Orinpikku_no_Minoshirokin_Ochiai and Shimazaki
Inspector Ochiai faces off with Shimazaki in the film, Olympic Ransom.

It’s October 10, 1964, past 2pm and 70,000 people who filled the National Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo are buzzing with excitement. Kunio Shimazaki, a student of the prestigious Tokyo University, has entered the stands, making his way towards the top of the east facing part of the stadium and the Olympic cauldron.

As Emperor Hirohito’s high-pitched voice declares the Olympic Games open, Shimazaki holds explosives in one hand and a lighter in the other, approaching the yet-to-be lit cauldron with deadly intent. The police surround Shimazaki, and up steps Inspector Masao Ochiai, his grip on his gun tightening.

olympic ransom book coverThis is a scene from the novel, Olympic Ransom (Orinppiku Minoshirokin) by Hideo Okuda, highlighting the national urgency of the time, to ensure that the 1964 Tokyo Olympics begin and end successfully, thus re-establishing Japan’s re-integration to the world community. A terrorist attack like the one Shimazaki hoped to carry out did not come to pass in the novel, but he, through the writing of Okuda, brought attention to the challenges of the Japanese economic miracle and the sacrifices made at the time.

While the Japanese economy was steaming ahead on the eve of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, GDP growing from 8.8% in1963 to an incredible 11.2% in 1964, there were sacrifices, and omissions of prosperity. In the novel, Shimazaki is from an impoverished town in the Northern part of Japan, Akita. Although he was able to break the cycle of poverty by gaining admission to the best university in the country, his older brother had to work long days on punishing schedules in Tokyo to help the city complete all of its infrastructure projects in time for the Olympic Games. And one day, his brother was dead, a result of an exhausting workload and a dependency on drugs.

Days before Inspector Ochiai stops would-be terrorist Shimazaki at the National Stadium, they meet at Tokyo University. In the film produced by Asahi Television in 2013 based on Okuda’s book, Shimazaki explains to the inspector why he is looking to make the authorities in Japan pay.

Ochiai-san, do you know there is an underground passageway into the National Stadium? An underpass to all for the movement of players from underground into the world’s best stadium? The country has spared no expense in the making of it. Due to various pretexts though, the use of it was stopped. My older brother for the sake of constructing that unused underpass was forced into working shifts of sixteen continuous hours. In order to get through those shifts he turned to taking bad Philopon….and died. For the national honor, the country wasted huge amounts of money all while treating migrant workers like trash until they die, paying them only tens of thousands of yen. If we don’t change something here, the unfair gap between rich and poor will go on widening forever. And endlessly the same tragedy will repeat.

As Bruce Suttmeier in his essay, “Held Hostage to History – Okuda Hideo’s Olympic Ransom” writes that Okuda’s re-imagining of history is “a thought experiment in narrative form”…with an intent to “expose political and social certainties to speculative inquiry.”

For example, Shimazaki explained in the encounter with Ochiai that his brother was sacrificed to help build an underpass under the National Stadium, and that it was not used despite the pain and labor that went into its construction. While such a tunnel was indeed constructed, the reality is the tunnel was actually used by athletes and officials alike during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as noted in this previous post.

Regardless, the point being made in the novel is that economic progress made in the lead up to the 1964 Olympics, while impressive, was not necessarily true for all of Japan. The widening gap between haves and have nots was an uncomfortable social reality, and the 1963 Akira Kurosawa film, High and Low, projects the anxiety many felt at the time.

But it’s the head of security for the Tokyo Olympics, Shuichiro Suga, who explains to Ochiai that Shimazaki is not a hero of the people, but a terrorist.

Suga: The permission to shoot to kill Shimazaki Kunio has been issued. If you find Shimazaki this time around, shoot him without hesitation. Are you okay with the Olympics ending in failure due to your sentimentality? From the ashes of defeat , are you okay with wasting what the Japanese people have gritted their teeth over and rebuilt with great effort?

Ochiai: However, for those people struggling in poverty in rural regions, They have been rewarded with nothing.

Suga: Is there something wrong with Tokyo becoming enriched? First off, Tokyo, the center of the country, should prosper, and then the other regions will gradually become richer. Don’t forget. Shimazaki is a brutal criminal, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people are still exposed by this crisis. In order to protect their lives you’ll have to pull the trigger too.

Shimazaki in the stadium
Shimazaki in the Olympic crowd on opening day.

In the end, Ochia does indeed pull the trigger, bringing Shimazaki down, with nary a soul outside the police knowing that a deadly threat was thwarted. And so, the novel ends as the actual 1964 Tokyo Olympic opening ceremony ends – without incident.

