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.)

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Frederic Weiss at a Knicks camp

It was the end of June, 1999, and my New York Knicks had come off a stunning run to make it to the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. They lost in five games, but the energy and excitement that Latrell Sprewell, Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and Marcus Camby brought to New York City was electric!

It was a great time to be a Knick fan!

But a week later, still basking in the glory of my team’s incredible season-ending run, the powers that be in the Knickerbocker management team made a decision in the NBA draft that puzzled, if not deflated the fan base. With the fifteenth pick in the first round of the draft, the Knicks selected Frédéric Weis.

Qui?

Weis was from France, a seven footer, perhaps someone to clog up the middle. Who was pick number 16? One of the most talented players to come out of my favorite university college team, Ron Artest, who would go on to become a volatile but brilliant All-Star in his career. (Yes, Artest of St. John’s University, would change his name to Metta World Peace.)

But what of Weis?

For starters, the Knicks’ coach, Jeff van Gundy did not appear to be supportive of the selection. Weis, overjoyed to be drafted, soon felt the cold shoulder once he arrived in the United States for the Knicks’ summer league camps where rookies and others are worked out. Weis was not considered inspired material, but he was a first round draft pick, which afforded him the right to sign a contract that would have made him a Knick. But thanks to his agent, he declined so that he could play another year with his professional team in France. Weis personally believes that was a mistake.

Then came the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and perhaps the most famous dunk in Olympic history, perhaps in basketball history. The American team were facing the French national team, and pretty much handling the French, up by 15 with 16 minutes to play in the game. The French rebounded the ball at their end of the court, one player bounced pass a ball that went a bit too high for his teammate. That’s when Vince Carter, one of the NBA’s most dynamic players at that time, came charging in, snatching that high pass, dribble twice and then leaping for a thunderous dunk. In his path was Weis, who Carter simply lept over, all 2.18 meters of him.

That play has been dubbed “Le dunk de la morte,” or the Dunk of Death.

Vinsanity went into overdrive. Weis, if he were a stock, nosedived – a symbol of all the terrible talent decisions Knick management had made in the past (and in the future).

And that was despite the fact that Weis played well on a French team that won the silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Weis never played a game as a New York Knick. After the Olympics and his return to France, no efforts were made by Knick management to make him a part of the team. In other words, to Knicks fans, Weis was a total waste of a good draft pick.

The New York Times followed up on Weis in September, 2015, with this wonderful but sad story of a man whose basketball career, so full of promise, never took off, and a life that appeared to deteriorate year on year.

Vince Carter Frederic Weiss in Le Duck du Mort

A couple of years after winning silver at the Olympics, Weis and his wife Celia had a boy named Enzo. A year later, the boy was diagnosed to be autistic, which was hard for Weis to handle, so much so that the couple separated, Celia taking Enzo away. Bouts of depression became deeper, until finally Weis decided he had had enough of himself. Here’s how the New York Times told that story:

On the morning when Frédéric Weis tried to kill himself, he dreamed about owning a beach house. A beach house had been Weis’s dream for a long time. In France, in Spain, in Greece — wherever his career as a 7-foot-2 professional basketball player took him. He liked the sand, he liked the surf. A beach house was a good dream.

But on that day, in January 2008, the dream did not make him smile. Weis got into his car in Bilbao, Spain, around 10 a.m. and began the drive here, to this small city in west-central France best known for its production of fine china. He was on his way to see his wife and son. About 90 minutes into the drive, Weis suddenly pulled over at a rest area near Biarritz, a French town not far from the border.

He stopped the car, leaned back in his seat and, at 30 years old, considered all that had happened to him during his career… Weis thought about all this for a while. Then he thought about the beach house. Then he thought about his son, Enzo. Then he reached over, took out the box of sleeping pills he had brought with him and swallowed every single one.

But, as the article explained, Weis did not pass on. He instead fell into a deep sleep, waking up 10 hours later realizing he was still alive. “He had failed, and for once, this made him happy. ‘It was the luckiest I’ve been in my life,’ he said.”

