opening ceremonies 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games
Opening ceremonies 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games

The Olympics could be back in Japan in 2026.

Eight years after the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo in 1964, the Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo. It’s possible that Sapporo could become the host again of the Winter Olympics, this time only 6 years after the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Sapporo hosted the 8th Asian Winter Games from February 17 to 24 in 2017, and by many accounts, was a major success. A record 32 nations, and over 1,200 athletes attended the nine-day Games. And despite the cloud of doping over every major sporting championship, the OCA’s Medical Committee and Anti-Doping Commission gave the Asian Winter Games a huge stamp of approval – no positive drug tests.

2017 Asian Winter Games logo“The Medical Committee and Anti-Doping Commission of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) is delighted to announce the absence of any adverse analytical findings for doping during the recent 8th Sapporo Asian Winter Games,” Tan Sri Dr. Jegathesan, chairman of the OCA Medical Committee and Anti-Doping Commission, said in a statement. “This allows the Games to earn the accolade ‘Clean Games’. All lab reports were negative,” he confirmed.

IOC President, Thomas Bach, also welcomes a bid from Sapporo, and was not concerned that a Sapporo selection would mean a succession of Olympics in Asia (ie: 2018 in PyeongChang, Korea, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan, and 2022 in Beijing, China).

“We have always in the IOC a kind of informal rotation of Olympic host cities, but we also have to see in the past this was very much Europe-centered. And now with the real globalization of the world, the growing importance of Asia, not only in sport but in all areas of life, I think it is more or less normal that we have more Olympic Games taking place in Asia.”

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Sakura-machi Park, Koganei_April 2004

Spring is here.

In Tokyo, you know because wherever you go, you are blessed by the blossom.

Unfortunately, the IOC does not entertain the idea of the Spring Olympics, so the image of youthful athletes running through a flurry of falling blossom petals will have to await a fictionalized Hollywood vision.

 

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Naka-Meguro Station_March, 2014

 

The Summer Games are almost always held in July or August, probably because by now that is a period most other major sporting organizations would avoid for a meet or a championship. Summer Games have been held in October to avoid typhoons (Tokyo) and the heat (Mexico City), and they have been held in November and December (Melbourne) because it is summer down under in those months.

But the very first modern Olympic Games, in Athens Greece, were held in the Spring. The first re-boot of the Games were played from April 6 to 15, 1896. So today is the 121st anniversary of the start of the first Olympic Games.

Sakura Kinshicho Park
Kinshicho Park_April 2017

And just as Spring is the best time to visit Greece, you can say the same for Japan. Not only for the incredible food. But also for the eye candy that is the cherry blossom tree. I’ve been in Japan for over 18 years – I never get tired of staring out into a sea of pale pink, or strolling by a lone cherry tree. Even the very first budding of flower on a cool March morning brings delight and warmth.

The cherry blossom, and its representations of youth and beauty, accentuated by its relatively fleeting existence, is an icon of Japan, so much so that it was a powerful emblem in Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics.

So if you want to see Japan at its best, come during the cherry blossom season.

sakura blossom

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Airbnb in Hokkaido
Airbnb listings for Hokkaido, Japan

The Silicon Valley home-sharing accommodation business has faced first-mover angst. While customers seeking cheaper, more varied accommodations are using Airbnb more and more, the hotel industry in particular is pushing back, lobbying local governments to put a stop to these unregulated competitors.

Even in San Francisco, its home base, Airbnb faces pressure from the government to prove that the Airbnb hosts are indeed residences of the rooms they rent out, not companies that own various condos or houses and rent out rooms like hotels.

But Airbnb, while it has faced push back from authorities, have just been given a very bright green light in Japan. On Friday, March 10, the cabinet of Prime Minister of Shinzo Abe “approved rules…limiting home-sharing by private citizens to 180 days a year,” according to The Japan Times. Prior to this, hosting a room in your home to rent was essentially illegal in Japan.

The impact will be significant. According to this report, hotel vacancies in Tokyo are currently limited, as occupancy rates in recent years have consistently been over 80%, which has allowed the average daily rate (ADR) to climb significantly. With foreign tourist numbers expected to climb, and with the inevitable spikes in demand for hotel rooms for the World Rugby Cup scheduled for Tokyo in 2019 and the Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in 2020, there is continued fear of angry visitors from outside Tokyo and Japan screaming for hotel rooms, certainly with hopes of less expensive options.

Japan Hotel Performance 2007 to 2015

But also significantly, this is an opportunity to expand the number of accommodations available to travelers in the more remote parts of Japan where corporations are reluctant to invest, as well as put tourist money into the pockets of rural folks whose towns have been hollowed out by loss of youth, and a lack of energy to continue with the labor intensive agricultural business.

Japan hand, Terrie Lloyd, believes Airbnb Japan is going to grow the number of room listings significantly thanks to this law, which is expected to be passed easily in the not so distant future. And he believes the impact will be great:

  • People owning homes in areas under served by hotels (pick almost any countryside area in Japan) will now be able to step into the breech and offer accommodation with little/no development cost. This will significantly increase the flow of tourists out to more remote areas, which of course will be a shot in the arm for local economies.
  • 180 days a year means that the average household out in the countryside could make up to JPY900,000 or so a year (JPY5,000 average per night) that would have been impossible otherwise – and with very little outlay – thus offering a low barrier to entry per household.
  • There will be a regional property boom, at least in those areas which have visually attractive tourist assets, and this will encourage other regions who haven’t preserved their traditions to do more conservation work to pull visitors.
  • There will be a rebuilding boom, as relatives of hospitalized elderly and the recently deceased start to realize that instead of allowing a home to decay into a rotting ruin, it can be restored and rented out to local and foreign tourists.
  • There will be a surge in demand for rental cars, as the proximity of accommodation to the train station no longer determines where you want to travel.
  • There will be a surge in demand for services to maintain rooms and to look after foreign guests.

When I saw the CEO of Airbnb give a talk last year, I remember him waxing poetic about the possibilities for the graying countryside of Japan, where curious foreigners meet elderly entrepreneurs who gain a financial reward, and perhaps a personal reward in opening their homes up to the world.

Samurai Surfing

My friends know this: I’m addicted to Nissin Cup Ramen.

There’s something about the aroma after I’ve waited that obligatory 3-minutes for the hot water to soften the noodles and bind the various spices and ingredients in a flavor that instantly gratifies me. This is not a universal addiction to Cup Noodle. It has to be made in Japan – the ones manufactured elsewhere are probably catering to local tastes, and to my palate, pale in comparison.

I don’t believe they manufacture the King Size version anymore, but if they did, I’d buy.

Nissin Cup Ramen also tends to have the coolest commercials. One released in November, 2016 is not only super fun, it is appealing to the same demographic the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are trying to appeal to. In a somewhat tenuous take on The Seven Samurai, Nissin created a commercial that features athletes decked out in traditional armour that the West now associate with the warrior class known as the samurai.

And the seven featured in this commercial are magnificent! They surf, they skateboard, they pogo-stick over street vendors, they spin on their bikes, do acrobatic twists on skis to the amazement of the bewildered crows around them.

Over the decades, the IOC has worked with host countries to appeal to the youth, and ensure a market for their product for years to come. The X-Games, an ESPN-sponsored event featuring extreme sports, drove up the popularity of skateboarding and freestyle motocross. Thanks to growing popularity of these youth-driven activities, snowboarding became an Olympic sport in 1998, while BMX cycling debuted at the 2008 Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 will feature a bevy of new competitions that the organizers hope will build a new generation of Olympic fans, including surfing, skateboarding, and sports climbing.

Samura bike tricks

Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

For the hottest game on ice, the players and owners have entered into a cold war of sorts. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the press that no meetings have been arranged with the International Olympic Committee regarding the possibility of NHL players competing in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018.

The NHL schedule and the Winter Olympics schedule overlap every four years. In order to convince he NHL to release its players in the middle of the NHL hockey season, the IOC agreed to pay for the insurance, travel and accommodation of these professional hockey players. The insurance is a key component because it protects the NHL teams against an injury to a star player who could impact team success and/or team revenue for years to come. For the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the IOC sent some USD7 million to the NHL, something the IOC does not do for other sports leagues. The IOC has done so for the past five Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but this year the IOC announced they would not pay the NHL for players to come.

Bettman stated that without IOC financial support, it’s unlikely the owners would support. “We don’t make money going [to the Olympics]. I can’t imagine the NHL owners are going to pay for the privilege of shutting down for 17 days. I just don’t see that.”