In the essay, Held Hostage to History: Okuda Hideo’s Olympic Ransom, the author, Bruce Suttmeier, explains that while Okuda’s book is a novel, the author may be suggesting that so many things of significance may have happened, but that in the end, historians, authorities and society may have selective memories.

After the unnoticed shooting in the stadium and the brisk removal of Shimazaki’s injured body, the story quickly returns in its final pages to a sanctioned historical narrative, free from the destabilizing presence of a past encumbered by contingency and potential and by the weight of epistemic uncertainty.

As Suttmeier writes, when the head of security, Suga, is asked by his son whether the threat is over, Suga replies “what bomber?” In other words, why worry the public, the overjoyed and proud public with such distractions. Let the Games be the glowing symbol of Japan’s resurrection and triumphant return to the international community.

Perhaps what Okuda is saying in a way – no great triumph comes without sacrifice, and that we should peer a bit deeper into our own understandings of the past.

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no tattoo sign

Some of the famous people in the world have tattoos. The US tattoo industry alone is a $1.5 billion business. And many of the 20 million plus foreigners visiting Japan every year are sporting tattoos. But as some visitors are surprised to learn, their tattoos are sometimes frowned upon, and result in being turned away from the hot springs and beaches of Japan.

Rugby World Cup Organizers are excited about the 2019 Rugby World Cup tournament coming to Japan, and have been eager to show respect to their hosts next year. At the one-year-to-go milestone, tournament director Alan Gilpin stated in a press conference that rugby players with tattoos need to cover up their body ink.

“We will make (Japanese) people aware around the facilities that players will use in the country that people with tattoos in a Rugby World Cup context are not part of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia,” added Gilpin.

It’s a socially sensitive statement as there is generally a negative attitude of Japanese towards tattoos – a common rationale being that Yakuza were commonly associated with tattoos. In fact, there is a law against tattoo artists without a medical license, which has been enforced. And signs at pools, hot springs and public beaches commonly explain in multiple languages that people with tattoos are prohibited from entry, or at least asked to cover them up.

The Japan Travel Association (JTA), eager to avoid private establishments from kicking surprised foreign guests out of their establishments, have encouraged hot spring proprietors to relax their rules against people with tattoos. But the reality is, with the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020, Japanese will see a lot of foreign athletes with tattoos – on the beach, in the pools, all round town.

Here are a few of the Olympic hopefuls who sport tattoos.

Joseph Schooling tattoo
Joseph Schooling – swimmer, Singapore, gold medalist in 100 meter butterfly at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Shaun White tattoo
Shaun White – three-time gold medalist in showboarding halfpipe, American, and potential Olympian in skateboarding at Tokyo 2020 Olympics

 

Simon Biles tattoo
Simone Biles – gymnastics, American, four-time gold medalist

To think that Japan is anti-tattoo is taking a negative perception too far. The fact is the number of tattoo artists (despite the law) has increased significantly in the past 30 years. And foreigners with tattoos who come to Japan feel that attitudes are shifting. According to best-selling Australian author, Tara Moss, “there is a quiet rebellion against these prevailing rules and social norms in Japan.”

I received several compliments when mine were visible, and one of my favourite moments on our most recent trip was when I had a summer dress on in the subway and my forearm tattoos were showing. One particularly cool young man seemed quietly fascinated, and rolled up his shirt sleeves silently to reveal the very lower edges of his arm tattoos. We were part of some similar ‘tribe’. No words were exchanged, only a nod that my husband could take his picture as he posed nonchalantly against the train door.

If you have tattoos and plan a visit to Japan, Moss writes that you should take the following under advisement:

  1. Expect to completely cover tattoos at any pool, gym and most water parks and beaches.
  2. Tattoos are banned at onsens (bath houses).
  3. Many ryokans (Japanese inns) will not accept tattooed guests.
  4. You should consider covering your tattoos at any temple or sacred site.

And what does Moss suggest are the best ways to avoid Japanese seeing your tattoo?

  1. Use a rashie at the pool
  2. Book a private onsen instead of attending a public one.
  3. Use clothing/scarves.
  4. Try arm covers
  5. Use a bandaid or bandage.


Spring Forward daylight saving

2018 has been a sweltering summer in Tokyo. With temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in early August, the media and internet had a field day on perceived disastrous consequences of athletes and spectators collapsing on the streets and in the stands during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But when the idea of incorporating Daylights Saving Time in Japan came up, the media and internet in Japan had another field day condemning that idea.

