Olympic and Paralympic banners

In 1964, the streets of Tokyo were filled with banners proudly proclaiming that the biggest international party was coming to Japan.

In 2020, the streets of Tokyo are again filled with banners for the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

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From the collection of Dick Lyon, American rower at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

The street banners, as is also the case with the ticket designs, are based on a singular “Look of the Games,” the visual identity formalized by the organizing committee. The foundation of this visual identity is the rectangular shapes that make up the Olympic and Paralympic logos.

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A banner distributed by the Tokyo government (from the collection of Roy Tomizawa)

One of the street banners in particular had an emotional impact on me the moment I saw it – the dark red on white, with the words Tokyo 2020 in gold. I’m sure this 2020 banner is a direct reference to the first poster released by the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee in 1961, a design by Yusaku Kanemura which was used heavily in artwork for all sorts of collaterals – programs, shirts, banners, for example.

Tokyo2020 vs Tokyo1964
On the left is from 2020, while the one on the right is Yusaku Kanemaru’s iconic design for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
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Olympic Rings outside National Olympic Stadium
Will Olympic Stadium be packed on July 24?

Students in Japan had mixed emotions as classes in public schools across Japan were suddenly canceled in late February, a couple of weeks before the beginning of Spring Break, in order to diminish the spread of the suddenly feared CoronaVirus.

A few days later, students and fans of baseball were given something to cheer about, informed that the hugely popular National High School Baseball Invitational would likely commence on March 19. Thirty-two schools will come together in the annual two-week tournament in Osaka, at Hanshin Koshien Stadium.

There is a catch. If the tournament is not ultimately cancelled, the stadium seats will be empty. (Note: On March 11, it was announced that the tournament was cancelled.)

While fans can watch the games on television, they will not hear the constant hum of high school students cheering,  singing, nor see the waving banners in the stands, or the crying students in the aftermath of a victory or a loss. There will be no eruptions of joy from fans in the stands as a team emerges victorious in walk-off fashion. The players will have nothing but each other’s energy to feed off of, doing their best to ignore the deafening roar of silence.

Such is the state of sports events in the era of COVID-19.

Such is the possible future of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

For the Summer Games, scheduled to run from July 24 to August 9, 2020, I can forsee five scenarios depending on the global level of anxiety regarding the spread of CoronaVirus in the coming months. Here they are, in order of likelihood. This is hardly a scientific finding – this order is educated guesswork, so please take this ranking in that spirit.

  • Move the Games
  • Postpone the Games
  • Cancel the Games
  • Hold the Games as Scheduled without Restrictions, or with Restrictions

Move the Games (the least likely scenario): When Shaun Bailey, a candidate running for election in London’s mayoral race stated on February 25 that the Olympics should be moved from Tokyo to London because of the “ongoing disruption” of the virus, the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, instantly pushed back, saying Bailey’s comments were “inappropriate.”

It’s true that a women soccer qualifier involving Australia, Thailand and Taiwan were moved from Wuhan, China to Sydney, Australia, and an Olympic boxing qualifier, also scheduled to be held in Wuhan, was moved to Amman, Jordan. But moving an entire Olympic Games may be very costly, and logistically impossible. Just moving the marathon from Tokyo to Sapporo may cost at least USD100 million.

Veteran IOC member, Dick Pound said in an AP interview that moving an Olympic Games is very hard on short notice as “there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on.” In other words, think of all of the events in London that would have to be pushed and cancelled, how many people would have to moved out of London hotel rooms, how nearly impossible it would be to get the resources ready for such a massive operation, etc. It takes a city seven years to prepare for an Olympics. A few months would be impossible.

Postpone the Games: Rugby matches in the Six Nations Championship between England and Italy, and between Ireland and Italy in March were postponed because of the coronavirus breakout in Italy. The same for J League professional soccer matches at the start of the season in Japan, as well as the 2020 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, a major F1 racing event scheduled for April 19.

Japan’s Olympic Minister, Seiko Hashimoto, stated on March 3 that technically, the organizing committee could postpone the Olympics to a date if still within 2020. However, Pound doesn’t think postponement is a likely scenario either as North American broadcasters (essentially NBC) would not agree to a Fall timeframe as the competition for ratings against a bevy of other sports could be crippling to Olympic coverage.

Delaying by a year, would be a challenge as well. “You have to ask if you can hold the bubble together for an extra year,” Pound said. “Then, of course, you have to fit all of this into the entire international sports schedule.”

Cancel the Games: Already, quite a few significant events have been cancelled, particularly in Asia: The Hong Kong marathon on February 9,  the Paris half-marathon on March 1, the Honda LPGA Tournament in Pattaya Thailand from February 20-23. Two Olympic test events were cancelled: the 2020 Paralympics Wheelchair Rugby event from March 12-15, and the Asia Sevens Invitations 2020 rugby test event on April 25-26 in Tokyo.

This is not a fantasy scenario for the Olympics. If moving or postponing the  Games is considered highly challenging, and the CoronaVirus situation does not improve, then cancelation in July becomes a very real possibility. A Japanese virologist, Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, went on the record at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan saying, that “right now we don’t have an effective strategy, and I think it may be difficult to have the Olympics (now).”

Hold the Games: It is a wish of many people, particularly me, that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Parlaympics are held as planned. But with continued uncertainty about the longevity of COVOD-19, and the fact that it continues to spread globally, there is a good chance that a Games without restrictions will be unlikely.

In the case there are still global fears of person-to-person contagion this summer, even if the fear factor has diminished at that time, it is possible that restrictions on attendance may be put into effect. Serie A league matches in Italy and pre-season Japan league baseball are now being played behind closed doors. Like the Koshien tournament, we may be witness to a spectacular opening ceremony on TV, while seats in the new Olympic Stadium remain empty. That may be the price we pay to ensure the athletes get to compete, and demonstrate why they are the best in the world.

So, I believe…I hope…I pray…that holding the games unencumbered of concern, or just on TV, are the two likeliest scenarios for Tokyo2020.

Diamond Princess

We followed the story of the Diamond Princess as if we were binge watching a Stephen King adaptation on Netflix – with fascination and fear.

 

The two-week quarantine of the 3,711 passengers and crew on the British grand-class cruise ship docked at Yokohama harbor was a constant reminder to the Japanese of how close the coronavirus outbreak has come to Japanese shores. The death of two elderly passengers on board the Diamond Princess on February 20 at the end of the quarantine intensified the concern over the Japanese government’s decision to release hundreds of passengers who tested negative for the virus.

 

In fact, as the number of reported infections on the ship climbed, so too did the number of reported infections across Japan: Kanagawa, Wakayama, Hokkaido, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Okinawa, Kyushu, Aichi, Chiba….

 

Masks are the coinage of the land. Tokyo and Kyoto are no longer swarming with tourists as inbound cancellations climb. Announcements of meeting and conference cancellations in companies across the country are coming hard and fast. Organizers for the March 1 Tokyo Marathon and the March 8 Nagoya Women’s Marathon are dropping tens of thousands or participants from the race, and allowing only the elite runners to compete.

 

And then there’s the elephant in the room.

 

Will the Tokyo2020 Olympics be cancelled?

 

Yashiro Mori, former Japan prime minister and current president of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games pointed at the elephant in the room and said:

 

I would like to make it clear again that we are not considering a cancellation or postponement of the games. Let me make that clear.

 

That was February 13, just before the cases of coronavirus began to crisscross the country.

 

Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, a Japanese virologist, said on February 19 that the Olympics could not take place today.

 

“I’m not sure [of] the situation in Japan at the end of July,” he said at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on Wednesday, as per The Associated Press. “We need to find the best way to have a safe Olympics. Right now we don’t have an effective strategy, and I think it may be difficult to have the Olympics [now]. But by the end of July we may be in a different situation.”

 

Or we may not be.

 

We have no cure for coronavirus right now. We understand so little about the latest virus outbreak. And in the absence of clear facts, what often fills the void is doubt, speculation and fear.

 

Am I safe? Will a cure be found in time? Will the virus burn out as the temperature climbs?

 

Will the Olympics be cancelled, its sunk cost like an albatross around the necks of the country, the IOC and the massive number of organizations and businesses that have invested in these Games?

Or will the Olympics rise like a Phoenix, overcoming crisis, sending our spirits aloft?

 

Note: This article was written on February 22, in the midst of daily changes and updates regarding the coronavirus in Japan.

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The design of the tickets for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympics were released, and have been put on display. You can see them on the first floor of the Nihonbashi Mitsui Tower in Tokyo for free until January 29.

There are 59 different ticket designs for the Olympics and another 25 for Paralympic events. If you are fortunate enough to have bought a ticket, deliveries will start in May.

According to Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the design  is based on two concepts:

  • The three rectangular shapes that make up the Tokyo2020 emblems, and
  • Kasane no irome, which is the color scheme used in the creation of fabrics used for kimono during the Japanese Heian Period (794-1185).

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To me, they are modern and clean designs, that connect to Japan’s past not only through the color scheme, but also through the sport pictograms, which were updated versions of the sport pictograms created for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the first of their kind in Olympic history.

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Athletics at the new Olympic Stadium, as well as Badminton at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza will be popular.
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Paralympic tickets are still available!
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The modern Penthathlon, which covers five events, will be held in two different places, although the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza is right next to Tokyo Stadium (aka Ajinomoto Stadium)
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1964 saw the debut of the Japanese martial art Judo. 2020 will see the debut of the Japanese martial art Karate.
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Two great new sports that will attract the kids: skateboarding and sport climbing.

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Japan is an orderly place, run by officials and managers who tend to be risk averse. That’s why things work so efficiently and effectively here.

Thus, when Tokyo2020 organizers created an Artist Selection Committee to create official posters for the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, I would have expected them to be traditional in their outlook.

After all, the posters that have been in the public eye for the past few years have been those of the Olympic and Paralympic logos – as conservative as you can be.

But Tokyo2020 is not your grandparent’s Tokyo1964. The committee commissioned19 artists to create posters, and I imagine that the brief they were given was very liberal. Of the 20 official posters that were officially revealed in early January, only 4 at most would be identified as representing the Olympics and Paralympics, either because the official logos are referenced, or Tokyo 2020 is explicitly displayed. The other 16 could be posters for anything.

But that’s OK. They are a wide variety of styles and interpretations of what the Olympics and Paralympics represent, which is in line with the hopes of Masayoshi Aoyagi, the chairman of the artist selection committee, who said in this article that the committee looked for a diversity of values and aesthetic sense to reflect this era of diversity, and so they selected photographers, manga artists, graphic designers. He said that you can see the very rich diversity of the art scene, as well as the incredible individuality and creativity of these artists.

If you are in Tokyo, you can see all 20 posters on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo until February 16, 2020. There is no charge for viewing this exhibit.

 

HARMONIZED CHEQUERED EMBLEM STUDY FOR TOKYO 2020 OLYMPIC/PARALYMPIC GAMES, by Asao Tokolo

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Tokolo was selected to design the logos for Tokyo 2020 in April, 2016, and it is his design that has been the object of the posters promoting the Olympics. For this larger poster project, Tokolo reimagined his design for two separate Olympic and Paralympic posters, creating patterns that to me, reflect celestial bodies or traditional Japanese fabrics. Tokolo said that “…these designs, ‘individual’ rectangles form ‘groups’ under ‘rules.’ The designs were created partly on the computer, partly by hand. My aim was to create a ‘relay baton’ to be passed on from 2020 to future generations. I created the designs as a tribute to the Tokyo 1964 designers, who relied on compasses and rulers for their creations, and by imagining what mediums would be employed by designers of the future.”

 

Now it’s your turn! by Naoki Urasawa and The Sky above the Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa by Hirohiko Araki

Urasawa and Araki

Both Urasawa and Araki are acclaimed artists of manga, the Japanese style of comic book drawing. Urasawa of Tokyo, whose manga works include best-selling titles as “Yawara!” and “MONSTER,” created a comic page that shows an athlete getting ready, with the anticipatory words “tsuzuku,” at the bottom, which means “to be continued.” Araki, a Miyagi artist who is known for his comic series, “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure,” riffed on a very popular Japanese image – Hokusai’s “Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa. “I imagined the gods of sports descending on Japan from a sky filled with clouds resembling turbulent waves.

 

FLY HIGH by Shoko Kanazawa and Open by Koji Kakinuma

Kanazawa and Kakinuma

Two calligraphers were invited to create posters for Tokyo2020.  Kanazawa selected the first character in her first name “sho,” to boldly represent her wish that “everybody supporting the Olympic Games, will soar high above Tokyo to reach people the world over.” The character “sho” means “to fly high.” Kakinuma selected the characther “開,” which means “open.” He said “I imagined Olympic and Paralympic athletes working toward new height every day, and told myself, ‘Open, open, open!’ as I applied brush to paper until I felt myself to be completely ‘open.'”

 

Flow line, by Daijiro Ohara

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Ohara is an artist from Kanagawa, Japan who imagined the route of the Olympic flame from Athens to Tokyo as a jumbled set of intersecting lines and loops, which reflects the complexity of connectivity. “What could possibly link an individual with an event in which world-class athletes compete?” asked Ohara. “It is not easy to grasp what does connect a huge-scale event with an individual –  such connections can be erratic, or elusive.”

 

Higher than the Rainbow by Mika Ninagawa, and Ludus, by Viviane Sassen

Ninagawa and Sassen

Ninagawa is a photographer and filmmaker who is reflecting the limitless potential of para-athletes. Of this image of Renshi Chokai, she said “para-athletes are cool. This simple message is what this picture is about.”  Sassen, a photographer, from Amsterdam, said she wanted to “depict the JOY of PLAY,” as well as cultural diversity and the variety of nationalities who all come together to participate in the Olympic Games.”

 

Wild Things – Hachilympic, by Tomoko Konoike

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The most arresting poster to me was this “wild thing,” chasing a bee (“hachi” in Japanese). Perhaps Konoike, an artist from Akita, was channeling Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things. She said that “as animals, each human being grasps the world with totally different perceptions. We see the world through our own unwelts. None are the same. No words are identical. No light is identical. If the Olympic Games prepare themselves for that and address it honestly, then in time, a new ecosystem, filled with the senses, for a small organism, will begin to function.”

All photographs above were taken by the author.

You can see all of the posters at this link.

 

The National Stadium in Tokyo opened its doors to 60,000 people on Saturday, December 21, 2019, a combination ceremony to mark a major milestone on the road to Tokyo 2020, and a concert featuring popular Japanese bands Dreams Come True and Arashi.

Designed by architect Kengo Kuma, the venue is sometimes referred to as the Forest Stadium, in reference to the significant use of wood in the stadium’s exterior. With cedar and larch sourced from each of the 47 prefectures of Japan, Kuma designed a stadium he intended to meld into the green surroundings of the stadium, particularly the spiritual woods of neighboring Meiji Shrine.

 

google maps view

“I want to go beyond the era of concrete,” Kuma, 62, said in a Japan Times interview. “What people want is soft, warm and humane architecture.”

The stadium is composed of five levels above ground, which rises to about 50 meters at its highest point. Each level is topped by lattice rooves of long wooden slates, designed to allow seasonal winds to flow into and through the stadium, aided by 185 fans that direct the winds inward.

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Ample greenery in and around the stadium_photograph by author

Kuma has said that he modeled his stadium design on the Buddhist temples of Kyoto and Nara, appreciating how well those temples have aged. “We will show the model of a mature society in the stadium,” Kuma says. “That’s the way to live a happy life relying on limited natural resources from a small land.”

On the whole, the Japanese who have seen it appear to be happy, according to posts on social media or reports on Japanese television, particularly proud that the biggest visible milestone to the start of Tokyo2020 has been completed.

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Photograph by author

Entry into the stadium appears smooth with QR readers, although I haven’t seen anything on whether that included security checks. The corridors that ring the seating areas and house the food and beverage booths are wide and easy to navigate through crowds.

Inside, there are 500 spaces for spectators in wheelchairs. For everyone else, there are seats for 60,000. The seats are in five different colors, which cleverly deceive the eye into thinking empty seats are occupied, although no one anticipates too many empty seats in the coming Olympic or Paralympic Games.

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An opportunistic peak inside…

Different from other stadium in Japan, there are two large screens at the ends of the oval, with a ribbon screen that rings the middle level of the stadium, so replays and information should be easy to view. And apparently, thanks to the fairly steep angles of the seats, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

 

steep seats

However, there have been a few comments about issues. The seats, which provide a great view, have very little space for people for possessions or for people to pass. If you happen to sit in the middle seats, you’ll make everyone stand up to get through, and you’ll have be careful not to knock over peoples’ beverages.

And for foreign visitors, the signage in English appears to be much to be desired.

 

But there’s time for that to be corrected. Tokyo2020 awaits.

 

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Happy 2020 New Year from the olympians

Welcome to 2020!

Welcome to the Year of the Rat!

While the “rat” in English tends to have negative connotations, in terms of the Chinese zodiac, the rat is seen in a very positive light.

In Chinese culture, the rat is energetic, alert, flexible, witty and full of life. The rat, because of it’s reproductive prowess, is a symbol of wealth.

As the Chinese zodiac runs on 12-year cycles, and the Olympics run on 4-year cycles, there have been a large number of Olympiads, both summer and winter, held in the Year of the Rat.

Year of the Rat

Summer

Winter

1900

Paris

1912

Stockholm

1924

Paris

Chamoix

1936

Berlin

Garmisch-Partenkirchen

1948

London

St. Moritz

1960

Rome

Squaw Valley

1972

Munich

Sapporo

1984

Los Angeles

Sarajevo

1996

Atlanta

2008

Beijing

2020

Tokyo

You can see a few selection trends via the above table. Initially, the Olympics were highly European-centric, with a shift to North America towards the end of the 20th century. The 21st century has seen a shift towards Asia, including three Olympiads in a row held in Asia (2018 – PyeongChang, 2020 – