Construction of the National Gymnasium_AP

It’s already a year behind schedule.

When the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee decided to renege on its agreement to Zaha Hadid to build the National Stadium for the 2020 Olympics, the decision resulted in a second search for an architect, and a plan that had a year lopped off the timeline.

So while many people have faith in the Japanese construction industry to make heroic efforts to get the stadium ready in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it comes with an extra challenge – the fact that unemployment is at its lowest unemployment rate since 1995 – 2.8%. While politicians in America and Europe are looking for easy ways to produce thousands if not millions of new blue-collar jobs, Japan cannot find enough people to keep up.

The aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, aka 3.11, is still impacting Japanese society today, as construction work in the Tohoku region of Japan sucks up a large percentage of the construction worker pool. So construction companies are rushing ahead with the talent they have. In the productivity equation, that should mean longer hours for the workers.

But Japanese corporations have been warned by the government that they cannot work their people to death. Compensation claims for cases of “karoshi” (worked to death) have been steadily increasing over the years as the public realizes there are limits to the loyalty one can show one’s company or one’s leaders.

Recently, Olympic Minister Shunichi Suzuki was at the construction site of the National Stadium and said that while the work is continuing as scheduled thanks to the workflow efficiency, he warned that “working conditions must meet legal standards.”

He cited the case of a 23-year old worker who had been working on the construction site of the National Stadium, and who had committed suicide in July. According to the Mainichi, he was working well over the limit of 80 hours of overtime per month, although the records showed that he was under the limit. According to this article, the worker’s mother said that her son would routinely wake up at 4:30 am and get home at 1 am. The Japan Times stated that the suicide note of the worker stated he was “physically and mentally pushed to the limit.”

The rock of the 2020 deadline. The hard place of the worker shortage. Is there a way out of this squeeze?

The majority of Japanese have considered themselves middle class for decades, speaking to the highly meritocratic nature of Japan’s society. This is part three of Faces of Tokyo, a series of posts on how Dentsu explained the Japanese to the rest of the world, in a book called “Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964.” They did so with a collection of profiles of people, who represented a wide variety of professions.

These profiles represented the average person in Japan, who served the growing Japanese population during Japan’s greatest economic expansion – the 1960s.

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver: Taxi drivers had a reputation for reckless driving habits – often labeled kamikaze drivers by the foreign press. But it was a living, and not such an easy one. As the profile explained, “the traffic jams of Toyo are among the world’s worst. Day and night 930,000 taxi drivers suffer from bad roads, long labor hours and other inconveniences. But if you’re lucky, maybe you get in the back of the cab of Mr Tadashi Yamamoto, who was recognized as an “Excellent” driver.

Stewardess

Stewardess: As Dentsu wrote, becoming an actress, stewardess or a fashion model “form the triumverate of the modern Japanese teenager’s dream.” Hisako Miki, a 24-year-old stewardess for Japan Airlines, was living that dream. Taking care of passengers on the international routes, conversing politely in English with foreigners, bringing back gifts to her family and friends from the world over, Miki was enjoying a life of relative glamour, that likely would lead to the right marriage – a pilot perhaps.

Traffic Guard

Traffic Guard: Tokyo in the 1960s was crowded, dusty and noisy. But someone had to stand in the middle of the roads so that children could cross the roads safely and get to and from school. Teruko Yokote was a 45-year old traffic guard, whose whistle, hand gestures and stern looks kept impatient drivers at bay. Traffic guards, as the profile explains, were a recent addition to the work force, an attempt to diminish the problem of car accidents involving children.

Student

Student: Dentsu tells us that all those young boys walking around in black slacks, jackets and hats looking like military men are actually students. Student uniforms for both girls and boys, for some reason, are based on 19th century Western European naval designs. The interesting political commentary regarding the Waseda University student aside, the Japanese student is the shining example of middle class meritocracy in the country. Students take tests, and the better the scores, the better the school, the better the job, and hopefully the better the life.

This is part two of Faces of Tokyo, a series of posts on how Dentsu wanted to portray the Japanese to foreign visitors of Japan, as explained in a set of pictures and profiles of Japanese and the work they do. The profiles below, from the book, “Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964,” are intended to leave the foreign reader the impression that the Japanese, in 1964, are indeed savvy internationalists.

Ballerina

Ballerina: She’s been to Europe twice to study dance and performed with a visiting opera company from Italy in 1963. On top of that, ballerina, Yukiko Tomoi, was given the task of organizing a special performance of La Turandot during the Tokyo Olympics, not only for the Japanese who grew up loving classical European music and dance, but for the Westerner who needed assurances that the Japanese were not all shamisen and kabuki.