Why is daylights saving time – the idea of pushing the clock ahead in the summer of 2020 – being considered? There are two reasons brought up.

  • Potentially cooler weather for the marathon runners: An early start time of 7:30 am is being considered for the marathons. If the clocks are pushed one hour ahead, 7:30 am is actually 6:30 am – the presumption being that the conditions will be cooler.
  • Broadcaster’s bottom line: Additional advertising revenue for the American broadcaster could be gained by shifting the clock at least one hour ahead. If we presume that 10 am will be a starting time for a lot of major events, that would be 9 pm in New York City without daylight saving, and 8pm with daylight saving.

The South Korean government agreed to institute daylight saving time in 1988, the year of the Seoul Olympics. According to this article, a Trans World International executive named Barry Frank was hired as a consultant to the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOOC), and helped the committee negotiate with the networks for broadcasting rights.

Frank seemingly had an insoluble problem — an Olympics half a world away, with individual athletic federations balking at changing their starting times and U.S. television balking at paying hefty rights for delayed telecasts. Any hour he could find to add to our prime-time schedule was crucial. NBC is paying a base of $300 million for U.S. television rights, with a risk-sharing formula tied to advertising sales that could boost the fee to $500 million. “This might have been worth $25 million in the overall scheme of things,” Frank said of the daylight savings ploy.

Countries using not using daylight saving time
Daylight saving time is used in over 70 countries.

So the clocks in South Korea shifted one hour ahead in the summer of 1988. That was the only year Korea had daylight saving time.

The Japanese government may be considering it, but there may be some lingering bad memories of a time when Japan did have daylight saving. That was in the immediate years after World War II. Japan had lost the war, and was placed under the control of the Allied Powers, led by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, American General Douglas MacArthur. The Americans, thinking of the positive impact that DST has had in the US, thought the Japanese would welcome an extra hour of daylight in the summer evenings. They didn’t.

According to historian John Dower, in his book, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, the immediate post-war years were miserable ones of loss, destitution and despair. Bringing on the night, and retreating to the shadows as soon as possible, was preferable apparently.

It was also in 1948 that lingering exhaustion in the general population translated into widespread popular criticism of one of the occupation’s most minor innovations, the introduction of American-style daylight savings time. Called sanmo taimu (“summer time”) in the marvelous new pidgin terminology of the moment, setting the clock forward an hour was opposed on the grounds that it simply extended the difficulty of “daily” life. People preferred that darkness come earlier, although they did not succeed in getting daylight savings time repealed until September 1951.

When it became known this year that daylight saving time was being considered by the government to deal with the summer heat issues during the upcoming Olympics, the reaction was generally negative. The recommendation being discussed was a two-hour shift ahead, and the fears of even longer working hours filled the air, according to Reuters.

Economists said the measure’s impact on behavior could be mixed. “If people start working two hours early and finish two hours early, consumer spending is expected to rise,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, executive chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute. “But given the labor shortage, the end of working time may not change and people may still work longer hours.”

That was the biggest fear on social media, where the topic was one of Monday’s hottest and worries ranged from having to reprogram computers to losing sleep. “It’s way too easy to imagine that we’ll start work two hours earlier and finish the same in the dark, meaning long days,” wrote one.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter KTX

I’m sitting in seat 5A of the third train in the KTX and after kilometer of kilometer of open spaces, ice-pocked rivers, massive housing blocks, we’ve entered darkness. And it’s a long darkness.

But that’s OK, because I have my handy dandy PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter in the pocket in front of my seat, and it has the facts I need. The KTX is the new high-speed train line from Seoul to Gangneung, which will make it fairly easy for Koreans and visitors alike to get to the Olympic venues. And in answer to the question “Would you introduce the newly launched KTX railroad line connecting Seoul with Gangneung?” there is a nugget of trivia that I needed at the moment I read it – that part of the engineering marvel of the new KTX line is a 22-kilometer-long tunnel in Daegwallyeong. That’s the longest tunnel in Korea, and the eighth longest in the world.

This newsletter is intriguing, at least to me. There is a bit of the normal evasive mumbo jumbo that bureaucracies spin. For example, in answer to the first question – “What do the Korean people think about Korea’s hosting of the Olympics, the world’s premier sporting event?” the answer starts off with a 90 degree turn.

KTX

Let us begin with a brief introduction to the Republic of Korea. The country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996, and its economy now ranks near the global top 10. Surprisingly, however Korea was the most impoverished country in the world 70 years ago. It gained independence in 1945 but went into war in 1950……

It goes on like that for another three paragraphs without answering the question. Maybe the attitude of the Koreans towards the Olympics are like citizens in so many countries – mixed to negative.

