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.)

I don’t enjoy running. My preference is to read my kindle while exercising on an elliptical machine. But on the weekends, I will head out into the neighborhood, often climbing the stairs of road overpasses, and running through the residential area I live in.

But now I run with an Apple Watch, and even more conveniently with Apple Airpods.

I bought the Nike Apple Watch opportunistically in a recent visit to Portland where the lack of a sales tax makes big purchases attractive. My main objective was to upgrade on my Fitbit.

airpodsWhile the Apple Watch is cool, as all Apple products tend to be, the jury is still out regarding its utility as an exercise measurement tool. I’ve recently realized that not only does the Apple Watch lack the measurement tool that the Fitbit has to measure stairs climbed, it also does not automatically measure sleep time and patterns.

That’s a disappointment.

The revelation has been the Airpods! First, how does a one-size-fit-all headset stay in any person’s ears, I have no idea. But I can run and jump and the Airpods stay in place (although I sometimes feel better pushing them in on occasion).

Running without wires has been a revelation. With the Air Buds connecting to the Apple Watch via bluetooth, I can run relatively unencumbered without wires. For me, it was one of those nagging issues that, once removed, feels liberating.

Voskhod_1_004

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were not the only news on October 13 and 14. The Soviet Union’s rocket, The Voskhod, orbited the earth 15 times from October 12-13 – the first spaceship to send more than one person into space. In a recorded conversation between Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and mission commander, Valdimir Komarov, Khrushchev swelled with pride, while Komarov spoke with modest confidence of the need to complete the mission.

What is fascinating to me was the constant reference to the sound quality. In the 14 exchanges, 10 had references to the sound. Here are the last three exchanges of this very long-distance conversation, as published in this October 13 New York Times article:

KHRUSHCHEV: I could hear you wonderfully, absolutely wonderfully. Well, I wish you, dear comrades and friends, good luck in the cosmos. The most important wish is for a happy landing on earth.

COLONEL KOMAROV: Thank you very much, Nikita Sergeievich, we could hear you excellently as if we are talking in Moscow on a normal telephone. We understood you. Everything is in order here.

KHRUSHCHEV: I could hear you quite well. Just as everything is in order at this very minute I hope everything is in order at this very last minute of your flight. The people here are triumphantly excited and are proud of you. We are waiting here for you on earth. Good-by.

Competition between the Soviet Union and the United States was so intense in the early 1960s that the quality of the video and audio transmissions from space were scrutinized closely, a mini-technology Olympics of sorts. According to Kyodo-Reuters, they noted that “Western observers” were impressed with the video transmission, remarking that “the quality of the space TV relay was higher than when pictures were relayed to earth from American spaceman Leroy Gordon Cooper’s ship Faith 7 in May 1963.” However, “the quality of the recording was poor and individual speakers could not be distinguished….”

Voskhod Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, Vladimir Komarov
Voskhod Konstantin Feoktistov, Boris Yegorov, Vladimir Komarov

Were the Soviet leaders and cosmonauts lying about how clearly they heard each other? Were the reports by “Western observers” an exaggeration? Who knows. Cold War trash talking was de rigeur in the sixties.

At any rate, the achievements of the Voskhod appeared to be advantage Russia. After all, NASA did not send a two-man crew into space until five months later. This AP report on October 13 quoted a British newspaper, The Guardian, as stating:

It now seems certain the Russians will get to the moon before the Americans….the (Soviet) crew….will probably knew enough about the behavior of the human body in a weightless condition (and perhaps also in an artificial atmosphere containing helium instead of nitrogen) to predict something approaching certainty a date when prolonged space travel will be feasible. All men in all countries will accept the Russian’s achievements for what they are – a triumph not just for Communists but for questing mankind.

Another third party agreed that the Soviets may have taken the lead in the space race, but they added concern with the competition. The only nation to be devastated by the most technologically advanced weaponry of its time, the atomic bomb, the editors of The Japan Times explained in an October 14 opinion piece that continued technological one-upmanship between the two superpowers could eventually lead to wars among the stars.

Among the objectives of the Voskhod’s flight mentioned by Tass is the carrying out of an extended medico-biological research in the conditions of a long flight. We may perhaps take it for granted that Soviet Russia has by no means given up the idea of placing a man on the moon. Recently, this has been regarded as an American ambition rather than a Soviet one, and it may be that the Russians are more eager to place in orbit around the earth a space laboratory or even an orbital military station. We must wait the denouement – which may not be long in coming.

It is a sad reflection that in an age in which mankind has achieved the capacity to investigate outer space that we should have to think of the possible military use of the capabilities which are now being constantly added to, but we must accept the grim facts of our situation. There are still serious tensions on earth, and if these should ever burst into conflict we may be sure an effort would be made to use outer space for military purposes. While this possibility exits, the two great nations – the United States and Soviet Russia – feel the need to watch closely each other’s progress in space, if for no other reason.

The Americans and Soviets did not need added incentive to beat each other at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And yet, the achievements of the Voskhod probably put a little spring into the steps of the Russians. At least for a few days. Only three days after the Voskhod successfully landed, leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, the man who famously said to the United States “We will bury you,” was unexpectedly removed from power.

A clip from the film, The Right Stuff: a glimpse of the American sense of urgency in the space race of the 1960s.

Voskhod Japan Times headline

Yoshinobu Miyake was the first Japanese to win a gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But that wasn’t good enough to secure the biggest headline on the front page of The Japan Times on Tuesday, October 13, 1964.

Instead, the full-page headline blared: “Soviets Orbit Three-Man Spaceship”.

On Monday, October 12, the rocket ship, Voskhod, blasted off from a town named “Baikonur” in the southern part of the then-Soviet Union, a town near the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. The ship held three cosmonauts: command pilot Vladimir Komarov, engineer Konstantin Feoktistov, and medical doctor Boris Yegorov.

The launch was 10:30 am Moscow time, which, with the six-hour time difference, was 4:30 pm Tokyo time. About three hours later, in the early evening, Voskhod transmitted a message to the world, as the second day of competition at the Tokyo Olympics was coming to a close:

Voskhod (l to r) Konstantin Feoktistov, Vladimir Komarov,Boris Yegorov.
Konstantin Feoktistov, Vladimir Komarov, Boris Yegorov.

Flying over Tokyo we convey ardent greetings to the youth of the world participating in the 18th Olympic Games which are called upon to play a big role in strengthening the cooperation and mutual understanding of sportsmen of all continents, in the rapprochement of peoples, and is consolidating the cause of peace.

Perhaps as a dig to their American competitors in the Olympic Village, Soviet officials and athletes there were reported to take the news in stride, according to the Yomiuri. “I knew it was coming off two weeks ago, before I left Moscow,” one Soviet sports official said. “It’s nothing special any more. We’re doing these things all the time,” a Soviet athlete commented.

And yet, this was not just geo-political gamesmanship, sending a ship into orbit during the biggest international event in the world. The Voskhod was a significant advancement in space travel, as it was the first space flight to:

  • send more than one person into space
  • not require the spacemen to wear spacesuits (in fact, they appeared to the press to be wearing overalls, or “ordinary clothes”)
  • send an engineer or a medical doctor into space
  • Climb as high as 336 kilometers from the earth’s surface.

The Voskhod, “Sunrise” in English, orbited the earth 15 times. As it took 90 minutes for the ship to orbit once, the entire time in space was close to 23 hours. During that time, the three cosmonauts were very active, conducting experiments, taking pictures, and noting observations, according to this site called RussianSpaceWeb.com.

During the mission, Komarov piloted and oriented the spacecraft in space, while Feoktistov had responsibility for observations and photography of the Earth, as well as the work with the sextant, an experiment studying the behavior of the liquid in weightlessness, monitoring and recording characteristics of newly installed ion sensors relative to the velocity vector of the spacecraft. All these responsibilities left Feoktistov little time for sleep. Still, the crew was able to fulfill a lot: cosmonauts took several hundred photos of the Earth’s surface, hurricanes, clouds and ice sheets, sunsets and sunrises, the Sun and the horizon. The crew was able to discern several layers of the atmosphere with different levels of brightness, which could help to provide more accurate angular elevation of stars over the horizon, if it would be necessary to determine the ship’s exact position in space. In the meantime, Yegorov conducted his medical studies. To the surprise of his crew mates, Yegorov succeeded with most of his program of taking blood samples, measuring pressure and pulse.

After the 15th orbit, Voskhod entered the earth’s atmosphere and returned safely, landing in a field on a state farm. Different from landings by American spaceships, which send the returning capsules splashing down into the ocean, the Soviet Union brings them back to terra firma. Figuring out soft landings are thus an imperative, and it appears that Soviet scientists and engineers had made advancements in braking methods, employing parachutes and applying retro-rockets just before hitting the surface.

So on the third day of competition the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, “Sunrise” again was the biggest headline in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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

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

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

Nihonbashi circa 1922
Nihonbashi circa 1922

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Ribbon Sports ad marketing Onitsuka Tiger sneakers

It’s the end of 1969. Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) is selling Tigers well enough that he, the CEO, Phil Knight, decides to finally become a full-time employee of his own company. BRS has had a fruitful relationship with Japanese sneaker manufacturer, Onitsuka Tiger. The shoe that BRS co-founder, Bill Bowerman, designed – The Cortez – became a dominant running shoe in the run-up to the 1972 Munich Olympics, taking advantage of a running and jogging boom in America.

In the last month of the last year of the tumultuous 1960s, Knight makes his annual trip to Kobe, Japan, to meet the founder and head of Onitsuka Tiger, and later the global brand Asics, Kihachiro Onitsuka. They renew their vows by signing a three-year contract, giving Blue Ribbon Sports rights to market Onitsuka Tigers in the United States, with the condition that BRS sells Tigers exclusively.

The problem for BRS – while they enjoyed the success of selling Tiger shoes, they realized that their contract limited their business range to distributorship, and thus created an increasingly uncomfortable level of dependency on a single manufacturer of sneakers.

