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Crews competing on the Sea Forest Waterway with the Tokyo Gate Bridge as a backdrop.

From August 7 to 11, the newly developed Sea Forest Park was home to the 2019 World Rowing Junior Championships, organized by the World Rowing Federation (FISA).

This is part of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee’s initiative – Ready, Set, Tokyo – to ensure that venues selected or built for the upcoming Summer Games are progressing well in terms of readiness. One of over 50 test events being held through May, 2020, the rowing test event is an actual world championship  for 18 years or younger. In this competition, approximately 550 athletes from fifty nations competed in this 5-day event.

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Looking west towards the start of the 2,000-meter course, with one of many planes taking off from Haneda Airport.

The name Sea Forest Park is a vision of what the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has for their property: a verdant forest on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. This waterway, designed for the rowing and canoeing competitions at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, forms a perfect rectangle, nestled between two pieces of reclaimed land and two connecting bridges. One of the few salt water regatta courses in the world, Sea Forest will continue to serve as a venue for rowing and canoeing competitions post Olympics.

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The competition on the sea, with a bit of the forest in the background.

I visited Sea Forest Park on the final day of the junior championships. And it was hot, the mid-day temperature hitting 34 degrees Centigrade (93 degrees Farenheit), with little green or shade in sight, particularly the grandstand at the finish line. There was one area for spectators off the grandstand where people could sit under a tent and view the competition on a large screen that broadcasted the races live.

This is a test event, so it’s likely that by the time the 2020 Olympics roll around, there will be more covered areas. In the meanwhile, there were opportunities to test a wide variety of things: the execution of races every 10 or 15 minutes, transportation of spectators to and from the Tokyo Teleport area of Odaiba, security allowing and stopping people from entering particular areas, awarding of medals and raising of flags.

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Rowing is a difficult sport to watch if you’re just a casual observer. The course is 2,000 meters long, which means that you’re staring off into the far distance trying to pick up the movement of very small boats. But as they get closer to  where the crowds are waiting, and the announcers’ voices, blaring through the speakers, informing us which boats are in front, the crowd noise grows. The spectators are there for their teams.

What I could observe, all went smoothly. More importantly, that is what FISA President, Jean-Christophe Rolland observed as well.

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We are the champions!

We are very proud to have this excellent new rowing course. The installations and fittings are remarkable. I would like to recognize the significant investment in this project.

Sea Forest Waterway_Google Maps
Sea Forest Waterway on Google Maps
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Tokyo 2020 torch relay torch

Olympic torches have been carried on planes and boats, via wheelchairs and bicycles, even underwater. But never in space – until now.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronauts, Soichi Noguchi and Akihiko Hoshihide, will be orbiting the earth from the International Space Station (ISS) during the Olympic torch relay, which begins on March 26, 2020 in Fukushima and ends on the day of the Opening Ceremony on July 24, 2020.

According to Nikkan Sports, Noguchi will be in the space station from the end of 2019 for six months, while Hoshihide will check in to his new abode around May next year. While they will bring the Olympic torch with them in space, they apparently will not light the torch. It would be the symbolism of peace and resilience that the space torch bearers wish to share with the world. In a press release, Noguchi said

I believe that the light of the flame will encapsulate the “power of recovery” emanating from Japan’s recent natural disasters, as well as the “tolerance” that allows us to accept diversity and the “dynamism” uniting local communities in a global festival, and that it will herald the sunrise of a new generation. To everyone in Japan, I say please join with us astronauts and help create a road of hope illuminated by flame.

If you want to literally join them in the torch relay, and carry that gorgeous sakura gold torch, you can apply now as the deadline is August 31, 2019. There are four corporate sponsors and 47 prefectures which are taking applications for the torch relay with the goal of recruiting 10,000 torchbearers under the theme: Hope Lights Our Way ( 希望の道を、つなごう).

