Tokyo Olympics with Rafer Johnson
Thomas Tomizawa with the NBC News team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Rafer Johnson seated.

My father was a member of the NBC News Team that covered the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He’s far left, and that’s Rafer Johnson, Rome decathlete champion, seated, also a member of the news crew. The crew are wearing protective masks, being cheeky. They probably saw a lot of Japanese wearing these masks in and around town.

In modern-day Tokyo, men and women routinely wear masks during hay fever season to avoid the pollen, or during the fall and winter months to avoid giving others their colds. But I now realize that in 1964, the reason for wearing the masks was different – the air back then was filthy. Routinely in these crisp winter days, we have perfect views of Mt Fuji. Back then you couldn’t see it for the pollution. In the 1960s, Tokyo was a year-round cloud of dust. Here’s how writer, Robert Whiting described it in the Japan Times: “Tokyoites dwelled under a constant cloud of noise, dust and pollution as the city struggled to rebuild itself from the wreckage of the American B-29 Superfortress bombings.”

The dust, the noise, the smells, the ever-changing skyline and the disorientation with unprecedented change – for many, the transformation of Tokyo was overwhelming. What took the West a couple of generations to do – moving from agriculture to manufacturing – Japan was trying to do much faster. While the pace of change was exciting to many, giving them hope after post-war desperation, the 1960s was also a period of confusion and alienation for those coping with life in the most crowded city in the world.

 

Documentary Tokyo
Screenshot from NHK documentary, Tokyo.

 

I took an EdX MOOC course called Visualizing Postwar Tokyo under Professor Shunya Yoshimi of The University of Tokyo in which he highlighted the stress people in Tokyo were under due to this change. He shared the opening minutes of this NHK documentary called “Tokyo”, by director Naoya Yoshida, which shows the crowds, the noise, the traffic and the construction through the eyes of a woman whose father was killed in the Tokyo firebombings and mother who ran away from home.

As the woman says in the documentary, “Tokyo, unplanned and full of constructions sites, is no place for a human being to live. Only a robot with no sense could live in this rough, coarse, harsh and dusty city that doesn’t have any blue skies. Many people complain like this. But I disagree. I think this city is just desperately hanging along, just like me.”

As Professor Yoshimi said, “the woman in this film is a symbol of the isolation in the big cities.”

But again, rest assured. Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, and today, is arguably, the cleanest.

Mt Fuji from Roppongi
The view from my office.
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Stadion St Moritz_1928 and Present Day
Stadion St Moritz, home of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics – Top – 1928, Bottom – Present Day

He was 13 years old and was visiting the site of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, as he did every winter as a child. An Olympian from those 1948 Games happened to be there, under whose tutelage Rolf Sachs had his first opportunity to go careening down the icy corridor of the bobsleigh track.

Sachs, a renown Swiss artist and designer, would continue to visit St. Moritz in the winters into his adulthood and would always see a large pink building, abandoned, built for the 1928 Olympics. And while many saw the empty pink structure as perhaps an unwanted feature of the snow white background of the winter playground, Sachs envisioned a fascinating place to reside.

rolf sachs
Rolf Sachs

According to this short film by Matthew Donaldson, Sachs asked if he could buy and convert the Stadion St Moritz, and was essentially told “yes” if he could get through the paperwork. In addition to renovating the building into a winter home, he continued to build the only natural bobsleigh course in the world.

Sachs, whose father’s influence made him a purveyor and creator of art, believes his bobsleigh course is also the biggest art sculpture in the world. Not only that, superior to all other bob sleigh courses, this one has no negative environment impact.

“It’s fantastic to see that it was the first bob run and the last one that is still natural,” Sachs says in the film. “If I imagine the environmental impact of an artificial bob run, not only to run it, but to see in the summer these huge concrete walls, it’s really a joy to see how they built this in three weeks, and at the end of the season, it just melts away.”

sisyphus
Sisyphus

We’re only 8 months away from the launch of Olympiad XXXI. Olympic infrastructure plans are generally on time. Brazilians are generally excited. But the economy is taking a distinct dive.

Unemployment at nearly 10%, despite all of the Olympic-related construction, is the highest it has been in six years, when Rio was awarded the Olympics. Inflation is around 10%. The real has devalued by a third. Brazil’s credit rating dropped to “junk” status in September. And while international athletes will be flowing into Brazil next year, international investment has been flowing out of Brazil. This, as well as the plummeting price of oil in this petro-economy, have contributed heavily to the shrinking of the Brazilian economy again this quarter, the ninth quarter in a row.

The once booming member of the so-called BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is experiencing one of its worst economic crises in a while. How is this impacting the upcoming Olympics? There was a brief social media uproar when Rio Olympic officials announced the need to cut 30% of their budget, including air conditioning in the rooms of the Olympic Village, a decision that was quickly reversed after athletes balked.