The problem for Onitsuka – while they were able to breach the huge American market via BRS, they realized that every year they continued to market in the US through this relatively small and inexperienced player, they were likely leaving millions of dollars on the table unless they expanded the number of distributors in the American market.

Onitsuka was apparently hearing from other American shoe distributors that the potential for US growth was huge, so he realized he had to push harder into the international markets, particularly the US. With that understanding, he hired an aggressive international sales director, Shoji Kitami, to realize his “Onitsuka of the World” strategy, according to Kenny Moore, author of the book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. So despite the three-year agreement of exclusivity, midway through, Kitami met with as many as 18 other shoe distributors in America.Bill Bowerman and the Boys of Oregon cover

Knight was concerned that Kitami’s actions were going to lead to a contractual dispute, but Kitami viewed the exclusive nature of their agreement as shackles. Acoording to Moore, as discussions between Knight and Kitami became more contentious, Kitami suggested that Onitsuka Tiger and Blue Ribbon Sports form a joint venture, with Onitsuka holding a 51-percent share of the company.

This was a moment of truth. According to Moore, “the choice was between surrendering the company to Onitsuka or making their own shoes.” And when they thought about it, they were liking less and less their submissive role as middle man. Bowerman had designed a successful shoe – the Cortez – that they could not get manufactured by other companies. And ironically, while Kitani was saying that they need to expand the number of distributors in American to sell more shoes, Knight and Bowerman would scratch their heads since Onitsuka was regularly guilty of not manufacturing sneakers fast enough to meet demand. BRS would put in an order and Onitsuka would routinely export fewer shoes than ordered. How were they going to meet the other distributors’ demands if they couldn’t even meet the demands of their sole distributor?

Knight and Bowerman realized they needed to prepare for a break up with Onitsuka. Soliciting the help of a large Japanese trading company – Nissho Iwai – BRS were able to find another shoe manufacturer as well as secure financing for the initial manufacture of new BRS branded shoes, including 6,000 pairs of The Cortez, which Kihachiro Onitsuka believed to be their own design. This was the chance they needed.

As Moore quoted Knight as saying, “we have them right where we want them. Onitsuka is too slow to react to product development ideas we give them. They never ship what we order. And they’d probably yank the distributorship at the end of the contract in 1972 anyway. What we need is a brand we can control, because we have everything else, the shoes, the top runners. This is the best thing that could ever happen to us.”

Original 1971 Swoosh Design Nike

The logo design was set to grace the new sneaker. Barbara Smit claims in her book, Sneaker Wars, that a design student was paid $35 when he presented the “inverted comma” design, which later was dubbed, The Swoosh. Knight wanted to call the new brand, Dimension 6. As the deadline for producing the sneaker boxes approached, they still did not have a brand name, other than Dimension 6. That is until Jeff Johnson, Nike’s first full-time employee, woke up with an image of Greek goddess of victory in his head. So with a little forceful nudging under the gun of a production deadline, Knight reluctantly agreed to the name, Nike. After all, it was a short name, one that easily fit on a shoe box.

So in the winter of 1971, the Nike brand was born.

Kevin Synder's gold medal
This photo provided by Kevin Snyder show Kyle Snyder’s damaged gold metal from the 2016 Rio Olympics on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Maryland.

The candidate team that submitted Rio’s bid for the 2016 Olympics were praised for their emphasis on sustainability – how they would revitalize their down-and-out urban areas, clean up their polluted waters, and build needed public transportation systems. They even promised to use recycled metals to build the gold, silver and bronze Olympic and Paralympic medals.

Unfortunately, many of those promises to make 2016 the Sustainability Olympics have not been kept. And as for the medals from the Rio Olympics, well, they are proving to be not so sustainable.

As I wrote in an August 2016 post, the medals were formed with mercury-free gold, and recycled silver and bronze. Even the ribbons were produced from recycled plastic bottles. According to this article, the medal manufacturer employed 80 people to handcraft the medals, who spent 48 hours making each one.

Unfortunately, recipients of the medals have begun to understand that all that gold does not glitter. You can see American wrestler Kevin Snyder‘s gold medal in the picture, which has a commonly reported issue – flaking and discoloring of the medal’s varnish. Apparently when a medal is dropped or rubbed up against other objects, the surface has been known to flake, particularly the silver medals. It has also been reported that the cover of medals have fallen off, but I am yet to see photographic evidence of that.

A spokesman for Rio2016 has explained that, perhaps, the medals were built for Brazilian heat. “We’re seeing problems with the covering on between six or seven percent of the medals, and it seems to be to do with the difference in temperatures,” Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said, according to this NBC Sports report.

The good thing is that the medal factory is back in business as the Rio2016 organizers are promising to replace the medals. But American Kerri Walsh-Jennings, who won bronze in beach volleyball to complement her three golds from previous Olympics, has grown attached to her flaking bronze medal.

“They’ve offered to replace them. I’m not sure if I want to swap it out,” Walsh-Jennings told The Associated Press, adding the reason was “100 per cent sentimental.”