The corporate recruiters are Coca Cola, Toyota, Nissay and NTT. In all cases, you need to pick one of the prefectures of Japan where you want to run. Here is the map of the torch relay, and here is the schedule. If you want, you can apply to up to five recruiting entities.

People born on or before April 1, 2008, of any nationality will be considered.

Prefectures: You can apply directly with each of the prefectures. You can find the links to each of those prefectures and their applications in the middle of this page. There are 47 prefectures, so there are 47 links.

Coke on app torch relay page
Coke on app torch relay page

Coca Cola: The longest-running sponsor of the Olympic Games, Coca Cola, has been a sponsor of the torch relay for 13 Olympiads. You have to apply via their Coke On smartphone app. This “pre-selection” step is a challenge as you need to explain in 200 characters or less (not words) “what you love and do as you are and…if there is an episode that you made someone happy with it.” You also get to upload “your appealing photo or video” up to 40mb in size. After I applied, I received a notification that if they think I’m worthy, I will hear back from them in 3 to 5 weeks. The announcement of those selected will be as early as the end of the year. Apply here.

Toyota: Like Coca-Cola, Toyota is a TOP sponsor, which means they are able to market their brand with the Olympic brand globally. Unlike Coca-Cola, their “pre-selection” is comprehensive. In addition to contact information, they are looking for “local challengers,” asking for your plans “to make your community (= your desired prefecture) a better place,” in 220 words or less (not characters). Toyota also allows you to upload three photos or video files, as well as provide links to “relevant websites or videos.” In that same box, they allow you to provide additional information – “a simple comment showing your enthusiasm.” Toyota replied via automated email that “entrants who pass preliminary selection will be notified in early October 2019.” Apply here.

Nissay (Nippon Life Insurance Company): Nissay is a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Gold Partner, and like Toyota, their pre-selection application is fairly comprehensive. They provide an opportunity to explain your relationship to the prefecture (relatives, etc.), what people important to you are you running for, and why. There is an additional text box to add information or links to sites. Different from the others, they ask for you to select from a drop-down list of “Torchbearer values.” I selected “Sense of Unity Born of Celebrations (The Spirit of Encouraging.” Apply here.

2020 tokyo olympic torch relay map and schedule

NTT: NTT, the Japanese telecommunications and infrastructure giant, is also a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Gold partner. Like Nissay, the emphasis is on the connection you have with a particular prefecture, as well as a general section to “self PR” yourself in 400 characters or less. They have a drop-down menu that asks you how to categorize your “action and legacy plan: Sports and health,  Urban planning and Sustainability, Culture and education,  Economy and technology, or Reconstruction, all japan, transmission to the world. This is the only corporate partner which asks for a “third-party” recommendation. This was the only one of the application processes I could not complete. There were technical issues of saving my input, and then trying to re-register proved futile. Apply here.

Tokyo Metro Off Peak 1

With a population of over 37 million people, the Greater Tokyo  Area is the most populous city in the world.

So what is it going to be like when the Olympics come to Tokyo next year when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics takes Tokyo by storm from July 24 to August 8. That’s when an expected 650,000 spectators are expected to arrive, so there are legitimate concerns for the average city denizen, who can’t get tickets to the Show and just wants to get to work on time.

I see three major acts by both public and private institutions to decrease congestion in Tokyo during the Olympics next year: shifting of public holidays, restrictions on the Tokyo expressways, and encouragement of changes to commuting behaviors.

Public Holidays: Tokyo is the Land of the Public Holiday. There are so many, I get stressed in June because there isn’t one, let alone two or three like we have in January, May, September, October and November. With hopes of easing congestion in Tokyo around the beginning and end of the Olympics, “Marine Day” is being moved a week later to Thursday, July 23 (day before opening day), while “Sports Day” (traditionally in October) will be moved to Friday, July 24. Additionally, “Mountain Day”, will shift a day early to Monday, August 10, the day after the closing ceremony.