However, the star players in the NHL view the Winter Olympics as a matter of prestige and pride. The very best players like Canadian Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals have said they intend to go, Ovechkin going as far to say he would go without the NHL’s permission. And as mentioned in this Ottawa Citizen article, the owners will listen to their stars.

When Alex Ovechkin said he was going to the Olympics, with or without the NHL’s blessing, it didn’t take long for Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to stand behind his star. And why wouldn’t he? Ovechkin is the face of the team. He not only helps the team win games, he puts fans in seats.

Major League Baseball stands in contrast to the NHL. Currently, the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball championship series taking place in March, 2017, has the full commitment and support of MLB. And while the major league players from big-time baseball nations of Japan, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Korea are heavily involved in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is bereft of its stars. In contrast to the NHL players, the Americans have little to no interest in participating.

Now, the World Baseball Classic is not the same at the Olympics. And when baseball returns to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely want to ensure his league’s best players are at the Summer Games. Growing the international market for baseball will be a big priority for Manfred. But he has yet to gain consensus with team owners on how to make it work for the MLB when the Olympics will take place in the middle of the 2020 MLB season. Injuries and lost revenue to lost games will certainly be in the minds of the owners.

Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

According to this Sports Illustrated article, there are two possible options to make it work: allow the season to continue without interruption, and just free up the players selected to their respective national teams, or shut down the MLB season for, say two-and-a-half weeks, like the NHL has done in the past.

The NBA, on the other, other hand, has had the distinct advantage of holding a primarily Fall-Winter-Spring season, while the Olympics tend to fall in the summer, the basketball off season. Traditionally, the NBA has promoted its brand and players globally, and have been a model for building a global business. Their commitment to the Olympics is thus considerable. The issue has been ensuring that the richest and greatest athletes in the world stay motivated enough to train and risk injury during their time off.

The US men’s team took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and were dubbed “The Nightmare Team”. It didn’t bode well when the superstars of the league, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett begged off of the team, and Ray Allen and Jason Kidd were out with injuries.

After the team’s embarrassing finish in Athens, Team USA appointed Jerry Colangelo to take charge of team selection. His job was to persuade the NBA’s best American players that it was their duty to restore pride and glory to men’s basketball in the international arena.

Colangelo convinced such stars as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade not only to join Team USA for the 2008 Seoul Olympics, he got them to commit to playing together for three years leading up to the Olympics. Under Colangelo’s leadership and the coaching of Mike Krzyzewski, Team USA dominated at the 2008 Seoul Olympics to easily win gold. They’ve done so ever since.

Summary:

  • NHL: League and Owners not committed; Players committed
  • MLB: League committed; Owners not yet committed; American players not committed, but world players committed
  • NBA: League committed; Owners committed; Players committed

 

Muirfield Golf Club
Muirfield Golf Club

 

The oldest golf club in the world, Muirfield Golf Club, located in Scotland, the birthplace of golf, recently decided to provide women the opportunity to have equal membership with male members. It took 273 years, but as Virginia Slims once proclaimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

This change in policy came after the famed golf club was denied the chance to host the British Open golf championship because of its membership rules. Other clubs like R&A, The Royal St George’s and Royal Troon in Scotland, Augusta National in the USA, and most recently the Royal Adelaide Golf Club in Australia have changed their membership policies to allow for full membership to women.

But the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, not far from Tokyo, has stuck to its guns despite significant pressure to offer equal membership rights to women. Currently, female members of the Kasumigaseki C. C. are not considered full members, and are not allowed to play on Sundays. Ordinarily, this particular policy would go unnoticed if not for the fact that Kasumigaseki C. C. was selected to be the Olympic venue for golf during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike fired the first salvo in January when she said she felt “very uncomfortable that women cannot become full members in the 21st century.”

More recently, International Olympic Committee Vice President, John Coates, said that “Image-wise, our position is clear. We will only go to a club that has non-discrimination.”

Coates went on to reveal that discussions with the Kasumigaseki Country Club have been positive, and that “It’s heading in the right direction for them to have a nondiscriminatory membership procedure. It would appear that we should be able to have this result by the end of June.”

So will Kasumigaseki Country Club end up par for the course, or will they shank their last drive and lose out on this golden opportunity at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

 

UPDATE: On March 20, 2017, the 15 board members of the Kasumigaseki Golf Club, all men, voted unanimously to overturn restrictions on full membership for women.