Frederic Weiss tobacco shop
Frederic Weiss at his tobacco shop

Weiss returned to basketball in Spain and France before retiring in 2011. When the New York Times caught up with him in Limoges, France, where he was running a tobacco store and a bar, battling bouts of depression, but back with his wife Celia and son Enzo.

Life goes on for the man made famous by the Dunk of Death.

Benjamin Spock with children
Dr. Benjamin Spock

One of the most famous names in America in pediatric health, at least in the 20th Century, was a man named Dr. Benjamin Spock. His book, Baby and Child Care, was a perennial best seller and the bible on child care. The only other book to outsell his in America – the actual Bible.

What I didn’t know was that Spock was a gold medalist, a member of the American eight-man crew that was so dominant at the 1924 Paris Olympics that their time of 6 minutes and 33 seconds was almost 16 seconds faster than the second-placed Canadian crew.

A renown expert in the medical field, an Olympic champion, Spock was a name in America few did not know. And yet, despite a relatively wealthy upbringing, he was not born with confidence and expectations of greatness. As he explains in the book, Tales of Gold: An Oral History of the Summer Olympic Games Told by America’s Gold Medal Winners, Spock explained that his mother was a very devoted tyrant, and his father was a self-made man who was obsessed with status, proud to have been a member of the finest and exclusive social clubs at Yale University.

When Spock entered Yale, I believe around 1921, he wrote:

I felt very unsure of myself. I felt unpopular and unable to compete with other boys. I felt like a sissy, a mother’s boy, and I was timid. I was afraid they might bully me and that I would not be able to do the things they were able to do.

Sports was an acceptable avenue of exploration, and he continued his focus on the high jump, which he trained in at his high school. But try as he could, he could not improve beyond mediocrity. One day in his freshman year, he walked by the rowers in the Yale gym. In rowing, height can be an advantage. Despite his skinny frame, Spock was tall, six feet four inches (1.9 meters), and so caught the eye of the captain of Yale’s rowing team.

“What sport do you go out for?”, said the captain.

“High jumping,” said Spock.

“Why don’t you go out for a man’s sport?” said the captain.

To Spock, who yearned to be seen as a man’s man, these were the words that struck his soul. To be seen as having potential in one of the most respected and manly of sports at the time – rowing – was a revelation. “I was elated. The captain of the crew thought that I might be crew material! That had never occurred to me.”

Benjamin Spock
From the book, Tales of Gold

Granted, the Yale squad was one of the worst crew teams in the United States. As Spock described, their technique was outdated. “You’d lie way, way back to get the length of the stroke and pull the oar up almost to your chin and shove it away.” But during Spock’s freshman year, the rowing committee at Yale decided it was time to change things up, so they hired a coach out of Washington named Ed Leader, who transformed the stroke and the team.

In two years under Leader’s leadership, Yale’s rowing team went from worst to first, and Spock’s eight-man crew defeated a crew made up of US Navy officers fairly handily, earning the right to compete at the Paris Summer Olympic Games. In Paris, the American eight from Yale were considered favorites with perennial favorites, The Thames Rowing Club of Great Britain. Fortunately for the US, the Thames Rowing Club had in Paris only four members of the crew which won the prestigious Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta the previous year, perhaps paving a golden path for Spock and his team.

Baby and Child Care coverAs Spock wrote about his team’s gold-medal-winning finals, “the race itself was an anticlimax. We won by, I think, 3-and-a-half boat lengths. You’re not meant to win a race that short by as much as a boat length.”

Spock graduated from Yale, and then got his doctor of medicine at Columbia University, launching a career to become America’s most famous pediatrician. Interestingly, Spock became very critical of putting children or young adults into “excessive competition”, worrying that parents were putting too much pressure on their children. “The problem is,” he wrote in 1985 in Tales of Gold, “that Americans are meant to be the best in everything.” He even had thoughts about parenting in Japan, arguably an early hotbed for prototypical Tiger Moms.

