In his book, No Bugles No Drums, Olympic track legend, Peter Snell of New Zealand, wrote about an underground tunnel at the National Olympic Stadium, where he competed at the 1964 Olympic Games.
“Ten minutes before the gun, we were led through an underground tunnel which took us right underneath the track diagonally to a point at the beginning of the back straight. Then a walk around to the start.”
Ollan Cassell, lead runner on the US 4X400 men’s team that won gold in Tokyo, also noticed the underground tunnel. “The Japanese thought of everything,” he wrote in his book Inside the Five Ring Circus. “They even built a tunnel under the stadium track so athletes and official going to their events on the infield did not cross the track.”
Cassell asked me to confirm that his memories were correct, so I did some digging. After a few emails exchanged between me and The Japan Sport Council, the government body that manages and operates some of the largest sports facilities in Japan, including the National Olympic Stadium, I was pleasantly surprised to get confirmation on the tunnel.
Not only that, the Japan Sport Council was kind enough to provide a schematic and photos.
An underground tunnel that allows officials and athletes to get to the infield or across the stadium without crossing a track seems like a great idea. You would think that all stadiums would be designed that way. But Cassell wrote to me that in fact Tokyo’s National Olympic Stadium was unique. “I have attended every Games since then, thru 1996 and never found anything like what they did. I missed 2000 and 2004 but attended all other games and did not hear anything about a tunnel from those who attended the 2000 and 2004 games.”
If you’re going to design an Olympic Stadium, you have to include plans for a very large cauldron that feeds the Olympic flame for two weeks.
Due to increasing costs that strained the patience of even government bureaucrats, the stadium design by world renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, was scrapped quite suddenly, pitting the Japanese government and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee in a pissing match with the architect.
Subsequently, new designs were rushed into competition, and the winning architect stated that the stadium would not be completed in time for the 2019 World Rugby Cup, which has been particularly unpleasant and embarrassing for the organizers.
And now it was revealed that the winning architects forgot to design a place for an Olympic cauldron, something that the IOC specifically stipulates must be visible both inside and outside the stadium. On top of that, the new design will rely heavily on wood in the interior part of the stadium. As you should be reminded, wood is susceptible to burning. And bringing a massive fire close to wood may have negative ramifications.
But the designers will move things around and find some innovative fix that will allow a fantastic stadium to be built. After all, they caught this design flaw early. Let us not forget, there have been many instances where design flaws hidden or ignored eventually led to disaster. Here’s a great link called, The 50 Worst Architecture Fails. And here are a few of the more interesting fails:
The Aon Center: This skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois used carrara marble on the exterior of this building. When a marble slab fell off and crashed into the roof of the neighboring building, they decided that it was safer to spend USD80 million to resurface the building than wait for another marble slab to fall to earth.
The Lotus Riverside: This 13-story residential structure in Shanghai, China fell over due to the effects of an underground parking lot being built underneath. Actually, the reason is kind of complicated. Here’s how the article explained it: “When creating a parking structure beneath the building, workers had placed removed earth into a nearby landfill The weight of the added dirt caused the banks of a bordering river to collapse and the resulting water infiltrated the building’s base, turning the foundation to mud and causing the building to topple onto its side.”
Highway 19 Overpass: A 20-meter section of an overpass in a Montreal suburb simply broke off and dropped to the road below, killing five people in their cars.
Tacoma Narrows Bridge: Opened on July 1, 1940, this suspension bridge in Tacoma, Washington lasted only four months. Yes, when you don’t pay for support materials like trusses and girders, you definitely save money. There are other costs however. Watch this amazing video of the bridge actually breaking apart in the 40 mph wind.
Right after the Nagano Winter Games ended in February, 1998, the Japanese press reported on a bribery scandal of Olympian proportions. Eventually there were stories of how the Japanese authorities and Olympic officials wined and dined IOC members, particularly its leader, Juan Antonio Samaranch.
It was reported in the Japanese media that the Nagano bid committee spent an average of $22,000 on 62 visiting IOC members. But further investigational efforts were forestalled when it was discovered that Nagano had destroyed all the records of their bid committee. If they had a smoking gun, it had been put out. Samaranch attempted to elicit information on other bid committees by writing to each bid committee or relevant National Olympic Committee going back to 1990, and requesting evidence of IOC Member wrongdoing.
So here’s the question: Will Japan’s major newspapers, which are now paying for the right to be Olympic cheerleaders, going to have the guts to look in the shadows? Will they ask uncomfortable questions about freaky financing, suspicions of doping, backroom discussions?
(Sports journalist Gentaro Taniguchi) told tabloid Nikkan Gendai that the job of journalism is to “monitor those in power,” and here we have four such monitors “boosting an event in partnership with the state.” There’s nothing much you can do about TV, since broadcasters have to purchase rights to the Olympics in order to air the games, so they are already “part of the cheerleading team.” But print media? For the simple reason that they paid to be sponsors, these four newspapers, which are also profit-making organizations, will expect a “return on their investment,” meaning they will do what they can to guarantee that the Olympics are successful — so no negative coverage.
The Gendai article, which ran on Jan. 29, attempted to detail what it viewed as the hypocrisy involved. Together, the four newspapers paid the JOC ¥6 billion for the privilege of calling themselves official sponsors, which is one rank down from “gold partners,” who pay ¥15 billion each, but one rank up from “official supporters,” who pay between ¥1 billion and ¥3 billion.
Having said all that, newspapers being Olympic sponsors isn’t unprecedented. At the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, 10 Canwest newspapers signed up as sponsors. Said the President and CEO of Canwest Publishing: “We’re still going to preserve the most important part of all of our mastheads, and that’s the integrity of the journalism that we publish every day.”
Tokyo’s train network in particular is amazing, or bewildering if you look at a train map. The train will get you almost anywhere you need to go, and if the schedule says it’s arriving at a specific time, it’s a pretty safe bet it will.
Not on that list is Sendagaya Station. But I know for a fact that it was one of the busiest stations in 1964, and will be again in 2020. Sendagaya Station is about 300 meters away from the once and future National Stadiums. Sendagaya Station itself is a relatively small station. It’s a one-platform station that accommodates trains going East and West on the Sobu Line, which cuts through the heart of Tokyo.
But if you have ever been there, you may have noticed another platform on the southern side of the station. This was a platform used in 1964, when the area was flooded with folks going to and from the various Olympic venues in that area. And a single platform was simply too narrow to handle the volume. Train authorities shuddered at the thought of waiting passengers getting shoved onto the tracks because of the crowds, so the extra platform was built two months prior to the opening of the Tokyo Games.
Since 1964, that platform has very infrequently been put back into use – the time of Emperor Hirohito’s death and funeral rites in 1989 being one of those few exceptions. But come 2020 and the crowds, the phantom platform will find employment again.
Nearly 20 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2015, already approaching the 2020 goal. This 47% year-on-year increase has been a revelation to Japan, making citizens and business owners keenly aware that Japan needs to gear up for continued growth, particularly as we get closer to the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
According to this article, the ability for Tokyo to accommodate this sudden influx of foreign tourists has been strained by the supply of hotel rooms. The room shortage is compounded by the weak yen, which results in more Japanese taking vacations within Japan as opposed to overseas. Occupancy rates at hotels in Tokyo and Osaka are routinely over 80%, and sometimes over 90%.
So into the breach steps Airbnb, a peer-to-peer business that connects travelers with individuals who want to open their homes, or a room in their home for rent. Airbnb has exploded worldwide as travelers seek greater choice of accommodations, as well as the possible added experience of personalized service and comfort by the owner. It was once thought that Japan, and its particular sensitivity to privacy, would be a bad fit for an Airbnb model. But Airbnb Japan’s business has grown 529% since last year, while the number of listings in this country has also jumped year on year 373%.
And this is for a business that is essentially illegal, as Japan’s Hotel Business Law includes taxation of officially recognized accommodations, as well as various regulations around hygiene and safety, all of which Airbnb hosts have ignored.
But now, Ota Ward, one of the 23 districts that make up Tokyo, is hoping to legitimize the model, opening the door to individuals and families who need the income, want the business, and perhaps enjoy the experience of hosting strangers in their homes. Along with Osaka, the Japanese government will be looking closely at Ota Ward, with the hopes of expanding this model over the coming years.
In an attempt to eliminate such problems, Ota Ward has published rules and screening criteria. They include a requirement that neighbors who live within 10 meters of a rented property be notified in writing before an application is made. The local fire department must also be advised beforehand. Under the ward’s rules, minimum stays are set at six nights and seven days. Guest information such as names, contact numbers and passport numbers must be kept for at least three years. A host must also set up a window to accept complaints from neighbors and be ready to respond in foreign languages in emergencies.
What’s special about Ota Ward? It houses Haneda Airport, the expanding gateway to Asia and the world. Between 1978 and 2010, Haneda was, for all intents and purposes, the airport for domestic flights. But since 2010, it has taken on significant capacity as a port of call for international flights. Haneda is now the third busiest airport in Asia, and fourth in the world.
And let me tell you, as someone who has flown primarily into Narita International Airport, which requires at least another two to three hours of waiting and travel time to just get into downtown Tokyo, I much prefer to fly into Haneda. Tourists will as well. And wouldn’t it be nice to hop into a short taxi ride to your Airbnb accommodation about 10 to 15 minutes away.
First things first. Novelist and futurist, Isaac Asimov had a caveat. If the world is destroyed by a thermonuclear war, his predictions would be meaningless. Got it.
Since there has been no nuclear war of significance, here are a few of the predictions Asimov made in the New York Times in August, 1964. Asimov visited the huge, big-tent event in the world that year that was not the Tokyo Olympics – the World’s Fair in New York, which happened to be in my backyard of Flushing, Queens.
There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common. The reason Asimov gives for this idea is Man’s urge to control its environment, as well as expand the amount of land to grown more food to feed a growing world population. But another reason will be the Mega-city Trend, the continued massive migration to big cities that puts tremendous pressure on the infrastructure. Singapore, where I lived for a few years, has a population of 5.5 million people on a land mass of 710 square km, a country half the size of Los Angeles. The Red Dot, as it is affectionately called, will be considerably more dense as the government predicts the population to grow to 7 million in the near future. Singapore has built upwards with its skyscrapers, and outwards with land-fill areas, but is now planning underground working facilities on a scale not commonly seen. Designs for the 300,000 square-meter Underground Science City will be 30 to 80 meters below the surface, with plans to hold a working population of over 4,000.
Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the “brains” of robots. The way Asimov describes robotics, and I suppose, artificial intelligence is far less aggressive than his imagination in his novels. I haven’t read that many Asimov works, but I do know that he was one of the most significant minds behind a philosophical framework or set of rules regarding the relationship between Man and Robot: The Three Laws of Robotics. Additionally, I recall his brilliant character, Hari Seldon in Asimov’s Foundation Series, a man who developed psychohistory, a precursor, to me, of what we now call Big Data.
If you want to watch something historic, as well as geeks geeking out, here’s an incredible video of IBM’s Watson beating two humans at Jeopardy. The two humans are Jeopardy champions.
Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains” vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver. I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other. Two obvious parallels to today’s technology: self-driving cars, which are all the rage, as well as maglev technology. By 2020, there are some who claim that Japan will have significant driverless transportation on the roads when the Olympians arrive.
The maglev train, which is already operational in Shanghai, will connect Tokyo to Osaka in an hour, achieving a speed of 500 kph, although it won’t be in operation until 2027.
If you don’t speak Japanese, travelling in Japan is a challenge. You’re in a train, you pull into a station, you peer through the window as the train decelerates desperately trying to figure out what station you’re at, scanning for English, any English at all.
The next best thing to words are symbols. The signs for men and women’s toilets come in a gazillion varieties, but they are most often a variation of a theme. Symbols, if done right, can cut to the chase.
With a continued increase in foreign tourists to Japan, and a spike in international guests in Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics expected, the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) released a new set of map symbols which they believe will be more intuitively understood by visitors. The old map symbols included an “X”. In the West, “X” may mark the spot of treasure, but in Japan, it meant police station. The old map represented a temple with a swastika, which is too much of an emotional jolt to many with its strong association with Nazism, despite its far longer association with Hinduism and Buddhism.
Fortunately, the GSI decided not to replace the symbol for onsen. The three wavy steamy lines bathing in an oval is a personal favorite.
The pictograms of today were born out of the pictograms of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. These Games were the first to be held in Asia, and Japan realized they had a language problem. In addition to translation, designers figured that use of symbols would be a powerful and efficient way to get foreigners to the right place. In fact, the Tokyo Olympics proved to be filled with design opportunities for the best in the country as the ’64 Games were essentially the first time an Olympic Games systematically used pictograms to represent each of the sporting events, or direct people to places.
As this blog post states, “…for such a huge national event, needless to say the design side of things was very important too and it engaged the talents of the industry heavyweights at the time.” One of the heavyweights was Yoshiro Yamashita, who designed these event symbols.
The symbols that represented facilities were said to have been created by a team of ten designers.
I like flea markets so I found myself roaming one in Yoyogi, which happened to be right next to the beautiful National Gymnasium. The site is composed of two complementary structures, the main building where the swimming and diving events were held during the 1964 Tokyo Games, and the Annex, which is where basketball games were held.
Inside, pre-teen and teenage girls were performing rhythm gymnastics for family and friends, who sat in the dark and intimate stadium, the floor standing in brilliant lighted relief. The Annex seats only 4,000, so I could understand how the basketball games were hot tickets. Of course, the fact that there are only 4,000 seats means there is not a bad seat in the house. You can see that in the pictures.
Thankfully, the annex, which is a sixth the size of the national gymnasium, will be one of several sites from the 1964 Games used in the next Tokyo Games. In 2020, the annex will be the site of the handball competition. But since 1964, basketball has become an international phenomenon, and women’s basketball, also growing in popularity, has been added to the mix. With that in mind, basketball in 2020 will be played in the Saitama Super Arena, which has a maximum seating capacity of 22,500 when basketball is in the house.
On this, the last day of 2015, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my blog – The Olympians. I have posted at least once every day since I started the blog on May 1. Out of about 300 posts, I’ve selected 25 that I personally like, in good part because I’ve had the great fortune to talk with the people mentioned in these stories.
SIX – Proposed 2020 Olympic National Stadium Design Dropped Due to Pricetag: The $2 billion price tag for the new National Stadium in Tokyo proved to be too high. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, faced down the president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, and send the committee back to the drawing board. This decision effectively removed the possibility of the stadium debuting for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
FIVE – Both Hamburg and Boston Drop Out: Both Hamburg, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, USA were selected by their respective national Olympic committees to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, but both ended pulling out after referendum votes indicated the Games would not be supported by the cities’ citizens. While the bid for the 2024 Games remain competitive, with Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome still in the running, the reputation of the Games for their high cost, facilities that serve little purpose after the Games, the disruption to business and everyday life to locals, among others, continues to grow.
FOUR – US Defeats Japan to Win Women’s World Cup: US had beaten Japan in the Olympics, but Japan was the reigning World Cup Champion. US goes into Rio with hopes of winning their fourth consecutive Olympic championship. The US team currently has 11 Olympians who only know gold: Christie Rampone in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Abby Wambach in 2004 and 2012, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Amy Rodriguez, Hope Solo in 2008 and 2012, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn in 2012.