Torch Runner in front of Mt Fuji_Ichikawa film
Torch Runner passing the front of Mt Fuji, from the Kon Ichikawa film, Tokyo Olympiad. Click on the image to see this scene at the 9 minute 30 second mark to see.

In 1964, the cycling road race in Hachioji, a suburban area in Western Tokyo, was considered too easy, which allowed too much bunching of elite and mediocre racers during the bulk of the race. In 2020, the road race route “will be tough, with a lot of difference in elevation,” according to this Japan Times article.

More importantly, for the viewer, the backdrop will be wonderful. The 2020 route will take Olympian cyclists by the foot of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. According to the article, the 270-km course will start near Musashino Forest Sport Center (not far from ASIJ, the school to which my son cycled to every day), and continue through National Route 413 all the way to scenic Lake Yamanaka and Mt Fuji.

According to Cycling Weekly, the organizers said that the race might even include a climb up Mt Fuji.

The final major obstacle of the men’s road race should be another long climb of around 15km, going half way up the side of the iconic Mount Fuji. This is likely to be crested with around 36km to go, half of which will be a descent before a flat or rolling run-in to the finish line back on the Fuji Speedway circuit. If this mountainous course is confirmed by the organising committee, the men’s race will feature more than 5,000m of climbing and be the longest race since professional riders were allowed to compete in 1996.

Reports are that the women’s 143-km road race will also have a similar route but will have less climbing.

In 1964, Mt Fuji was certainly one of the top five things a visiting Olympian would know about Japan. Some may have seen it on the plane ride into Tokyo. But most could not see it even if they wanted as the Tokyo skies were filled with the soot and dust of industry and construction. Additionally, it rained a good part of the Tokyo Olympics.

In July and August, 2020, the competitors in Tokyo will still unlikely be able to see Mt Fuji – the skies usually don’t become clear enough until the Autumn and Winter months. But the cyclists will have a front row view from their bikes.

As a side note, I did as well in the Autumn of 2005. I stupidly joined a bunch of young but experienced mountain bikers who convinced me that biking up and down Mt Fuji is a blast. As you can see in the picture below, I did not fare well, wondering how I did not break any bones hurtling down steep slopes of lava rock.

Ah, Mt Fuji….

Fujiyama2_November2005

Nat Geo_shipbuilder

This is part two of a series on the October 1964 National geographic article called “Tokyo The Peaceful Explosion,” a fascinating portrait of Tokyo on the eve of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Staff writer, William Graves, and staff cameraman Winfield Parks provide a mosaic of life in the most populated city in the world at the time.

Change in Japan was fast and furious. In a conversation between Graves and an economist and editor for NHK, Hiroshi Narita (whom Graves calls “Nick”), they try to understand the secret of the emerging Japanese miracle.

I mentioned what everyone notices first about Tokyo – its fantastic prosperity. Shop windows were full, crowds on the streets were handsomely dressed, and thousands on thousands of sleek Japanese cars choked the streets. Nick nodded happily.

“Even to Americans, the figures are staggering,” he said. “In construction, Tokyo starts 800 major new buildings a year, more than two a day. The city’s – and Japan’s – economic growth rate runs about 10 percent a year, the highest in the world. In 1959 the rate rose to almost 18 percent; now people are talking about the recession.” He smiled.

“We have a stock market, too, and it’s doing just what yours is. Since 1949, for example, a share of Canon Camera Company stock has multiplied 865 times in value.”

“What’s behind it all?” I asked, trapping an elusive piece of shrimp with a chopstick.

“We are,” Nick said simply. “The Japanese people. You’ll get other answers – postwar aid, protective tariffs, new markets in Asia, and all of these things have helped. But basically the boom is built on Japanese brains, skill, and fantastic energy.”