I was visiting Japan, and if any country is worse than the U.S. for competitive youngsters, it is Japan. Their educators told me that a shocking number of elementary school children commit suicide and that the number is going up every year. They commit suicide because they don’t think they’re getting grades high enough to satisfy their parents. What kind of society is that in which children have to kill themselves because they can’t compete?

Opening Ceremonies 1964_Bi to Chikara
Opening Ceremonies 1964, from the book, Bi to Chikara

In Japan, my birthday used to always be a national holiday.

Two years after the Tokyo Olympics staged their grand opening ceremony on October 10, 1964, the Japanese government declared 10/10 a national holiday. When I lived in Tokyo from 1986 to 1994, my birthday was always a day off. Very often, schools all over Japan would hold sports festivals for their students and families, a significant cultural phenomenon in Japan.

In 2000, this holiday called Health and Sports Day was moved to the second Monday of October, to ensure that Japanese get that day off, so this holiday often falls on a day before or after October 10. This year, the second Monday is October 9.

With the start of the 2020 Olympics scheduled for Friday, July 24, government officials are considering a change in the law to make that day a national holiday, according to Asahi. Doing so would decrease the car and mass transportation traffic significantly, and allow people and vehicles related to the Olympics to move more efficiently that day, in addition to making it easier to implement security plans.

The government is considering a few options:

  • Make July 24, 2020 a public holiday, but not to make it an annual holiday
  • Move the public holiday held on the second Monday of October to July 24 (No!)
  • Move the public holidays of either Mountain Day (August 11) or Marine Day (third Monday of July) to July 24.
  • Create an additional annual public holiday on July 24 (That would get my vote!)

Japan has a reputation for being a workaholic culture, with the perception that people tend to log long hours at the office. In some companies and in certain departments, that is certainly the case. To the credit of the Japan press, they call out the worst companies (ブラック企業 burakku kigyō) for their culture of ridiculously long hours. And if you work in HR in Japan like I do, then you know that many companies have vacation utilization rates of 50% or less, ie: if you have 20 days of leave, you take only 10 days or less that year.

National Holidays in Japan

But the truth of the matter is, as residents here know, Japan has a high number of public holidays – officially 16 – more if you count the unofficial days off companies give their employees after New Years. As I understand it, only countries like India, China, Hong Kong, Colombia and the Philippines have more.

Because there are so many holidays, many clumped together so that Japanese can take as long as a week off twice in a year, many Japanese feel they can’t use up all their vacation days even if they wanted to. When I moved from Tokyo to Seattle, I felt this difference viscerally, shocked at how few public holidays there were in the US compared to Japan.

Japan is a public holiday paradise, and I hope that the government chooses to make July 24 a new and permanent holiday.

But please don’t touch my Health and Sports Day in October. It’s my special day.

Abdul Khaliq and Milkha Singh
Milkha Singh (right) barely edging out Abdul Khaliq in the 200-meter finals of the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo.

He arrived at Haneda Airport in May of 1958, camera bulbs popping and microphones thrust towards him. He was driven to The Dai-ichi Hotel escorted by police on motorcycles, greeted by fans asking for autographs.

Having recently broken the Asian speed records in both the 400 meters and 200 meters, Milkha Singh was a sports hero throughout Asia, and was in Tokyo to compete in the 1958 Asian Games.

Eyes bleary and bloodshot from a long flight from Calcutta, India, Singh still was amazed when he arrived in Japan, as he described in his autobiography, The Race of My LIfe. “I was thrilled to have been given a chance to visit Japan, a country I admired for the tenacious way they had rehabilitated themselves after the devastation wrought by the Second World War. When we landed at Tokyo Airport, our eyes were dazzled by the brightness of the multicolored lights. The puddles of water that had collected after a recent shower glowed with the reflection of the lights as well.”

It was at these Asian Games where Singh established his famous rivalry with Pakistani, Abdul Khaliq, the fastest 100-meter sprinter in Asia at the time. According to Singh, when Singh was first introduced to Khaliq at the hotel, with a friendly warning to watch out for Singh in the 200 meters, “Khaliq shot back, ‘I have met and run races with many a Tom, Dick and Harry like him. They are no match for me.”