Restrictions on Expressways: Drivers were frustrated to find they could not access the highway where they wanted to on July 24 and 26 as the Tokyo government enacted a large-scale highway test by closing some 30 entry points to the Metropolitan Expressway, including entrance and exit points near event locations, for example those near the new National Stadium and the site of the Olympic Village. They had hope to reduce traffic on the expressways by 30%, but traffic only diminished by about 7%.  That has put more momentum behind plans for congestion pricing, where rates to enter the highway may rise by another 1,000 yen between 6 am and 10 pm.

Flex-Time: If you work for a global multi-national, particularly a technology company, then “work anytime, anywhere” is a cultural norm. Except for technology companies in Japan, the cultural norm may likely be, “if I don’t see you, then you’re not working, are you”. In other words, the idea of measuring performance on output, not on how many hours you are at your desk, has become a talking point among government officials and leaders upon passing of the “hatakaki-kata kaikaku kanren ho,” or the Act to Overhaul Laws to Promote Workplace Reform.

More specifically to the Olympics, the government is encouraging tele-work, and commuting during off-peak hours. The government is running a trial from late July through early September this year in which 2,800 employees at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office were given laptops so the can work outside the office once a week during the times this year when the Olympics and Paralympics will take place next year. (One day a week only? Well, it’s a start.)

Tokyo Metro Off Peak 4
Tokyo Metro ad explaining the gold, silver and bronze-level points you get depending on when you commute to work on their trains.

If you take the subway in Tokyo, you will see the ubiquitous posters of Tokyo Metro marketing their Pasmo Card and its point system. Take their trains and accumulate points and prizes! And from July 22 to August 2, and August 19 to August 30, you can get bonus points if you take their trains from 7~7:30 am (25 points!), 7:30~8:00 am (15 points), and 9:30~10:30 am (10 points).

“This is a chance to make telework a legacy of the games that will take root” in society, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko was quoted as saying in The Japan Times.

As Hemingway wrote, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Meiji 3

It was a normal Saturday morning, out shopping with the wife at the local supermarket when I spotted the display of chocolate with the now omnipresent Tokyo 2020 mascots, Miraitowa and Someity.

The 4th largest chocolate confectionary producer in the world, Meiji, has the Olympic and Paralympic mascots hawking their famous chocolate snacks, kinoko no yama (mushroom mountain) and take no sato (bamboo village), which are essentially morsels of cookie topped with chocolate in the shape of a mushroom and a bamboo shoot respectively.

Meiji 5

And then I saw the price for a bag of these snacks – JPY1,000 (a little less than USD10). Holy moly, I thought.

That’s when my finely honed investigative journalistic instincts sent tingles though my body like a Bob Woodward version of spidey sense. As they always say, follow the money!

I went down aisle five to see if the regular kinoko no yama/take no sato snacks were available. And there I saw it, the truth as plain as day – a pack of 12 for 275 yen. The Tokyo2020 bag was a pack of 8 for 1,000 yen! I took a few nervous minutes to crunch the numbers checking them several times over because I simply could not believe my eyes.

Meiji 4

Miraitowa’s version was selling for 125 yen a pack while the traditional version was about 23 yen a pack. Miraitowa has a heck of a brand that he can hawk his version of the same product for over 5 times the normal rate!

It’s like finding out that Supreme T-Shirt you bought for $1,150 was actually made for about $10. (Please don’t fact check me on that last point. I have no idea.)

Meiji 20
And they taste exactly the same!

Ok, but then my eagle eyes caught the fine print on the back of the packaging:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Tokyo 2020 Official Licensed Products will be used to help stage the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

I did check on the internet, including Meiji’s site. This packaging and price was released on July 23, to commemorate the Tokyo2020 Year to Go campaign. But to be honest, there is no mention about how much of that 1,000 yen is going to Tokyo 2020. I hope it is a large percentage.

I fear though that most people are not going to put a premium on the chocolate-covered-mushroom-cookie. I hope they do, and contribute to the coffers of Tokyo2020…but mom’s probably not going to shell out 5 times the price so that Taro-kun can get the sticker inside.

But who knows?

Olympic fever is rising with the temperature.

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The “free” sticker in side.

 

There is only one legacy of the Olympics, of every Olympics, that really matters – the impact on the aspirations of children. On Wednesday, July 24, 2019, the organizers of the Tokyo2020 Games celebrated the One-Year-To-Go mark with a day of fun and games for the kids. With school out, parents took their kids to the Tokyo International Forum at the outskirts of the Ginza district, and future venue for weightlifting during the summer games next year.

 

 

As the Japanese word for five is “go”, and there are a total of 55 Olympic and Paralympic events, the organizers dubbed this event “Let’s 55!” And indeed kids of all ages had activities galore for a fun-filled “go-go” day.

 

 

Both inside and outside the International Forum, there simulations and games for: fencing, basketball, field hockey, cycling, karate, archery, volleyball, weightlifting, golf, baseball….you name it. And to make sure they tried everything, they were given a sheet with all of the activities to get stamped after an activity, and to receive other gifts.

 

T2020_1YTG_Miki Ando
Olympic figure skater Miki Ando.

 

Amidst the fun and games, the officials were proud and optimistic about prospects for the Games a year hence.

“Preparations are making excellent progress, thanks to the amazing work of the Organising Committee and with outstanding cooperation and support from the government and the business community, said Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC. “There is so much to look forward to. I have never seen an Olympic city as prepared as Tokyo with one year to go before the Olympic Games.”

 

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Getting your picture taken with 2016 Rio Olympic judoka bronze medalist, Kanae Yamabe.

 

And with a nod to the youth, Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori said:

I believe the Tokyo 2020 Games will become an important part of Olympic history and a talking point for future generations. This–the second time that Tokyo will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games–will be an occasion where the world is united as one regardless of nationality, race, culture or religion. I fervently hope younger generations will learn to respect, understand and accept each other as a result of these Games and play a central role in realising an inclusive society in the future.

 

T2020_1YTG_weightlifting 1

 

Tokyo2020 1 Year to Go signage

I was asked by Stephen Wade of the Associated Press a question:

Why the massive demand for tickets for these games? Did you expect it?

Personally, I didn’t expect the massive demand we saw in the ticket lottery the organizing committee held in May. My only experience for buying Olympic tickets was PyeongChang, which was pretty easy. I thought that if I applied for the most expensive tickets for 2020, I’d have a good chance of getting the tickets I wanted. But that clearly wasn’t the case. Over 3 million tickets were sold, but I got nothing.

The high demand appeared to surprise everyone, Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

To be honest, many people I’ve talked with had the impression that the Japanese in general were blasé about the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Foreigners often told me that the Japanese didn’t seem to be excited, even now as we approach a year out.

But in hindsight, that perception may be due to a cultural tendency for Japanese to be more measured in their demeanor, towards anything.

For example, when global multi-nationals measure employee engagement in an annual survey, Japan often scores the lowest of all the countries. It may not be because the engagement or morale levels are low in Japan. It could be because Japan will commonly respond to questions on a 5-point scale with the middle rating of 3. Such a tendency will result in a lower overall score compared to other cultures which score more easily to the edges. Tending to ratings of 3 doesn’t mean the Japanese aren’t happy. They may in fact be simply defaulting to a cultural norm of restraint.

The reality, as we are learning, is that the Japanese are quite passionate about the upcoming Olympics. In addition to 7.5 million people registering for the oversubscribed ticket lottery in Japan, more than 200,000 people  applied for the Tokyo 2020 Games Volunteer Program, 120,000 more than was needed.

