japan ewaste
Japan’s Urban Mines – it’s electronic waste

It’s estimated that to make all of the gold, silver and bronze medals to provide to all the expected top three winners of all Olympic events, the manufacturer would need 9.6 kilograms of gold, 1,210 kilograms of silver, and another 700 kilograms of copper, which is the main component of bronze.

it is the goal of the Tokyo 2020 organizers to award athletes at the 2020 Games with medals created from 100% recycled materials. Instead of resource-poor Japan buying from the reserves and mines of other countries, the nation will mine its own growing stash of hidden resources – its urban mines.

An urban mine is a metaphor for all of the electronic goods a rich society buys, consumes and throws away, which also house a collectively massive amount of precious or rare elements. By that definition, Japan is loaded, according to this research from 2009:

A considerable amount of metal was estimated to be accumulated in Japan. The accumulation amount of gold and silver is 6,800 tons and 60,000 tons respectively. They are greater than the reserves of richest resource-possessing country, South Africa for gold and Poland for silver.

To uncover the riches stored in our electronic waste, Tokyo 2020, the Japanese Government and wireless provider NTT-DoCoMo, among a variety of public-private partners, kicked off a campaign in April to collect used and unneeded smartphones, PCs, displays, digital cameras, PC displays, MP3 players, handheld video game players, or calculators.

Takeshi Matsuda donating phone for recycling at an NTT-DoCoMo outlet
Olympic swimmer Takeshi Matsuda donating phone for recycling at an NTT-DoCoMo outlet

According to Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, about 500,000 mobile phones have already been collected, which is a good start. “This is not enough to make all the medals,” he admitted, “but we still have a lot of leeway because some people outside Tokyo still are not aware of the program. There is a lack of recognition, so we have much more work to do in creating excitement and being even more creative to have wise ways to collect these metals.”

Japan can do this now because they had set up the process four years before, when the government passed The Act on Promotion of Recycling Small Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. The government was then able to certify 45 recycling operators nationally to receive small electric and electronic devices collected by local governments and then to sort, dismantle and send them to smelters to recover metals. According to this report from Japan for Sustainability, in the first year of this project,

a total of 13,236 tons of small electric and electronic devices were sent to certified operators. Some had been collected by municipalities across the nation (9,772 tons) and others had been brought directly to the operators by citizens and companies. They broke the devices down into their parts and sorted them, sending 8,582 tons to the smelters. Among the metals extracted from them, iron accounted for the largest portion in weight (6,599 tons), followed by aluminum (505 tons) and copper (381 tons). Extracted precious metals including gold and silver amounted to 494 kilograms.

Amazing.

If you are interested in contributing to the production of the first Olympic medals molded from metals recycled from Japan’s massive urban mines, then gather those unneeded phones and small electronic devices and donate them to the cause. Take your mobile phones and tablets to your local NTT-DoCoMo store, or follow these instructions if you want to send your PC and other larger items for recycling. (Yes, this applies to people living in Japan only, and unfortunately the instructions are in Japanese only.)

Rio Golf Course a year later
July 27, 2017 Guanabara bay. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Eight months before the start of the Rio Olympics, I wrote a post entitled: “Brazil’s Olympian Challenge: Everything.”

Unemployment in Brazil was 10%. Inflation was 10%. Brazil’s credit rating was junk status. The currency had devalued by a third at that point in December 2015.

Guanabara Bay, where the boat competitions would take place, was getting horrific PR due to pictures displaying the filthiest waters you’d never want to wade through.

The president of Brazil, Dilma Rouseff, was in the process of being deposed for corruption, as news of the biggest corruption investigation in Brazilian history was splashed across the news headlines on a daily basis.

And I wrote all that even before the Zika Virus became a thing.

A year later, not all that much has improved in Rio de Janeiro.

As this good AP summary of Rio a year later states, you could say there was some good to come out of the Rio Olympics.

The Olympics left behind a new subway line extension, high-speed bus service and an urban jewel: a renovated port area filled with food stands, musicians and safe street life in a city rife with crime. These probably would not have been built without the prestige of the Olympics. But the games also imposed deadlines and drove up the price. A state auditor’s report said the $3-billion subway was overbilled by 25 per cent.

Guanabara Bay a year later
July 27, 2017 Guanabara bay. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

But generally, the bad according to that article outweighed the good.

  • The Olympics left a half-dozen vacant sports arenas in the Olympic Park and 3,600 empty apartments in the boarded-up Olympic Village. Deodoro, a major complex of venues in the impoverished north, is shuttered behind iron gates.
  • A $20-million golf course is struggling to find players and financing. A few dozen were on the course on a recent, sunny Saturday. The clubhouse is mostly unfurnished, and it costs non-Brazilians 560 reals ($180) for 18 holes and a cart.
  • Since the Olympics, the bankrupt state of Rio de Janeiro has ceased major efforts to clean the bay, its unwelcome stench often drifting along the highway from the international airport. “I think it’s gotten worse,” Brazil’s gold-medal sailor Kahena Kunze said in a recent interview. “There was always floating trash, but I see more and more. It’s no use hiding the trash because it comes back. I figured it would get worse because I haven’t seen anything concrete being done.”
  • Some of the politicians behind the Olympics have been accused of graft, and organizers still owe creditors about $30 million to 40 million. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who wept when Rio was awarded the games, was convicted last month on corruption charges and faces a 9 1/2-year prison term. He is appealing. Former Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes , the local moving force behind the Olympics, is being investigated for allegedly accepting at least 15 million reals ($5 million) in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the games. He denies wrongdoing.

The Rio Olympic organizers are still struggling under the weight of an approximate USD40 million debt. When the organizers appealed to the IOC for relief, the IOC replied no, saying “it had already contributed a record $1.53 billion to the Rio Olympics.

Fortunately, the Brazilian government was able to find more sympathetic ears in the British government. It was announced on August 1, 2017 that the British government would donate GBP80 million (over USD100 million) to Brazil, the ninth largest economy, to help “reduce poverty and fund economic development.”

Of course, it’s not all bad news.

At least Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who lied about being robbed at gunpoint at a Rio gas station, was actually cleared last month of charges that he falsely communicated a crime to authorities.

Yay!

Neymar nails the final penalty kick to win gold

On August 5, 2016, all eyes were on Rio de Janeiro.

Despite all the doomsayers’ diatribes about political corruption, the fears of the zika virus, the filth of Guanabara Bay, and the anemia of the Brazilian economy, the Games went on. And the Games were great!

Anthony Howe's Olympic sun

In the moving opening ceremony, the famed Brazilian love for music and dance were on display. Super model Gisele Bundchen strolled across the field to the tune of The Girl from Ipanema. The honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron was given unexpectedly to Athens marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, whose 2004 Olympic marathon was bizarrely interrupted by a defrocked Irish priest. And the cauldron de Lima lit was stunning, the fire’s light reflected magnificently in a shining, swirling structure of metal places and balls, creating a spectacular golden vision of the sun.

A bright spot for the IOC was highlighting the plight of the global refugee issue by forming an all-refugee team, an excellent idea!

And to be honest, from a sports perspective, if you bring the very best athletes in the world together, the drama of the competition will subsume almost all else (for good and for bad.)

For Brazilians, here were a few of their nation’s most inspirational stories, starting with Neymar’s winning penalty shot that sealed Brazil’s first even Olympic gold in soccer.

Here are a few other amazing stories I covered, particularly from a Asia/Japan perspective:

The Rio Olympics were far from perfect. But those Games a year ago today had its moments, many that will be remembered for decades.

No doubt, more await when we See You in Tokyo!

See you in Tokyo Rio Olympics

Nihonbashi 1960
Nihonbashi in 1960
Nihonbashi recently
Nihonbashi in more recent years.

There were many who saw the spreading spiderweb of elevated expressways crisscrossing Tokyo in the 1960s as progress. There were many others who groaned at the growing eyesore of concrete ceilings blotting out the sky. The expressway section in particular that gets the elderly sighing in memory of yesteryear is the one totally covering Nihonbashi.

Built originally in 1603 out of wood, Nihonbashi, was the start and end point for travelers between Edo (as Tokyo used to be called) and Kyoto (the imperial capitol). In fact, Nihonbashi, which literally translates as Japan Bridge, used to be called Edobashi.

Nihonbashi circa 1922
Nihonbashi circa 1922

In 1911, the bridge was rebuilt with steel and stone, and stayed intact despite the firebombing of American planes during the end of the second world war. For centuries, Nihonbashi, when you crossed from east to west, provided an unimpeded view of Mount Fuji. But as Japan-hand and author, Robert Whiting wrote in The Japan Times, the expressway built over Nihonbashi just prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was a travesty.

I remember taking a walk along the canal to see the famous bridge, shortly before the games began. I was dismayed to see its once-charming appearance completely ruined by the massive highway just a few feet overhead, like a giant concrete lid, obliterating the sky. The smell from the toxic water in the canal was so offensive I had to cover my nose. I imagined Mt. Fuji, looking on from afar, doing the same.

The reconstruction effort for the Olympics cost Tokyo much of its navigable waterways. By planting the supporting columns of the highways and other structures in the water below, many river docks were rendered useless, costing even more jobs. Water stagnated, fish died and biochemical sludge, known as hedoro in Japanese, formed.

According to Whiting, while government officials would have preferred to build the expressways underground, they could not raise enough funds to cover all of the infrastructure projects and the additional cost of buying up land in the middle of the city. Elevated highways made it less necessary to purchase land that would instantly increase in value. So up went the highways, over canals and roads, darkening shops and skimming buildings.

Metropolitan Expressway over Nihonbashi being built
The Metropolitan Expressway route being constructed over the historic Nihonbashi bridge in Chuo Ward in 1963 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Over half a century later, the Japanese government has finally resolved that it is time for Nihonbashi to see the light. Land and Transport Minister, Keiichi Ishii, announced on July 21, 2017 that Tokyo will initiate a project to remove the elevated roads above the bridge, and find another place for it underground. As he said in this Asia-Nikkei article, “Nihonbashi is the source of Japan’s roads. It will be reborn as a place where you can see the clear sky.”

The work won’t begin until after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But the plan is there. And a wrong will finally be righted.

Garcetti Bach Hidalgo
Eric Garcetti, IOC President Thomas Bach, and Anne Hidalgo

Most Olympians who do not win a gold medal are happy to receive a silver or bronze medal. But in the dramatic selection process, in which IOC members choose an Olympic host city through a series of votes that thousands of people in candidate cities watch with hands clasped in prayer, there has been no silver medal.

Years of planning and millions of dollars spent in putting together a powerful bid can go to waste as a city’s mayor watches powerlessly in a winner-take-all vote by the IOC.

But this year, the mayors of the two top bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics, Anne Hidalgo of Paris and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, have an opportunity to do something that no other mayor has had: to choose when their city holds an Olympic Games. The choices, albeit, are not that broad – the IOC voted on July 11, 2017 to accept the bids of both Paris and LA for 2024 and 2028.

The bids of both cities were too strong to drop either of them. And the fear of having fewer cities bidding down the road was too great, as cities like Hamburg, Rome and Budapest pulled themselves out of the campaign to host in 2024. They withdrew primarily due to growing local unpopularity of hosting expensive big-tent events. For those reasons, the IOC decided – yes, we have two gold medal winners.

According to this BBC article, “The IOC wants….the cities to reach an agreement on who hosts in 2028 by then.” And if the two cities don’t agree to who hosts in 2028, then the IOC reverts back to the original plan of voting death-match at the 131st IOC session on September 13 in Lima, Peru.

Most pundits are saying that a likely scenario is Paris going first. Both cities have many of the major venues and much of the critical infrastructure in place, unlike Rio and Sochi in recent years. But Paris does not yet have an Olympic Village, and keeping the property available for the building of the Village for a period beyond 2024 would be difficult, Paris organizers say.

According to this ESPN article, the mayors Hidalgo and Garcetti understand that this is a historic moment, when the mayors have the decision in their hands, and that they are willing to work together to make it work.

The IOC is lucky in the sense that it wound up with two 2024 bid committees capable of cooperating and a pair of mayors who have an established relationship. What if the only cities left standing had come from countries with hostile relations or diametrically opposed forms of government? How likely is a repeat of this juxtaposition of two urban areas capable of handling and absorbing the unwieldy event and possibly — an important qualifier — emerging without serious post-Games issues?

This is part two of the photographs taken by Dick Lyon, member of the United States rowing team. After his four-man coxless team won the bronze medal at the Toda Rowing course, Lyon had the time to walk around Tokyo with his Bronica Camera. Here are a few of them:

Tokyo 1a

Outside a candy store – It’s a common story during the 1964 Olympics: the best athletes in the world visibly sticking out in homogenous Japan, particularly those who hovered around 200 cm tall. Lyon’s rowing teammates, who joined him in these perambulations around the Olympic Village in Yoyogi, were no exception. Here is Lyon’s rowing mate, Theo Mittet, with two giggling women from the candy shop. Note Mittet’s fancy footwear.

TOkyo 5 001

 

A pub in Tokyo that appears to be connected to a racetrack – The signs appear to list names of horses and jockies. These “taishyuu sakaba” were low-cost drinkeries for the everyday salaried worker, whom, I suppose, had a love for the horses. This one lists all items as selling for 100 yen, or some 28 cents at the time.

Tokyo 11 reading racing forms

 

 

 

A man studying the horse racing data of the day – This image of intent concentration belies the fact that the Japanese government ultimately decided that this form of gambling was a necessary form of recreation for the average citizen, as well as the well as the tax revenue it generated. The Japanese government thought briefly in the early 1960s about banning such forms of gambling, but thought better of it, according to this report.

Tokyo 1b

 

Shimbashi Station – In 1964 and today, this was the hangout for salarymen where they ate and drank in the many tiny eateries underneath and near the train tracks.

Tokyo 12a

 

Ginza and the San Ai Building – In 1964 and today, Ginza is the upscale shopping area of Tokyo, and has for a long time been considered the most expensive real estate in the world. A symbol of Ginza glitz and glamor has been the San Ai Building, a glass tower that has gleamed electric light since it opened in 1962, a couple of years before the Olympics.

Tokyo 13 001

 

A View from Tokyo Tower – In 1964, the Tokyo landscape around Tokyo Tower was flat. And yet, my guess is that 19 years before, at the end of the Second World War, after enduring considerable firebombing by allied planes, the landscape would have been considerably flatter. In less than two decades, Tokyo was re-built and transformed, a miraculous revival for the world to see.

 

Ajinomoto Ad_Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir
Ad from the book Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 

 

It’s 1964 and Ajinomoto is at the top of the world.

Housewives in the growing post-war economies were benefiting from advances in food sciences. In America, it was easy to bake a Betty Crocker cake, or create a Jell-O dessert, or slap together a meal with a Swanson’s TV dinner.

For those who actually had to cook, particularly in Asia, mother’s little helper came in a little glass bottle with white crystals. This chemical substance, when added to food, instantly transformed bland vegetables, soups of meats into something savory and tasty. Created in 1908 by a chemist named Kikunae Ikeda, who extracted an element of sea kelp, Ajinomoto (or “the essence of taste”) became a global phenomenon in the first half of the 20th century.

It started with post-Meiji Era housewives of the upper classes, who believed that to be Western and cultured, they had to cook meals themselves. When they learned how easy it was to enhance the flavor of their prepared meals by adding Ajinomoto, sales took off.

Because this was the era of Imperialism, and Japan had colonies in East Asia, Ajinomoto made its ways to the kitchens of Taiwan and China. Restaurants in Taiwan quickly became addicted to the use of Ajinomoto, and this particular flavor and brand became associated with quality. According to this fascinating history of Ajinomoto called A Short History of MSG – Good Science, Bad Science and Taste Cultures, by Jordan Sand, display of the container that Ajinomoto was shipped in became proof of the quality of that establishment.

Some Taiwanese restaurants and noodle shops helped market the product unsolicited. If the tabletop glass shaker symbolized Ajinomoto’s mature position in the metropolitan Japanese food system, in Taiwan it was the square, gold colored, one-kilogram can, which was first imported in 1928. Food vendors and noodle shops displayed these cans toshow customers they used Ajinomoto. Presumably they did so in part to announce they were not using an imitationbrand, several of which had appeared in the 1920s. The large gold cans had particular significance for individual consumers, too, since Taiwanese merchants began opening them in the shops and selling small quantities by weight.

Ajinomoto ad_Jordan Sand
Ajinomoto advertised in a Chinese magazine from the 1920s. From Ajinomoto kabushiki gaisha shashi [Company History of Ajinomoto Incorporated] (Ajinomoto kabushiki gaisha, 1971), volume 1.
To succeed in China, Ajinomoto was marketed as the Buddha’s hand, again, according to Sand, and was particularly useful in making vegetarian food in China more palatable. And once something in China becomes popular or commonplace, it was only a matter of time before it made its way further abroad. The Chinese diaspora is one of the biggest, and when Chinese immigrants poured into America to help build the railroads, Chinese food became a staple of not only the migrants, but also the locals.

Fast forward to the 1960s, and this miracle food enhancer was at its peak, and beginning its descent. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring educated the world on the unintended but dangerous consequences of pesticides in our ecosystem and our food supply, and more generally on man’s impact on nature. Eventually, people began to suspect that Ajinomoto, otherwise known as monosodium glutamate (MSG), was making people nervous because of its linkage to headaches, sweating, rapid heartbeats, sweating and even chest pain and nausea. In America, this particular ailment was informally called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, thanks to migrant cooks inordinate dependence on Ajinomoto.

Eventually, negative reactions to Ajinomoto in the United States spread to Japan. When the 1970s rolled around, Ajinomoto’s sales fell. Ajinomoto diversified and recovered, and today, Ajinomoto is certainly a giant among food manufacturers in Japan. But at the early parts of its existence, Ajinomoto was a company, by virtue of a single product, that had a significant global impact.

And in 1964, during the Tokyo Olympics, Ajinomoto was held up as one of Japan’s great success stories.