On Day 2 of the Asian Games, Singh was favored to win the 400-meter race, which he did fairly handily. His time of 46.6 seconds was an Asian record, which the Japanese crowd greeted with an eruption of cheers. “I felt my hair stand on end and a shiver of delight ran through me,” he wrote. And when he saw the Indian flag rise high, he wrote that “it was the most stirring moment in my life and I was filled with great patriotic fervour seeing the Tricolor fluttering in the open blue sky.”

But his defining moment of truth was still to come.

The 200-meter competition was held the next day. Khaliq of Pakistan had won the 100-meter finals. Singh of India had won the 400-meter finals. Thus, bragging rights for fastest man in Asia would be determined in Asian Games 200-meter finals.

After the starting gun was fired, and the six sprinters made their way up the straightaway, Khaliq and Singh were essentially neck and neck at the 100-meter mark. With Singh on the innermost lane and Khaliq a couple of lanes to Singh’s right, they both knew it was going to be a fight to the finish.

Despite focusing on our running, we were each aware of the other’s progress and were pushing ourselves and our utmost limits. It was fast, it was furious, it was neck-to-neck. There was high drama. About three or four yards from the finishing line, I pulled a muscle on my right leg. Then my legs got entangled and I tripped and tumbled over the finishing line. At that very moment, Khaliq breasted the tape too.

Milkha Singh tumbling over finish line at Tokyo Asian Games from The Race of My Life
From Singh’s autobiography, The Race of My Life.

It took about 30 minutes for the judges to analyze the photographs taken at the finish line from multiple angles. In the end, the judges determined Singh the victor. “I was now Asia’s best athlete!”

Japan leveraged these 1958 Games, showing off its new National Stadium and its ability to run a major international sports competition. The next year, Tokyo was selected to host the 1964 Summer Olympics. Singh would go on to take gold at the 400 meters at the Commonweatlh Games in London, and earn the moniker, The Flying Sikh, and become a favorite to be the first Asian to win a gold in track at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

In the early 1960s, Milkha Singh, along with C. K. Yang emerged as the great Asian hopes in athletics.

Milkha Singh heros welcome from The Race of My Life
Milkha Singh returns from Tokyo to India, from The Race of My Life
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Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians

“Please send me many U.S.A. artifacts which I can use to trade with the Russians, Pols, etc. Emblems are especially desirable.”

So wrote Ted (Theo) Mittet to his family on October 4, 6 days prior to the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In addition to transforming into mini-United Nations, Olympic Villages become a mini-bartering economies where the currency of trade were pins, shoes, patches, shirts and hats.

As NBA All-Star and member of gold-medal winning USA men’s basketball team, Jeff Mullins, said, the most targeted American item were the cowboy hats the men received as part of their team kit.

USSR crew shirt 1964_Mittet

Mittet, a bronze-medal winning member of a four-person rowing crew, had already given away his hat as you can see in the top photo, but he was still very active in the market. And for Americans, trading with the unknown and mysterious communists had a high level of cool cachet. As you can see, Mittet traded with fellow rowers from Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Cuban crew shirt 1964_Mittet

Another very unique rowing jersey is from the German team. During the Cold War, the IOC got the East and West German Olympic Committees and governments to agree to a united German team from 1956 to 1964. As explained here, not only did the teams agree to using Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as their national anthem, and an altered version of the East German black, red and gold striped flag with the Olympic rings in white placed in the middle red stripe.

Unified Germany crew shirt 1964_Mittet

This is where I need help. What is the nationality of the athlete Mittet traded with to get this red rowing jersey?

Unknown crew shirt 1964_Mittet

running in heat

Imagine it’s Sunday, August 9, 2020, the final day of the Tokyo Olympics. The marathon has started, tens of thousands of people are lining the route, and the morning sun is radiating a furnace room of heat.

On August 9 this year (2017), the temperature hit a high of 37 degrees Celsius, or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot man! And potentially dangerous for runners, as well as spectators. According to Makoto Yokohari, a professor of city planning at the University of Tokyo, in August the temperature at the location of the national stadium in Tokyo gets to 30 degrees at 7:30 am, and rises to the mid 30s in Asakusa, the mid-way point of the 2020 marathon. Yokohara adds in this article that much of the route, especially around the Imperial Palace, is not under shade.

Runner’s WorldFor runners, the fastest times often come in cool weather, in a range of 4.5 °C (40 °F) to about 13 °C (55°F), according to this analysis from Runner’s World. But when you run a marathon in hot weather, your body will rebel. According to this article from Scientific America, marathoners need blood to go in two directions at the same time – to your muscles to deliver oxygen and keep your muscles pumping, and to your skin so that your body can cool down. When it’s really hot, unfortunately, the blood that goes to the muscles that are getting a work out, gets even hotter, and the blood that gets to the surface doesn’t cool down. You sweat more, you dehydrate, and your body reacts with heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or even heatstroke.

The mother of all heat related illnesses. Your body temperature rises above 105 degrees F and it becomes a life-threatening situation. Most often, heatstroke results from untreated heat exhaustion, although it’s very possible for heatstroke to come about with no signs of heat exhaustion. Heatstroke is characterized by extreme fatigue and weakness, confusion and odd behavior, disorientation and finally unconsciousness. Your body’s regulatory system completely shuts down at this point, sweating ceases, and your skin becomes hot and dry. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Convulsions and seizures can occur as your brain begins to shut down; coma and death are possible in the worst situations. GET OUT OF THE HEAT IMMEDIATELY! Seek medical attention, get in the shade, drink water, etc anything to get cooled down! You do NOT want to get to this point.

running in heat 2

For us pedestrians, succumbing to the heat is commonplace in August, according to Akio Hoshi, a professor of health science at Toin University of Yokohama. “The number of people transported by ambulance due to heatstroke or heat exhaustion has peaked in early August in recent years. So the Tokyo Olympics fall in the period with the highest risk,” Hoshi said.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October, and the weather was primarily wet and cold….preferable conditions to the marathoners of 2020.

White House Invitation Card 2
Official Invitation to the White House for American Olympic medalists

He was invited by the Mayor to a celebration for Seattle Olympians on November 2, 1964. He was also invited to the White House by President Lyndon Johnson for a luncheon honoring American Olympic medalists on December 1, 1964.

But Ted (Theo) Mittet, in his mind, had bigger and better things to do – like travel throughout Japan: Yokohama, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Beppu, Nagasaki, Niihama and Nara. The 22-year-old American rower from Seattle, Washington had helped a crew of four take the bronze medal in the rowing fours-without (which means four rowers without a coxswain). And while most of his teammates returned to the United States for parades and celebratory dinners, Mittet decided that hitchhiking and taking the train through Japan would be more fun. And based on the numerous letters exchanged between young Mittet and the Japanese he met along the way, all parties were better for that decision.

Thank you ever so much for your nice letter. It is more than you could imagine how happy I was to read your letter. I am glad to know that you stayed and travelled in Japan for two months after the Olympic Games were over. It is a wonderful and happy experience for me to have worked for the Tokyo Olympics, and we talk very often about the pleasant days during the Games. Since that time I have become much more interested in English, and I attend the English conversation classes once a week. Though I try my best it is still very hard for me to master it. Is there any idea or suggestion to learn it faster? – Hiroko Sho, a volunteer from Tokyo stationed at the offices of the US Olympic Team.

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Ted Mittet surrendering his American team’s cowboy hat, gifted by President Johnson to the male Olympians

But more significantly, Mittet inspired people to dream of being a part of a bigger world.

When Mittet went to Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture, a place not many foreigners ventured to in the 1960s, he was invited to a high school to meet the students, three of whom screwed up the courage and effort to write to him. One was Kayoko Kurita, who wrote to Mittet of her dream.

You may be surprised to receive this letter from me but I met you in Matsuyama and spoke in English with you. Do you remember me? You gave me your name and address I was happy to receive it. You said you attend WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in Seattle. I would like to be your pen pal, and would enjoy corresponding with you if you don’t mind. I hope we will become good pen pals.

And my dream is, ……………, but it isn’t come true, but I’ll tell you. I would like to study abroad in your country especially WASHINGTON or Indiana or Kentucky or there is no Japanese there. Your university is very good and very big excellent university, but I would like to go to High School or Junior in America, so I’m looking for a sponsor for me. But it’s very difficult to find. I wish I will.

Mittet met a university student from Osaka in Kyoto named Takanao Dojima, who volunteered to take Mittet on a tour of Kyoto’s most famous temples, Kinkakuji and Ryuanji. Dojima wrote Mittet in a letter the following year, saying “Probably nothing is more enjoyable than travelling. I want to go to America as well as you visited to Japan. But I haven’t money, I can’t to visit America.”

A Sophia University student and interpreter for the BBC during the Olympics, Masako Kajiki, possessed more advanced English skills than the average Japanese, and appeared to have the financial means to travel abroad. She wrote in mid-November, 1964 to Mittet of her role as Shylock’s daughter in an upcoming production of The Merchant of Venice, and her plans to travel to the United States.

Listening to various talks from my parents who have just come back from the States after three months’ travel in Europe and the States, I have long wanted to go to your country next summer session. I’m looking forward to visiting your country, though it’ll be only for 10 weeks. Seeing is believing.

Three months later, Kajiki was approaching her departure date for the United States. Kajiki had already sent her entire, very detailed itinerary that would take her from Haneda to Honolulu, and throughout the mainland – LA, Las Vegas, Dallas, Knoxville, DC, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit, Chicago, New York, just to name a few in her nearly three-month cross-country adventure. In her letter, she is clearly conscious of her own accountability as teacher of things Japanese. For a young Japanese woman in the Sixties, she has a stronger and clearer point of view on America and Japan than the average Japanese. But in the end, she cannot contain the excitement of her ultimate goal – to see America for the first time, and Mr. Theodore Mittet again.

 

Mayor's Invitation
Official Invitation to a celebration for Olympians in Seattle, Washington, also turned down by Mittet.

 

I’m afraid, however, that after you have made the railway journey from Osaka to Tokyo, you’ll remember not only the ugliness of those cities, as seen from the train, but also the succession of advertisement billboards that so often interfered with your view of the enchanting countryside along the route. As you know Japan is surely losing our own tradition that our ancestors made unique one after they assimilated Oriental civilization and digested it. We have been, however, striving to keep up with American and European country and rebuild Japan what it is from a heap of ashes.

Without your country’s support, our country – indeed like many other countries such as Great Britain and France – would not have been able to regain the present strength in such a brief span of time. You can imagine then how anxiously I’m waiting for visiting the States. May 29th seems the longer in coming, because you are waiting for me!!

And then there was Hirokazu Okugawa, a student at the Department of Architecture at Kyoto University. Mittet was also a student of architecture at the University of Washington, and was introduced to a professor at Kyoto University named Dr. Nakamura. Okugawa was a student of Nakamura’s and they both sought a way to get Okugawa to the United States. In an initial letter to Mittet in mid-December 1964, Okugawa writes, “I would like to go to University of Washington next September, and I would like to study architecture more there. And Dr. Nakamura hopes that I study it there, and that I shall become an eminent architect. Would you introduce to your professor?”

So full of hope, Okugawa would realize that it wouldn’t be so easy to become a student in the US. Two months later, Okugawa has the name of the dean of the school of architecture at the University of Washington, and intends to state his case. But soon after, he received a letter from Mittet – now his unofficial career advisor at U of W, that dampens his spirits:

According to your letter, there is no probability of my admission for the degree to the master. My ability of English conversation is not enough to understand the lecture in the University. I am going to study hard English conversation this year.