But I suppose that answer would be a downer at the start of a newsletter promoting the pride Koreans have in showcasing the biggest Winter sports event in the world.

This four-page document is not all sugar and spice, however. In companies I’ve worked, in the face of intimidating change, corporate communications will often suggest creating a set of FAQs called “Rude FAQs.” In this case, the effort is put into thinking of the most direct questions an ordinary employee would think of (the directness of which can seem rude in the genteel world of let’s-all-get-along corporate cultures.)

So after the first nine, rather bland questions in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics newsletter come three fairly direct questions, real questions:

  • Q9. South Korea’s “Peace Olympics Initiative” led to North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. Is there any concern about the possibility of the North’s exploiting the Games as a propaganda opportunity?
  • Q10. Isn’t the North trying to gain time for its nuclear armament by participating in the Games, and doesn’t its participation constitute a violation of the sanctions imposed by the international community on North Korea?
  • Q11. Aren’t some South Korean media outlets and politicians worried about North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics?

And the answers were on the whole pretty solid. Here’s the response to the last question, #11:

Considering the fact that North Korea’s latest missile test was held just months ago, their sudden change in attitude is surprising, and indeed, voices of concern have been heard in some quarters.

The government is paying keen attention to these concerns out of the belief that they all emanate from a wish for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. The government is convinced that the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics will contribute to the success of the Games for the following reasons:

  • First, the PyeongChang Olympics will aid the promotion of inter-Korean reconciliation as well as ease tensions and build peace on the Korean peninsula.
  • Second, there were concerns a few months ago over whether the PyeongChang Olympics could be peacefully held, but those concerns have now evaporated. Moreover, global leaders are supporting inter-Korean dialogue and the participation of North Kore in the PyeongChang Olympics.
  • Third, the North’s participation has further increased international interest I the PyeongChang Olympics, adding to its potential for success.
  • Fourth, efforts for detente on the Koran Peninsula will mitigate geopolitical risks, providing a boost to the Korean economy.

Akasaka Mitsuke 2018

In 1959, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government approved a plan to build a complex network of highways and roads, with a completion date of August, 1964 – in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

As it turns out, four of the eight main expressways planned for were completed by the Tokyo Olympics opening day, one of them being expressway no. 4, also known as the Shinjuku Shuto Expressway. One part of that expressway passes through Akasaka Mitsuke, which is near a new office called Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho, where I work today. For those who know, it is the site of the old Akasaka Prince Hotel, across the street from The New Otani Hotel.

Akasaka Mitsuke 1964_1

As you can see above, in this photo from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Report on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, prior to the commencement of construction, probably around 1960, traffic wasn’t bad, and there were no tall buildings like the Moto Akasaka building to block the view of the greenery of Togu Palace, the official residence of the Crown Prince.

In the next picture, in 1964, you can see the new highway go up Sotobori Doori, and veer right, heading East along Aoyama Doori. It appears that quite a few buildings were torn down along Aoyama Doori to make way for the expressway.

The expressways in Tokyo – symbols of progress in those heady happy days of 1964.

Akasaka Mitsuke 1964_2

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 1
Musashino Forest Sports Plaza on the left, and Ajinomoto Stadium on the right

It was a cold and desolate Sunday when I walked around the grounds of the new Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. Located a short walk away from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is right next to Ajinomoto Stadium, the home of the J-League Division 1 soccer team, F. C. Tokyo.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza google maps

There were no events scheduled at either the Sports Plaza of Ajinomoto Stadium on the January afternoon I visited, but come July 2020, this quiet area of Chofu, very near the American School in Japan where my son went to high school, will be filled with thousands of noisy fans. The Musashino Forest Sports Plaza opened on November 27, 2017, the first of eight new permanent Tokyo 2020 venues to be completed. The Plaza will host badminton and pentathlon fencing in the 2020 Olympics, as well as wheelchair basketball during the 2020 Paralympics.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 3
View of the Main Arena on the left background, the sub-arena with its pool and gym on the right background, with a track and field in the foreground.

According to this article, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is built to serve the community long after the Olympics end. The facilities include a swimming pool, a gym, a multi-use sports area and two fitness studios which are available to the public. The roof of the facilities are made up of solar panels, to help provide a more sustainable energy source.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 2
Main Arena and its solar panel roof

And in line with Tokyo2020 Accessibility Guidelines, “the facility designed to be accessible to all, including the elderly, people with impairments, parents with infant strollers and those with guide dogs. The main arena has space for wheelchairs, and the space is designed with enough height difference between the rows of seating to ensure that those in wheelchairs can see clearly, even if spectators in front of them stand up.”