Nat Geo_car factory
America-bound, a gleaming new truck rolls through the assembly line of the Nissan Motor Company automotive works between Tokyo and Yokohama. Of more than a million Japanese cars and trucks produced yearly, Nissan makes one in five. Bright-red paint brands this vehicle an export; japan reserves the color for its fire engines.
Nat Geo_electronics factory
Miniature television undergoes inspection at Sony Corporation, Tokyo’s astronomically successful postwar electronics manufacture. With 15 million sets in operation, Japan ranks second only to the United States in television ownership.
Nat Geo_railway construction
Sparks from a welder’s torch shower a streetcar track. To spare daytime traffic, repair crews work from dusk to dawn.
Nat Geo_fish market
Shed-full of tuna, fresh from the sea, awaits purchasers at the dockside Central Wholesale Market in Tokyo. An immense distribution center, the market handles 1,800 tons of fish and 3,300 tons of vegetable every day. To examine fish quality in the shed’s gloom, buyers wield flashlights, their badges of office.
Nat Geo_Tokyo Stock Exhcange
Wall-to-wall carpet of white shirts hides the floor of Tokyo’s Stock Exchange, barometer of Japan’s explosive postwar growth. Some stocks sell for 800 times their 1950 values.
Nat Geo_city official
Shoji Koyama headed the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 1963 sharing administration of the capital with a governor, Ryotaro Azuma. Portraits of past Assembly presidents line a wall of his chamber in the Metropolitan Government Office. Mr. Koyama now serves in the Diet, Japan’s national legislature. Though it includes almost 11 percent of Japan’s population, Tokyo until recently had less than 5 percent representation in the Diet. A revision in apportionment laws has raised the percentage to 7.
NatGeo_crowded train
“Sumimasen – very sorry….” Railway guards in a Tokyo station pack rush-hour cars to bursting with hapless commuters. Skyrocketing population threatens to cripple the Japanese capital; even now its 10,500,000 residents make it the world’s largest city. Long-suffering Tokyoites joke grimly about their city’s “crush hour.” Miraculously, scenes such as this morning jam a the Shinjuku Station produce few injuries.

Tokyo is not a city. Tokyo…is an explosion.

The crowds, the traffic, the lights, the smog, the noise, the peace, the plenty, the interplay of East and West, the exotic…. William Graves, staff writer for the monthly magazine, National Geographic, stayed in Tokyo for weeks if not months with cameraman Winfield Parks in an attempt to paint a picture of Tokyo in 1964 with words and photos.

Tokyo is not easy to love at first sight. In daylight, from the air, it resembles an enormous coffee stain, blotting the green velvet of the surrounding farm country. Seen from the ground, it lies blurred under layers of smog – a city wrapped in soiled cotton wood.

At night, however, Tokyo bursts through its somber wrapping. Then the city is aflame with neon, its low hills pulsing like great beds of coals, with crimsons, lavenders, greens, and golds of flashing electric signs announcing nightclubs, coffee bars, truck tires, television sets, cameras – everything that Tokyo owns or makes in some 57,000 factories.

Here are a few of the pictures and words from that National Geographic article, a portrait of an explosion.

Nat Geo_young women in red
Gone are wooden clogs and traditional kimono. Among Japanese young women, high heels and chic-knee-length dresses are everyday attire. Tokyo’s huge Ginza department stores tempt shoppers with top European designs. Copies in inexpensive Japanese cottons and rayons have all but driven classic styles from sight. Young Tokyo saves the conservative kimono and sashlike obi for ceremonial days or family occasions. Sign beneath American fashion magazines advertises a gift shop called “Yours.”
Nat Geo_smoggy Tokyo Harbor
Curtain of smog over Tokyo Harbor gives a coppery cast to the waterfront, one of many centers for the Japanese shipbuilding industry, now the world’s largest. Desperate for living space, Tokyo dumps its fresh trash into the bay and covers it with soil to create new land.
Nat Geo_danchi
Like immense cinder blocks, low-cost apartment houses rise amid factories and oil-storage tanks. Danchi, as Tokyoites call the developments, ease the crushing pressure of Tokyo’s housing shortage. Families with moderate incomes may rent a bedroom, kitchen, and living room for $20 a month.
Nat Geo_the home
Husband enjoys his ease, just as his father did, while wife clears the dishes I their three-room apato. Tokyoites call them and their neighbors danchi zoku – “apartment-house tribe.”
Nat Geo_traffic
Grill-to-bumper flood chokes a Tokyo street. During rush hours it may take half an hour to negotiate a downtown block. Beginners’ tests are strict but, once licensed, drivers develop an individual style. A sharp horn blast signifies, “Look out! I am about to do something extraordinary.”