But Okugawa has a dream. He can see himself going to the States, studying English hard, taking on any task to show he’s worthy of being a student in the United States, and continues to explore ways forward with Mittet. By the end of February, he and Mittet have decided that Okugawa should still officially apply to the University of Washington, and Mittet has sent the application form and information on all required documentation. Okugawa acts on the instructions, presumably to extreme exactitude, only to be disappointed again:

As mentioned in my previous letter, I received an application form for an admission. And I completed its form and my works in Kyoto University, and these letters were sent to the chairman Architectural Graduate Program. And also, my report in Kyoto University and three letters of recommendation were sent there.

But I received the letter from Director of Admission in which he said “It is too late for autumn 1965”.

HOW SHALL I DO? WHAT SHALL I DO?

CAN YOU HELP ME?

I BEG FAVOURITE ATTENTION.

If I can, I would like to work in architecture office, and then I would like to study in University of Washington the next year. How shall I do in order to do so? How shall I get working visa? I will be given about $1000 and the expense of transportation.

Would you please consult with the dean about my admission? I would like to know your professor, professor Nakamura’ friend. What is his name?

Looking forward your kind letter.

There is a tinge of desperation in young Okugawa’s typewritten letter. And only a week later in early May, Okugawa seems resigned to not getting into his dream school in 1965. Mittet, who has apparently responded quickly to Okugawa’s letters, when necessary by express mail, was encouraging and understanding. And indeed, hope was not lost because Okugawa informed Mittet that an official of University of Washington’s admissions stated that Okugawa could apply for enrollment in the Fall of 1966, with the condition that he take an English certification course that November.

I have received the beautiful picture of U. W. from you. The mountain covered with snows resembles Mr. Fujki in Japan. I was so glad that I showed it to many friends of mine, and I put it on the wall of my lodging house.

By the way, I took English proficiency examination on the 1st of May at A. C. C. (American Cultural Center). Fortunately I could do excellent, and the director kindly recommended me to your University. But Mr. Johnston has written to me, and said that I must not be expecting to enroll U. W. until autumn 1966, and I must take the English Examination (TEFL) on November.

When I heard these things, I was disappointed. But, I think I can study more English and architecture at Kyoto University (master courses) until autumn 1966. And I hope we discuss architecture in letters.

Did Okugawa eventually make it to Seattle, study at the University of Washington, and become an “eminent architect”? Who knows. Dreams are not goals of certitude – although they could be glowing embers of aspiration. In the case of 1964, the Olympics fanned those embers of the Japanese. In certain cases, a spark named Ted Mittet set the fire.

Mikako Kotani and synchronized swimmers in onsen
Mikako Kotani (front) and other former Olympians perform synchronized swimming in an Oita Prefecture
One of my most treasured memories was in the Fall of 1987, sitting in a hot spring in Hokkaido, the snow falling, the steam rising, and a beer in hand.

In addition to the great food and shopping, tourists are flocking to Japan for the country side, and in particular, enjoying onsen throughout the country. Once you (some of you) get over the embarrassment of getting naked with a whole bunch of strangers, you get yourself all clean in the shower area outside the bathing areas, and then you dip your toes into the water. And yes, it’s hot!

Some of the best onsen are in Kyuushu, a large island in the Western part of Japan. And to get Japanese and non-Japanese alike to venture beyond the cosmopolitan confines of Tokyo and Osaka, the government of Oita Prefecture started a campaign to promote their onsens….using Olympians.

In typical tongue-in-cheek Japanese fashion, the promotional videos portray Japanese synchronized swimmers performing in the onsens of Oita. The athletes include Mikako Kotani, who won two bronze medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, as well as Raika Fujii, silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and bronze medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The campaign is called “shin-furo”, which is a word made up from “synchronized” and the Japanese word “furo”, which means bath.

“I hope viewers will enjoy the beautiful, thoroughly organized performance by former Olympians,” said Oita Prefecture spokesman Takahiro Miyazaki. “And at the same time, I hope people will also be attracted to Oita’s hot springs.”

Japan had a record 2.68 million visitors in Japan in July, well on its way to topping 2016’s record number of foreign tourists of 24 million, blowing past its original target of 20 million by 2020. The 2020 target has been re-set to 40 million visitors. For repeat visitors, the Oita onsens should certainly be a hot place to spring to.

Takeko Honma 1
A picture of Ted (Theo) Mittet, 2nd from left, by Takeko Honma, middle, in front of the National Gymnasium

When I first arrived in Japan in 1986, one of the most popular programs on television was “Naruhodo! The World (なるほど!ザ・ワールド),” a quiz program that showcased the beauty, excitement and uniqueness of the places around the world their reporters visited. This was entertainment, so their reporters were often loud and garish, shamelessly interacting with foreigners in goofball English, often emphasizing stereotypical or even non-representative quirks of a particular country or culture. The questions and insights of the reporters often revealed more about Japanese culture than the culture they were trying to represent.

Ted (Theo) Mittet was a 22-year-old American rower who decided to travel Japan after helping his four-without boat win the bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. As explained in Part 1, Mittet made many Japanese friends along the way, who exchanged letters with this young man from Seattle, Washington. Their questions to him said a lot about Japan at the time. Mittet wrote to his family describing the conversations he was having with Japanese all over the country.

I spent last evening with a very good Japanese friend’s family (his father speaks English, as does he) and was treated royally. Sukiyaki and tempura were served in unlimited quantities. After dinner we all discussed love and life and I am amazed at the similarity between East and West. My friend is anxious to learn about Christianity and I am anxious to learn about Buddhism. (He is studying Zen.) I certainly think that Buddhism makes more sense than Christianity. I plan to look into it a little further. – letter from Mittet to family in late October

While coming up the east side of the inland sea I stopped at the town of Niihama where I met three English teachers who asked me if I would speak at their school. I gladly accepted and as a result spent about three hours teaching English conversations to about 150 English students. The school offered me 3,000 badly needed yens, but being a true patriot I could not accept. You might say that it was my donation to the cultural exchange program. I was asked questions about the Beetles, the American date, President Johnson (damn!) and “What you think black man?” It was a wonderful experience and I gained much insight on Japanese life and thought. – letter from Mittet to family in late November

Religion, politics, race – all the things we were taught not to talk about in polite company. But many Japanese knew they had an exaggerated view of the world, and were eager to correct their perceptions. In the case of America, Mittet became their source.

Like the hundreds of others on the US Olympic squad, he got the training from the US State Department about how to conduct oneself properly in a foreign land as a representative of America. But one can argue, based on the letters he received from the many Japanese friends he made during his 2-month travels, Mittet was as much an American diplomat as those who sit in embassies around the world.

When travelling through Ashiya, a city near Kobe in Japan, Mittet met Mikio, a middle-aged man who saw the tall American in a crowded bus, and felt compelled to introduce himself. Like other Japanese energized by the influx of foreigners during the Olympics, and infused with a desire to warmly welcome them, Mikio went up to Mittet in the bus. “I remember first scene when I saw firstly you in the crowded bus,” he wrote in a letter to Mittet. “You are too tall, so you put your head on the bus ceiling. Then I felt too funny. (Excuse me.) But that time, I felt much friendly to you.”

Amazingly, not only did Mikio introduce himself, he invited Mittet to stay at his and his wife’s Eiko’s home overnight, where they ate and talked. But in the letter, Mikio admitted that he was still very curious, his English capability failing him in attempts to ask important questions:

It was first experience for me that I gave a lodge to a foreigner. I doubt I could make a full hospitality to you? It’s most sorry I could speak English very little. If I could speak it more fluently, I wished to ask about America things, and to tell and discuss about several problems of the war, current events and American colored man through all night. And about your life experience and philosophy.

Eiko and Mikio 1
Eiko and Mikio

Even more remarkably, Mikio found Mittet so earnest and trustworthy that he admitted to changing what he felt were prejudicial views of Americans.

I had had a prejudice for American through a few American I know, soldiers and seamen. I have thought American are a spending, war-like, uncultural and bright and cheerful nation. (Excuse me) However general Japanese people don’t think so as me.

I see and tell you, I found mistake. You are wonderful man with wit and culture. If there are many people as you in America, American will develop more and more in future. I hope you become young face of America. My dear Eiko in the room you slept, talk about memory of you.