Artist

The Artist: Not only do the Japanese know ballet in 1964, they know how to paint using techniques introduced to Japan from Western Europe in the Meiji Period. Featured here is Takeshi Hayashi, an established painter and professor of the Tokyo Art Museum. Dentsu even mentioned artist Tsuguji Fujita, a Japanese artist who moved to Paris, and even traded in his Japanese passport for a French passport.

Fashion Model

Fashion Model: Dentsu selected Reiko Kawasaki as the face of the young model, likely because she evokes a young Audrey Hepburn. There’s very little detail in this profile, except that she has been a model for three years “who has not attempted to get ahead faster than her shadow.” More interestingly, the profile refers to Akiko Kojima, who was crowned Miss Universe in 1959, the first ever from Asia. A triumph over the beauties from Norway, the US, England and Brazil, Kojima’s victory was yet another milestone in Japan’s march to international acceptance.

Fashion Designer

Fashion Designer: She was one of the biggest names in fashion in Japan. Hanae Mori in 1964 was particularly well regarded for her costume designs in film. A year later, she debuted internationally with a show in New York City, and 12 years later opened up shop in Paris.

In 1964, the world came to Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and to most foreigners, particularly from the West, the Japanese were not familiar, foreign perceptions ranging from warlike to exotic to friendly.

The Japanese were intent in facilitating the positive image of the Japanese. In the book, “Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 1964”, the publisher Dentsu produced a section called “Faces of Tokyo”, to encourage specific perceptions of the Japanese:

  • That the Japanese are indeed uniquely Japanese
  • That the Japanese are international
  • That the Japanese are middle class.

Uniquely Japanese

Housewife

The Housewife: Apparently the modern-day housewife of Japan in 1964 is beautiful, loves weekend outings with the family, and wears kimono designed by her husband. Somehow, Dentsu is trying to portray the typical Japanese housewife as beautiful, modern and well to do.

Sumo Wrestler

The Sumo Wrestler: The profiled wrestler was still a relative unknown, but Takeo Morita, who later became known as Fujinokawa Takeo, made it to the heights of sekiwake in the very Japanese sport of sumo. Dentsu explains that sumo emerged out of imperial court functions to become a national sport in the early 20th century. (Real)

Geisha

The Geisha: The profile here is undecipherable in English – I’m sure this is from a vague description of what it means to be a geisha by a translator who likely gave up and just threw a bunch of English words together….

Buddhist Priest

The Buddhist Priest: This profile introduces the resident priest of Zojoji, Buddhist temple in Tokyo Shiba Koen, very near Tokyo Tower. Not only is he a priest, but he is a Doctor of Philosophy, honorary president of a Japanese university, and through his many books, a go-to guy in Japan to understand Buddhism.

Flower Arranger

The Flower Arrangement Sensei: Although true less and less today, the expertise and techniques of specific skills and trades were handed down from one generation to another very deliberately, often from parent to child, as was the case with flower arranger, Kasumi Teshigawara, featured here. My guess is that the reference to her brother is famed film director, Hiroshi Teshigawara.

Ichinomiya Chiba Open
Ichinomiya Chiba Open

When surfing was selected as a new Olympic sport for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, enthusiasts wondered how organizers were going to keep score.

One of the challenges when organizing surfing competitions is to create the perception that everyone has a chance at similar size and types of waves. After all we can’t control the moon and the tides they create on the vast ocean waters. And so very quickly enthusiasts wondered whether the Olympics were going to introduce wave pools to the competition, large mechanical pools that create waves. In that manner, you can pretty much guarantee that competitors will get the same level of difficulty every time.

As it turns out, surfing at the Tokyo Olympics will be held out in the wild, on the waves of Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan. Perhaps it’s because wave pools have not yet become a part of top-flight surfing competitions, that from a technological or even a surfing culture perspective, competitors are not yet ready for wave pools. But the president of the International Surfing Association (ISA), Fernando Aquerre, gave another, economic reason in this interview with Surfer.com:

The IOC does not want to build more “white elephants” – structures that have no use after the Olympics are over. The Olympics organizers want to focus on legacy, on building things that can be used by host cities after the games. As of now, there is no commercially sustainable wave pool. You can build a wave pool like Snowdonia, but nobody knows if that will be commercially sustainable over a period of time.

Snowdonia wave pool
Snowdonia wave pool

So how will the surfing competition be run in 2020?

  • First, there will be a total of 40 surfers allowed to compete, 20 men and 20 women.
  • Second, the event will be shortboarding only – no longboards or bodyboards.
  • Third, Aguerre said that they will be patient over the two-week Olympic competition to find the right two-day period to hold the surfing competition.

That last point is interesting because television will probably demand that surfing establish a set time in advance. But then again, the Olympics are also about putting “athletes first”.

“We’ll try to start it at the front end of the games, but we can wait to run it if the waves look better at the end,” Aguerre said. “We have ten years of wave history and wind conditions data to rely on. We’re very confident, and so are Tokyo and the IOC, that we’ll have reasonable waves of good quality.”