 

Nat Geo_cars vs people
Evasive Action lifts a pedestrian clear of the pavement in his dash for safety. Tokyo traffic – dodging risks are high: on the city’s streets, a thousand die in a year.
Avery Brundage_cover of The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
Avery Brundage, from the cover of the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

The dry weather and powerful winds of California combine to threaten America’s most populous state with frightening wildfires that seem to appear out of nowhere, taking on a violent and devastating life of their own. The fires that suddenly broke out in Northern California on October 9, 2017, have resulted so far in dozens of deaths, and untold financial loss – one of the worst fires in recent memory.

Unfortunately for Californians, wildfires in summer are a potential threat to life and property every year.

On September 22, 1964, a brush fire broke out in the mountains east of Santa Barbara, a city north of Los Angeles. It is also where the then-President of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, lived. Only weeks prior to the commencement of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Brundage was actually in San Francisco, getting ready to leave for Tokyo when the fires began their assault. By the time Brundage got to his home in La Piñeta, the damage to his mansion was done. Here is the September 25 report from AP:

Santa Barbara, Calif. (AP) – A massive, uncontrolled brush fire yesterday killed one firefighter, burned 34 others and left scores of homes destroyed, including the mansions of educator Robert Maynard Hutchins and the Olympic Games’ Avery Brundage.

Some 1,800 firefighters braced for the predicted return of hot wind form the interior – the so-called “devil wind” of California lore. Wednesday night it whipped the fire to spreading fury and caused mass evacuations of more than 5,000 from their homes.

The Forest Service, after helicopter surveys yesterday, reported 78 homes destroyed. They ranged in value from $12,000 to the $100,000 – $200,000 residential palaces in the exclusive suburb of Montecito.

The fire that destroyed the Brundage home_The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
The fire that destroyed the Brundage home, from the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Brundage’s home was likely at the $200,000 range. But what caused him particularly heartache was the loss of his art collection. Famed for his expertise in Asian art, Brundage had such a huge collection that he needed to find new homes for it. A good part of it ended up in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, which is fortunate, because around a thousand pieces were destroyed in the fire.

As explained in the book, The Games Must Go On – Avery Brundage and The Olympic Movement, by Allen Guttman, staff from the nearby Montecito Country Club, which Brundage owned, were able to save only a few items of his collection, “but the house and almost all of the art treasures in it were destroyed.”

When he surveyed the ruins in person the day after the fire, he told reporters “the whole house was filled with irreplaceable treasures Mrs. Brundage and I collected from all over the world. There were dozens of pieces she particularly liked. And there were ancient Greek and Japanese pottery, Etruscan works, Japanese swords and Roman and Egyptian sculpture.” He was quite naturally, “sick at heart.”

Guttman explained that Brundage’s wife was already in Tokyo awaiting her husband, and that Brundage’s friends in Japan were doing everything they could to keep the news of the fire and their home from her.

Brundage arrived in Tokyo, filled with ambivalence, keeping the sadness at bay from his wife, and preparing himself for the opening of Asia’s first Olympiad.

Guttman wrote of Brundage’s appreciation for Asian philosophies and poetry. This one is by Lao Tzu in his collection of poems The Way of Life:

How can a man’s life keep its course

If he will not let it flow?

Those who flow as life flows know

They need no other force:

They feel no wear, they feel no tear,

They need no mending, no repair

The first home_ of Avery Brundage_The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage
The home of Avery Brundage destroyed by the fire, form the book, The Four Dimensions of Avery Brundage

Odaiba Beach

We were shocked when we read about the levels of water pollution in Guanabara Bay that sailors and rowers competed in, and saw the waters of the diving pool turn a sickly green during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

And yet, here we are a year later, and we learn of the significantly polluted waters of Tokyo Bay, the intended site for triathletes and open-water swimmers.