It’s unclear what those cuts will impact, but big issues continue to concern…issues that will cost the country not only in expense but also in emotional well-being.

In addition to security in the areas of the Olympic activities, security along Brazil’s massive borders is a “big concern”, as a government auditor revealed “flaws” in the plans to control the 17,000 kilometer border that runs through remotes part of the Amazon and touches 10 other countries in Latin America.

The Associated Press has continued to test the waters planned for Olympic events and have found that “high viral and in some cases bacterial counts are found not just along shorelines where raw sewage runs in, but far offshore where athletes will compete in sailing, rowing and canoeing.” According to this AP article, Rio won the Olympic bid with a promise to clean up the city’s waterways, but “Brazilian officials now acknowledge that won’t happen.”

Garbage on the shore of Guanabara Bay_1June 2015
Guanabara Bay

 

On top of that, unprecedented levels of corruption in the government-

Amazon-Jungle
Travel information to the Amazon: 4 hour direct flight from Rio, followed by either a 3 hour car journey or a short sea plane flight to the lodge.

If you’re going to fly all the way to Brazil for the Rio Olympic Games next August, you might as well spend a little getaway time and explore the areas outside Rio de Janeiro. Here is a list of 7 great destinations in Brazil.

Iguassu-Falls
Travel information to Iguassu Falls: 2 hour direct flight from Rio, followed by a 25 minute transfer.
Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo, speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce
Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo, speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce

Yoichi Masuzoe was in his first year of high school, and a competitive sprinter in the 100 meters, running it in 11 seconds. And he remembers watching the Tokyo Olympics on television. And like the uplifting spectacle of the wedding between Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko in 1959, the Olympics raised the spirits of a nation, including the future governor of Tokyo.

On September 24, 2015, Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, gave a talk for the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan called “City for the Ages: The Magnetism of Tokyo in 2020 and Beyond.” I had never seen the Tokyo governor speak before, but he was definitely in full pitch mode, charming the packed room with the greatness of the food and drink in Japan, which almost everybody in the audience already had an appreciation for. It was the governor’s vision of Tokyo as a pedestrian and biker paradise that raised eyebrows and hopes.

He remembers the brightness of the Tokyo Games, but he also remembers the dust of the construction and the shadows created by the highways that started to snake through the city. He bemoaned what he called the “motorization” of Tokyo, how the smaller rivers were filled by rubble from the war, covered over by roads. As governor of Tokyo, what he pledged to the audience was a drive for the “de-motorization” of Tokyo. He said he would push for a significant increase in bicycle lanes, as well a plan like Boris Bikes in London. He said he would push for the elimination of the highways he believes blight the center of the city.

The Edobashi Interchange 1964, from
The Edobashi Interchange 1964, from “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

He said that the city of Tokyo today, with its highways, its loss of riverways, and its roads packed with cars, was due to an infatuation with money. Making money is important, he emphasized to the chamber of commerce members. But he emphasized that the pursuit of money should not come at the expense of time – time to enjoy a cup of coffee in a more pedestrian-friendly Shibuya, time to have a satisfying family life and a successful career, particularly for women, time to walk, bike and even boat around the safest, cleanest metropolis in the world.

It’s a lofty vision. It’s an Olympian vision. Will the Tokyo governor get us there? Visit us in 2020 and see for yourself!

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The canoeists were most outspoken about plants that tangled with their oars and rudders

Source: Canoeists at Olympic test event complain about ‘red and brown’ polluted water, weeds at Rio 2016 venue

Cunha Canal that FLows into Guanabara Bay
The Cunha canal that flows into the highly polluted Guanabara Bay.

“Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.”

So starts this report from Associated Press released July 30. The pollution is Guanabara Bay has been an issue over several decades, impacted by the growth of Rio de Janeiro and the inability of the country to keep up with the waste management needs of the population. In short, Guanabara Bay has become the cesspool of the Brazilian capitol. The AP report continues: “Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.”

Garbage on the shore of Guanabara Bay_1June 2015
In this June 1, 2015 file photo, a discarded sofa litters the shore of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)

According to the report, athletes competing in canoeing, sailing, rowing, triathlon and open-water swimming are at risk. In this recent article from Nick Zaccardi of NBC OlympicTalk, US officials related to these sports are taking a realistic tone, stating that the safety of their athletes is the highest priority, that they are heavily encouraging the organizers to improve the conditions, and that they will follow the medical recommendations of experts.

“Athlete safety is always of the utmost importance to USA Triathlon, and we take this situation very seriously,” USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach said in a statement. “We are in direct conversation with our athletes and listening closely to any concerns. We will continue to work collaboratively with