Ajinomoto Stadium will also host matches in the soccer competition during Tokyo 2020, and will be called Tokyo Stadium during the Olympics in accordance with its non-commercialization policy.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza 4

National Stadium_Asahi_27October2017
The new National Stadium on 27October2017_Asahi

Ground was broken for the new National Stadium in Yoyogi on December 11, 2016, where the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will kick off.

National Stadium_29Dec2017_1
My photo of the stadium on December 29, 2017, from the Northwest side.

Exactly a year later, the International Olympic Committee declared that Japan is on schedule with all new venues for Tokyo 2020, even the National Stadium that was put perilously behind schedule when the Japanese government demanded the organizers drop Zaha Hadid’s winning design as costs escalated from JPY130 billion to JPY252 billion.

National Stadium_29Dec2017_2
My photo – a look inside through one of the few gaps in the wall from the northeast part of the stadium.

As the IOC officials recently saw, the shell of architect Kengo Kuma’s design has risen. I took a walk around it on December 29, 2017, the area quiet as the construction crew was on holiday break. The high protective wall that surround the stadium area is clean and white, only the tiniest of views available for the pedestrian promenading the path around the wall.

National Stadium_29Dec2017_3
My photo – a view from the west of the stadium.

I looked for high ground near the stadium – office buildings and apartment buildings – but I lacked the reporter’s motivation that day to go up to a lobby receptionist or maintenance person to ask – “can I go up to the top of your building and take a picture of the stadium?”

This post has pictures I was able to take, as well as images off of the internet.

Lillehammer Norway
Lillehammer Norway

It’s 2018! So it’s Year of the Dog.

And according to the Chinese Zodiac, there are five different cycles of Dog Years. This year is the Earth Dog, which in theory, means that people born in 2018 (or 1958), are “communicative, serious, and responsible in work.”

With the coming 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, this is actually only the third time an Olympics will have been held in the Year of the Dog. Twelve years ago, the Olympics were held in Torino, Italy in 2007, and twenty-four years ago, the Winter Games were held in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994 (Year of the Wood Dog). That was the first time the Winter Games were held in a year different from the Summer Olympics.

year of the dogOne similarity between PyeongChang and Lillehammer – both are cities of tiny populations: 27,400 in Lillehammer and 43,600 in PyeongChang. The PyeongChang Olympic Organizing Committee can only hope that the similarities don’t stop there as the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics are considered one of the best ever. Costs were not astronomic. Security wasn’t paramount. And the Olympics were welcomed by the local folk.

As ESPN writer, Jim Caple, wrote in an article called “How Lillehammer Set the Standard,” Norway put on a great show. “The 1994 Games likely were the greatest Winter Olympics ever.”

American speed skater, Dan Jansen, agreed with that sentiment:

The whole experience, not just my experience, but the whole Winter Games themselves in that specific city, were as good as they can be. Just because the people were so proud to host the Games. Winter sports are a way of life there, and it really showed in the way they put the Games on and the attitudes of the people. I don’t want to say they were better than any other, but the way a lot of those stories unfolded, it was certainly hard to compare any Games after that, with all those stories in one Olympics. Every story [every Olympics] is important, but it all just seemed to come together.

And years later, citizens of Lillehammer appear to appreciate their connection to and the impact of the 1994 Olympics. As this post in the blog, Life in Norway, posits, Norwegians enjoy the fruits of the Olympic legacy.

These days, many visitors see Lillehammer as a quiet town. I sure did when I first visited in 2012, as the town centre was almost deserted on a Saturday morning. But it didn’t take long to realise it was because the locals spend their precious leisure time in the mountains, taking advantage of the facilities very few towns of its size are blessed with. Local children zoom around the Olympic arena on sledges and skis, perhaps dreaming of their own future Olympic glory.

May 2018, the Year of the Dog, be a wonderful year for the organizers, the fans and the athletes of the PyeongChang Olympics.

 

National Stadium design_Kengo Kuma 2
Kengo Kuma’s design for the Tokyo 2020 National Stadium

 

936 more days to go until the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite stories and thoughts on Tokyo2020.

 

2020 Mascot Candidates
Tokyo 2020 Mascot Candidates

 

Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_8
On a tour of Meiji Shrine.

 

I have lived in Japan for over 16 years, and I still have so much to learn – what an amazing people, history and culture. I hope an article or two in this list give you some insight into Japan.

FullSizeRender (10)
Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians