable traders that sold 985 tons of fruits and vegetables daily, creating a vibrant community with over 14,000 workers and 28,000 buyers doing in the crammed confines of the Tsukiji market.

This coziness of Tsukiji, while part of the charm, was also part of the problem. Working within facilities originally constructed prior to World War II, Tsukiji businesses were not air conditioned, and kept their fish and vegetables fresh with crushed ice. Since storage space was limited, fish could be found stored outside, even in the summer months. The hustle bustle of Tsukji was made greater with the countless number of trucks that transported goods in and out of Tsukiji on its narrow roads.

The cramped quarters were an issue, and the move to Toyosu nearly doubles the available space for the market from 23.1 hectares in Tsukiji to 40.7 hectares in Toyosu. There were other reasons to move – the steel beams that kept the buildings up were rusting, the building standards were not up to date in terms of eartquake resistance, asbestos was said to be in the walls, and rats filled the nooks and crannies.

Tsukiji tunnel and transportation hub_Asia Nikkei
The Loop Line 2 plan, Nikkei Asian Review

And then there is the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, providing an extra incentive to accelerate the move. Plans for 2020 included:

  • a transportation hub of 3,000 vehicles, called Bus Rapid Transport (BRT), that would be used to move athletes, officials, and volunteers around to the various Olympic venues,
  • an extension of a major road artery, called Loop Line 2, from downtown Toranomon to Toyosu, that would allow vehicles to move unimpeded via a tunnel dug underneath Tsukiji, and
  • The Olympic Village, to be built between the Tsukiji market and Toyosu market.

When Yuriko Koike came to power as governor of Tokyo in the summer of 2016, she put a halt to the planned November 7, 2016 move of the fish market to Toyosu when high levels of a poisonous chemical, benzene, were detected in the soil and in the air of the former gas storage facility.

Tsukiji Market aerial
Tsukiji Fish Market Aerial View

Two years later, after measures to diminish the impact of the contaminents in the soil were taken, Governor Koike officially gave the go ahead to open Toyosu on October 11.

That decision has brought closure to many of the Tuskiji businesses that eventually moved to Toyosu. But the delay has left considerable uncertainty for others, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

One party is the Tokyo Olympic Organizing committee, which gives the committee much less time to convert the Tsukiji fish market into a transportation hub. Dealing with the tens of thousands of people on the move for two weeks during the Games, in addiiton to the already congested roads and trains of Tokyo, will be a tremendous challenge, and the readiness and effectiveness of the BRT will be critical to the success of the 2020 Olympics.

Another concerned party is a group, including Mitsui Fudosan Residential, Mitsubishi Jisho Residence, Sumitomo Realty & Development and Nomura Real Estate Development, which are creating different parts of the Olympic Village. The rooms for athletes will be converted and sold as condos after the Olympics, according to Nikkei Asian Review. They write that the 24 blocks of 5,600 condominums will help drive the population of the Harumi bayside area from 12,000 today to about 29,000 in ten years.

Unfortunately, the development of the tunnel part of the Loop Line 2, planned to transport people and vehicles underneath Tsukiji, was postponed after the move of the fish market to Toyosu was postponed.

As the area of the Olympic Village is not close to any train station (the closest station being a 25-minute walk to Kachidoki Station on the Oedo Line), the developers of the condos were depending on the development of high-speed connections from the Olympic Village Harumi waterfront area to Shimbashi train station in about 10 minutes, but that possibility appears to be in jeopardy with uncertainty over the development of the tunnel.

Uncertainty doesn’t sell.

Developers are hoping to start selling the condo units before the games, aiming to sell more than 4,000 of 5,600 units. But the uncertainty over whether the BRT will be fully operational by the autumn of 2022, when new owners are scheduled to take possession, is causing worries about how this will work out.

Toyosu has opened, and the era of early morning jaunts to the fish market, standing meters from the valuable frozen tuna being hawked in auction is over. As this site explains, you will find a more antiseptic version of the Tsukiji experience.

Expect the experience at Toyosu to be different from the lively, messy but also charming and authentic Tsukiji. It seems like a very organized and sterile atmosphere—and only certain clearly-marked areas will be accessible to visitors. The times of tourists touching the price tags of tuna are over—your experience is all behind glass windows now.

Tsukiji May 1989
The author at Tsukiji one early May morning in 1989, with an ugly moustache.