According to Inside the Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government conducted a water quality test in Tokyo Bay over a 21-day period, which is a sample size as long as the actual Games themselves. The results, which were shared at an October gathering of the IOC Coordination Commission in Tokyo, showed “levels of E. Coli up to 20 times above the accepted limit and faecal coliform bacteria seven times higher than the permitted levels.

This Asahi News article quoted organizers as saying that “an inflow of raw sewage caused below-standard water quality in more than half of tests conducted.” Officials explained that “heavy rain caused overcapacity at sewage processing plants, and some of the untreated sewage flowed into Tokyo Bay,” and that “they are considering such measures as installing triple layers of a screen that can block the flow of coli bacillus.

 

warning signs odaiba marine park-odaiba-tokyo-bay-tokyo-japan-fncd4y
Sign at Tokyo Bay’s Odaiba Marine Park listing prohibitions, including one against swimming.

 

Is there any consideration to move the venue for the triathlon and the open-water swimming events?

Sports Director of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, Koji Murofushi, shut that idea down, stating that “measures will be taken so that we can provide an excellent environment for the sports.”

The truth of the matter is, there have been signs in the area planned for the Olympic events for years warning people not to swim in the bay. Will the organizers figure out to clean up this act? We’re a little more than a thousand days away. Tick tock.

PyeongChang gold medal
The gold medal
At 586 grams (nearly 1.3 pounds), the gold medal to be awarded at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics will be the heaviest medal ever created for an Olympic Games.

The previous heavyweight champion of Olympic medals was the Vancouver medal of 2010 that tipped the scales at 576 grams, according to this article.

But more importantly, at least to me, the simplicity of the Korean medal design is striking. There is very little to disturb the surface, much of the text blends inconspicuously in the design, including use of native Korean alphabet letters that in its entirety spell out the words “PyeongChang Winter Olympics.”

PyeongChang Olympic medals held by hands

Textured like the bark of a tree, the surface of the medal complements the actual weight to give the athlete a sense of solidity. This may be top of mind for Olympians who have heard about the flimsiness of the medals awarded at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The intent, of course, is to make the association of the medal design with Korean society, according to the Korea Herald.

“Hangeul is the foundation and the soul of Korean culture,” PyeongChang’s organizing committee said. “Hangeul is considered the seed that eventually blossoms and bears fruit, which symbolize Korean culture. The trunk is the process of that development.”

Additionally, the ribbon that will allow the medal to hang from the neck of an Olympian will be made from a traditional Korean textile called “gapsa,” and the round wooden case for the medal is said to be inspired by traditional Korean architecture.

“I tried some new techniques and went through a lot of trials and errors,” medal designer Lee Suk-woo said. “I wanted the medals to represent the hard work and dedication of the athletes. And the finished products came out a lot better than I’d expected.”

PyeongChang Olympic gold medal and case

An Airbnb hosted accomodation in Brazil
An Airbnb hosted accommodation in Brazil

Airbnb helped find accommodations for 85,000 people during the 2016 Rio Olympics. That is, according to Fortune Magazine, 17% of the approximate 500,000 local and foreign tourists who visited Rio during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Handling spikes in tourist traffic during big-tent events like the Olympics, World Cup, or industry conventions is a challenge, even more so in cities like Tokyo that are already at high occupancy rates during normal weeks. Services like Airbnb have business model which connect travelers with individuals who commonly offer up their own apartments or houses and sometimes more personalized service, for fees often lower than the hotel chains.

The Japanese government has been, contrary to trends in other countries and cities, rather welcoming to Airbnb, as this kind of service potentially opens up the less populated countryside of Japan to repeat travelers who want to see the “real” Japan. Through Airbnb hosts, travelers can stay in rice-field-side houses run by elderly folks whose children have long skipped town and are in need of additional spending cash.

As the “Official Alternative Accommodation Services Supplier” of the 2016 Rio Olympics, Airbnb can argue that it put cash directly in the hands of Brazilian citizens, and helped the government and organizing committee deal with room over-capacity during the Olympics. According to this Fortune article, 421,000 arrivals stayed at Airbnb rooms in Brazil in 2015. In 2016, the year of the 2016 Olympics, the number of arrivals doubled to more than 1 million.