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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Tokyo 2020 Mascot Candidates

 

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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.

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

 

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Japan’s Women’s Volleyball team victorious from the book, Bi to Chikara

As I drive towards the first draft of my book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, I wrote extensively on some of the greatest as well as some of the lesser known dramas of those Games, some of these based on interviews I’ve had with Olympians. Interviewing Olympians, as well as reading about them, has been such an inspiration to me. I hope they are to you too.

 

Billy Mills at Haskell Institute
Billy Mills at Haskell Institute, from the collection of Billy Mills.

 

Operation Christmas Message

Over 200,000 people have been killed during an ongoing conflict in Colombia that pits the government, paramilitary groups and crime organizations against left-wing groups as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) and ELN (The National Liberation Army). For over fifty years, guerillas hiding deep in the jungle have been playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game, and the government has tried everything to bring them out of the jungles and send them home to their families.

They have even tried an advertising campaign, the likes of which you might see in a mall or on YouTube, to market a company or its products. In this case, the campaign has been powerfully effective.

The goal has been to get FARC and ELN guerrillas to demobilize, and thus weaken the guerrilla bands. The appeal has been to their hearts. And what better way to appeal to the hearts of Colombians is through Christmas and soccer. As explained in this December 11, 2016 60 Minutes report, the Colombian military hired a creative ad executive named Jose Miguel Sokoloff in 2006 to create a campaign that would convince members of FARC to go home.

On December 10, 2010, the military and Sokkoloff launched an advertising campaign called “Operation Christmas,” in which 9 very tall trees were decorated with lights that would only turn on if the motion-detection sensor noticed movement in that area. So if a FARC guerilla walked by one of those designated trees, it would light up like the proverbial Christmas Tree. At the same time, another light would shine on a sign that read:

If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize. At Christmas, everything is possible.

As Sokoloff explained in 60 Minutes, “What we did was try to make coming back home for Christmas an important thing. And we knew that if we put up these Christmas trees with that sign up there, we would touch the hearts of the guerrillas, ‘cause my heart was touched. And they went and they did it.”

The result of that campaign was that over 300 guerillas, about 5% of the total, left the jungle and surrendered.

The following year, the Colombian military staged “Operation Rivers of Light,” another campaign to reach further into the jungle by floating plastic balls that contained messages and gifts to the guerillas. They also lit up with soft purple light, to send another powerful message of peace and beauty into the heart of the jungle. Some 7,000 of those balls resulted in the demobilization of another 180 guerillas.

Another campaign was also launched in 2011, in conjunction with the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which happened to be hosted by Colombia from July 29 to August 20. As Sokoloff said, football moves this country. Football is our passion.” So during this campaign, soldiers had thousands of soccer balls signed by players and celebrities and fans. Theses balls – all with a sticker saying “Demobilize. Let’s play again” – were thrown from helicopters into the jungle, resulting in another wave of guerillas leaving the jungle.

Sokoloff claims that over eight years of this campaign, 18,000 guerillas have come home, and got FARC to the bargaining table.

Still FARC and ELN fight for survival in the jungles, soldiers and guerillas die. But still negotiations continue as the government and FARC look to find peace.

Perhaps it will be quiet today in Colombia, for it is Christmas, and family calls.

If you’re flying in and out of Haneda Airport from January 9, 2018, you may be surprised to see a new team on hand to assist you. The team will be made up of seven robots designed to assist staff and visitors at the busy domestic and international airport, located very near the central part of Tokyo.

Robots will be there to provide information, offer interpretation into four different languages or carry your bags, for example. When you’re at Haneda in January, you’ll see a C-3PO ancestor, the”EMIEW3″ robot, which is less than a meter tall and can provide you with information in English and Japanese.

 

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The EMIEW3

 

With the number of foreign visitors to Japan climbing rapidly – the total number of visitors to Japan exceeding 24 million this year – combined with a tight labor market, Haneda officials realize that they will need robots to increase productivity and meet the needs of travelers. Additionally, there is a pride associated with showing the world during the Tokyo2020 Olympics that Japan is cutting edge.

As Yutaka Kuratomi, a representative from the Japan Airport Terminal, said in this article, “We want foreign tourists to think that the Japanese people are cool when they come here.”