And that passion will continue to grow since entering a cycle of three consecutive Olympiads in Asia: PyeongChang, Tokyo and Beijing. The ability to watch events in their own time zone has had an impact on the Japanese. Dentsu reported that the percentage of Japanese who watched the Olympics grew considerably from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

Dentsu also reported a significant rise in “pride as a Japanese” from the 2016 to the 2018 Olympics, which may be due to a growing belief that Japanese talent is rising, boding well for hometown success in 2020.

As we approach the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the international sports federations are more frequently holding world championships in Japan, and the national teams of all the Olympic sports are making trips for look-and-see tours and training camps. Thus the number of opportunities for Japanese across the country to see their current and emerging heroes has increased dramatically, not just in the traditionally popular sports of swimming, wrestling, gymnastics and volleyball, but also in the increasingly popular sports of table tennis, basketball, badminton and sports climbing.

As for scandals, perhaps people feel such practices are the norm in today’s world,  that the limited facts available regarding the Black Tidings payment do not make for a definitive case, and thus the stench of scandal may not be so distinct. Besides, the head of the JOC took responsibility by stepping down so the party could go on.

The whiff of scandal, it appears, was only that. A whiff. The Japanese are smelling something else in the air – smells like….victory.

Here is the AP article where I was quoted.

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N Star’s July 15 broadcast on hotel rooms.

Finding a hotel room in central Tokyo has always been a challenge, especially with the incredible growth in inbound tourism in recent years.

Finding a hotel room in central Tokyo during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – could be harder than getting a ticket to an Olympic event, according to this Asahi News article.

N-Star, an evening news program on TBS, gave a breakdown of room availability in Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures on their Monday, July 15 broadcast. They reported that 46,000 hotel rooms in Tokyo have already been reserved by the IOC, sports federations and national Olympic committee members.

That’s 46,000 out of approximately 300,000 hotel rooms available in the Tokyo area, and that doesn’t include the rooms that are likely being set aside for Olympic sponsors, media and various other Olympic-related organizations.

For example, all 830 rooms in the Tokyo Bay Ariake Washington Hotel in Odaiba, where the media center will be located, are all reserved during the weeks of the Tokyo Olympics, and thus currently unavailable to the public.

There is an intent to release rooms to the public in the Fall, as the IOC and the various other organizations firm up the number of rooms they will actually need. But right now, it’s hard to find rooms to reserve now. N Star did a survey, looking at the prefectures surrounding Tokyo: Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama:

  • Kanagawa: There is, apparently, a luxury hotel in front of Kawasaki Station in Kanagawa prefecture, which is about 20 minutes from Tokyo Station by train, where you can  reserve rooms during the Tokyo2020 Games. The most expensive hotel listed on Google Maps is the Kawasaki Nikko Hotel.
  • Chiba: A business hotel near Makuhari Hongo Station in Chiba prefecture, which is about 40 minutes from Tokyo Station, is reported to start taking reservations from August. No, I couldn’t figure out the name of the place.
  • Saitama: N Star looked at larger cities in Saitama like Kawaguchi, Urawa and Oomiya, only to come up in empty. Apparently, you  have to go out as far as 50 minutes away as Kasukabe. They found a Japanese-style business hotel where you can reserve now.

N Star did provide recommendations for the flexible traveler:

  • Guest Houses: these are commonly frequented by non-Japanese, which they said would be good for Japanese who like these kind of inter-cultural interactions. Here is a link to Booking.com’s “10 Best Guest Houses in Tokyo.”
  • Capsule Hotels: TKP is a chain of capsule hotel they identified, which has a First Cabin brand. I stayed at one in Haneda Airport, which is reasonably priced and spotlessly clean. The picture they showed was much bigger than the traditional capsule hotel room, which is literally a space for a person to lay down, not to stand. Here is a link to Booking.com’s “10 Best Capsule Hotels in Tokyo.”
  • Leisure Hotel (Love Hotel): Love hotels, which you see scattered throughout Tokyo for their short-stay offerings, are traditionally for couples who are looking for a discreet place to commune. But with the demand for rooms so high in Tokyo, Love Hotels are a very real option for visitors and tourists seeking a clean, inexpensive place to stay. These accomodations are plentiful, often near train stations, and as the broadcast emphasized, are being marketed as clean, safe rooms for single women. Here is a link to Booking.com’s “10 Best Love Hotel’s in Tokyo.”

One option not provided in the N Star broadcast was Airbnb, which is just beginning to recover in Japan after a change in laws that put controls on people who wanted to lease rooms on the Airbnb platform. In a search for the week of July 22-29, 2020 in Tokyo, you can find a range of offerings from about JPY6,000 to JPY437,000 a night.

If you are lucky enough to snag tickets at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, you still need to have a place to stay. Happy hunting!

An San of the mighty South Korea team
An San of the mighty South Korea team.

It was a national holiday on a Monday, and despite the drizzle, you might expect a large crowd for this Tokyo2020 event in Yume no Shima, where some of the best archers in the world gathered.

Steve Wijler of the Netherlands 3
Steve Wijler of the Netherlands

It was day 5 of an 8-day event as part of Tokyo 2020’s series of “Ready Set Tokyo”  test events, which will continue until the middle of next year.  But as it was a test event, spectators were not invited. Thus,  the grounds seemed empty, a smattering of competitors, coaches, officials and media meandering in and around the area of competition.

No Spectators
No Spectators invited

In July, 2020, the spectator stands will have been constructed and these grounds will be packed with people. But during this tournament, the primary purpose is for world-class athletes to test the newly opened facilities in a competition format.

Mariana Avitia of Mexico with coach
Mariana Avitia of Mexico with coach

The site on Yume no Shima is one of only 8 permanent facilities built for the Tokyo 2020 Games. (Twenty five of the 43 venues required are existing sites, while another ten are not permanent, to be dismantled after the Games.) The main area for the archery competition is made up of two long lanes where two competitors face off, aiming for the yellow bulls-eye 70 meters away.

Judging the Results
Judging the Results

Archers marched in with a guide holding their national flag. The judge greeted the competitors. The arrows were launched and brought back to the archers by a person on a motorized scooter. And strangely enough, the music in between competitive moments was hugely dominated by tunes from Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel. “The River” seemed strangely appropriate.

Denchai Thepna of Thailand
Denchai Thepna of Thailand

With a year to go before the Games, the landscape is still raw. Sponsor signs, which you will not see during the Olympics, were boldly displayed. And the lack of people created a somewhat somber, lonely atmosphere. But it is another step in the incredibly complex logistical nightmare that is the Olympic Games, and as far as one could tell, all seemed to be proceeding without incident.

The Arrow Bearer
Staff shuttled the arrows back and forth between the targets and the shooting stage.

“Next year the Olympic Games are here in the same venue and now it feels like we’re starting the Olympic process,” said Chang Hye Jin of the dominant South Korea team, double gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “I expected the weather conditions here in Tokyo to be very hot and with strong wind. But there’s no wind and the temperature is low, so that is good. Before the Olympic Games, this tournament gives me a chance to get experience in this field. I can learn the wind direction and get used to the environment.”

Below is what an arrow traveling 240 kph looks like when shot.

All photos/video taken by the author.

My book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is now available. And through July 31, you can buy the Kindle (ebook) version for 99 cents, or the equivalent in your region. I don’t mind if you buy the paperback version or even the hard cover if it is available on your Amazon site. Note, if you buy a Kindle version, please be careful that you are buying from the Amazon store your Kindle is registered.  Click here to buy the book, and understand why I entitled it:

1964

The Greatest Year in the History of Japan

How The Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise from the Ashes

Final Book Cover-LOCK

Dark Tourist Japan A scene from Dark Tourist – Japan from season one.

Watching the Japan episode of Netflix’s first season of Dark Tourist was harrowing.

New Zealand journalist, David Farrier, went on a tour in Fukushima, likely in early 2018, and filmed scenes not far from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant where radiation levels climbed dangerously high. Those on the tour were visibly worried.

So was I, and I was safe and sound in my living room.

The government evacuated about 160,000 people in the areas around Dai-Ichi right after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, but restrictions for most of those areas have since been lifted. But I wondered again, is it safe or not?

I get that question a lot from people, particularly foreigners, especially since I write a blog on Japan, sports and the Olympics, and organizers for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are holding sporting events in areas of Northern Japan impacted significantly by the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami.

Azuma 16
Signage at Fukushima Station for Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympics.

In the case of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, softball and baseball games will be held in Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima, which is about 10 kilometers west of Fukushima Station, and 90 kilometers northwest of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Certainly, in the areas directly in and around the nuclear power plant, radiation levels can be high. The areas that Farrier filmed in his controversial program were in prohibited areas – thus the high radiation levels measured. But when I ask the experts, my fears are, on the whole, allayed.

bGeigie nano
The bGeigie Nano I built myself (with a lot of help from Jon Moross!)

I have been talking recently with leaders of the volunteer citizen science organization, Safecast, which came together very quickly in the aftermath of 3.11 to measure radiation levels in Tohoku in the absence of open and transparent reports from TEPCO and government officials.

In order to measure radiation levels, the team designed a geiger counter that volunteers can build and use, and they then worked to deploy these geiger counters to gather data and better understand where radiation levels are high.

I recently participated in a Safecast workshop to build my own device – the bGeigie Nano – a truly cool and compact measuring tool. On a trip to Fukushima, I decided to go to Azuma Baseball Stadium and measure radiation levels myself.

Getting off a local bus, I had to walk about 15 minutes, crossing the scenic Arakawa River, before entering the spacious grounds of the Azuma sports complex. In addition to the baseball field, there are facilities for track and field, tennis and gymnastics.

With my bGeigie Nano on and clicking away, I walked around the grounds for an hour, circling the track and field stadiums, as well as the perimeter of the baseball stadium.

The conclusion?

Measurements for radiation on the grounds around Azuma Baseball Stadium, including the surrounding roads, were low. My measurements appeared consistent with measurements taken by Safecast in the past.

Azuma 1
Azuma Baseball Stadium

According to Safecast lead researcher, Azby Brown, “all of the measurements you obtained showed the current radiation levels to be within normal background, ranging from 0.08 microsieverts per hour to 0.16 microsieverts per hour.”

Normal radiation exposure is usually described in millisieverts per year (mSv/yr = 1/1000th of a sievert) or in microsieverts per hour (uSv/hr = one millionth of a sievert). While a sievert is a massive dose, someone who spends 12 hours at the Azuma Baseball Stadium next year is likely to get only one or two millionths of that. Brown went on to explain that the measurements I registered around the stadium were fairly typical for what people encounter normally around the world.

For comparison, based on Safecast data, the levels you found around the stadium are similar to those in Tokyo, Brussels, Buenos Aires, or Washington DC, and less than in Rome, Hong Kong, or Seoul. The radiation that overseas visitors will be exposed to on their flights to Japan will almost certainly be higher than what they would get spending time at this stadium for Olympic events.  

We do not yet have measurement data for the nearby woods or riverbank, however, and experience suggests that these areas may show higher radiation levels. We will survey those areas soon, and let everyone know what we find. 

Azuma Stadium Safecast bGeigie measurements_RT
My measurements around Azuma baseball stadium as well as my route there by bus. Blue means low (normal) levels of radiation.

Certainly, there are concerns still about the long-term impact of the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant. While the government has lifted living restrictions in many areas around the nuclear power plant, and is now heavily encouraging residents of those areas to return, the majority have chosen to stay away.

Still, if we look at the data, outside of the inaccessible exclusion zone, radiation levels in Tohoku are, on the whole, at normal levels.

That’s what the data shows.

And that’s good enough for me.