 

Next Big Pivot 2_Yuko Mitsuya
Yuko Mitsuya at The Next Big Pivot Charity Dinner 2017

 

“I’m tall, so I played volleyball. It was never a dream or a passion.”

It’s not what you’d expect to hear from an Olympian. But that’s how Yuko Mitsuya, member of the Japan woman’s volleyball team that took bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, started off her speech at a charity event on February 23, 2016.

“I didn’t really like how tall I was. Volleyball was the only way to deal with this.”

One imagines someone who succeeds at the highest levels would be filled with passion for their accomplishment. But the 177 cm tall woman from Katsuyama, Fukui, was ever humble in a talk that was inspirational. Mitsuya was speaking at an event called “The Next Big Pivot Charity Dinner 2017” in Tokyo, raising funds to provide young Japanese women with an opportunity to learn about leadership in the sports industry. Last year, five women went to New York City to participate in a program called Future Frontwomen, which gave them in-depth exposure to how the NBA is run and how sports can be managed as business.

Those five women were present to hear Mitsuya explain that the path to success is not just fueled by passion, it is one of hard work, persistence and learning. Mitsuya, currently the chairperson of the Japan Basketball Association and the former CEO of a lingerie manufacturer, explained that she made the team because she was tall, but in her early junior high school days, she wasn’t very good. She worked at it, got better, and was able to contribute.

 

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Mie Kajikawa and the Future Frontwomen

 

I wasn’t that good. I was really a problem to the team. I hated it, but this was all I could do. Over time I got better, and more confident. I realized that becoming good at something was not a matter of whether I liked it or not. It mattered whether I practiced. And I practiced every day, and learned. I tried very hard and eventually got recognized as the best junior high school women’s volleyball player in Fukui.

Her one big lesson for young women in Japan (and perhaps for anybody who desires to achieve) is that no matter how good you are, there’s always another level up. She succeeded as a volleyball player in junior high school in Fukui, but when she moved to Tokyo for high school, she realized that she still had a lot to learn.

I thought I was good, until I got to this next level. And I lost confidence. But my friends supported me and helped me recover my confidence as I improved. And that’s what’s important – always stepping up, going another level up. There is always an opportunity to rise up further. You do well and you get to the top, and you realize, there’s another level to climb. As I got used to achieving and stepping up, I could always improve. For women, young women, I believe there are lots of chances to step up. You shouldn’t let your pride get in the way, worrying whether you will achieve or not. You need to understand that getting to a certain level means re-setting your mindset and your goals, so that you climb to the next level.

Prior to Mitsuya’s retirement, the only life she had known was volleyball. But she took it to the next level by transitioning to teaching at the high school and university level. Three years after participating in CSR activities with the leadership of a lingerie company called Ten Arrows, she was named CEO of that company. That was a big step up.

 

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Yuko Mitsuya in 1984

When I became a company CEO, a lot of people said I was hired just because I’m a well-known person. But I want young women to realize that specialization in one area does not mean that you cannot do something else. You need to challenge yourself and try different things because there are common skills you can use in other types of work. Based on my experience in volleyball, I learned how to motivate people (which is important for company leaders). I learned another important lesson from sports, which is also important in companies: resilience. I encourage people to challenge themselves because you need the experience of overcoming issues. And if you fail, well, through failure you grow. More importantly, if you do not challenge yourself, you may regret not making the attempt.

 

Mie Kajikawa understands this. Kajikawa was first a basketball player at Nagoya University. She worked in sales for the Japan Travel Bureau in Nagoya, studied French in France for a month, spent a few years doing secretarial work for executives in foreign financial services firms in Tokyo until she realized what she wanted to do – study sports management in the United States. During her master’s program at Ohio University, she had a career-defining experience – an internship with the Detroit Pistons.

From that point on, the doors to NBA officials or relevant sports industry players, as well as sports associations in Japan opened up. Kajikawa went on to participate in Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics (which eventually went to Rio), and founded the company, Cheer Blossom, Inc., which provides consultation in CSR to Japan’s professional basketball league – B. League. And when she established the non-profit organization, Next Big Pivot, she became a significant player not only in promoting the empowerment of women in sports business, but also advocating for the development of basketball in Japan.

If you are interested in learning more about Next Big Pivot and Kajikawa’s plans, click here.