Additionally, Aguerre wants to make sure that the venue at Tsurigasaki Beach has the right vibe. “The IOC has asked us to to create a full-on beach scene at Chiba that will last the whole length of the Olympics,” he said. “It will include the surf events of course, but also organic food, yoga in the morning—it will be a place where you want to hang out. There might be a skate ramp — maybe it will be like what you see at the U.S. Open. It’s never been done before at the Olympics.”

Tsurigasaki Beach Aerial View
Aerial View of Tsurigasaki Beach

I’m not a surfer, but when I think of places to surf in Japan, I think of Shonan Beach in Kanagawa Prefecture, or the islands of Okinawa. After all, it was the American soldiers based in those areas since the Japanese occupation of the late 1940s and early 1950s who introduced surfing to the Japanese, sparking a fascination for Hawaii, the American beach culture, and how to ride the waves with a board.

But when the Olympics return to Tokyo in 2020, all surfing eyes will turn to Chiba. Last year, surfing was voted in as a new Olympic sport for 2020, and Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba was selected as the venue. Located about 90 minutes east from Tokyo in the city of Ichinomiya, Tsurigasaki Beach has become the go-to place to catch waves in the Kanto region.

In this survey of the best surf spots in Japan, JapanSurf.com ranked Chiba as having the best quality waves in the country. “Consistent, powerful beach breaks and thundering reefs make this area a mecca among surfers in Japan.” The Mainichi Daily News explained that surfers enjoy a “consistent flow of waves toward the shore from three different directions, namely northeast, east and southeast.”

Ichinomiya surfing alamy

Even more interestingly, the Mainichi article states that surfing has been responsible for a phenomenon unseen for decades in Japan – a small town that is actually growing in population.

Ever since the 1980s, people wanting to surf all year round have been moving to the town, and since the 2000s, numerous surfing shops, restaurants and new homes have emerged along prefectural Route 30, which runs parallel to the Pacific coast. As a result, the area has taken on an atmosphere of a “tropical island” bustling with youngsters, attracting what is believed to be about 600,000 visitors a year.

According to the article, the town of Ichinomiya has grown to 12,400 at the beginning of 2017, in a country where both the rapidly aging population and the desire of the youth to work in the big cities has shrunk the populations of cities and towns that are not named Tokyo or Osaka.

The Japanese love for surfing has revitalized Ichinomiya. And as planning continues to bring the biggest beach party in the world to Tsurigasaki Beach, ambitions climb. “We want to spread the name and culture of Ichinomiya across the world,” said Ichinomiya mayor, Masaya Mabuchi.

Map to Ichinomiya Tsurigasaki Beach
Map to Ichinomiya Tsurigasaki Beach
Duke Kahanamoku
Duke Kahanamoku

Surfing is coming to the Olympics in 2020.

But the seed of the idea of surfing as an Olympic sport was planted, apparently, in 1912 by the Johnny Appleseed of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku.

According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the swimming legend who won three golds and two silvers across three Olympics and 13 years, Kahanamoku “first presented his dream at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, where he expressed his wish to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to see Surfing included in the Games.”

Fernando Aguerre

In fact, this little historical footnote was the inspiration for the current head of the ISA, president, Fernando Aquerre. The surfer from Argentina was newly elected to the ISA in 1994, and according to Olympic.org, he had a dream to get surfing into the Olympics. In fact, Aguerre met Juan Antonio Samaranch, in 1995, part of his pitch was to give the then 75-year-old president of the IOC a surfing lesson in his office.

Unfortunately for Aguerre, what was true in 1912 was also true in 1995 – the IOC was not ready to hang ten.

“We had paddled out but there were no waves,” Aguerre said (in reference to his meeting with the IOC). “We kind of figured out that waves were going to come at some point but we didn’t really know when they were going to come because they were out of our control.”

Still president of the ISA, and still hanging on to his dream, Aguerre opened up his options by connecting with Thomas Bach in 2013, who was a candidate to become the head of the IOC. And by this time, Aguerre was more able to lay out a vision for why surfing needed to be in the Olympics – the need to attract youth to the movement with the rise of action sports. Bach, who was elected to head the IOC that year, made the attraction and retention of youth to the Olympic Games part of his platform.

Surfing has grown significantly in popularity over the recent decades. There were only 32 member countries of the ISA in 1995, but now there 100. So when surfing was submitted to the IOC in September 2015 as a part of a shortlist of new events for Tokyo 2020, primarily driven by youth-oriented action sports like skateboarding and sport climbing, surfing finally caught a wave. In August, 2016, the IOC voted surfing into the Olympics.

Come July 2020, if you want to watch the first Olympians set Olympic records with every top score in surfing, then plan to bake on the hot sands of Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan. That is where the surfing world, Barney and pro alike, will gather.

Surfing Hokusai waves olympic rings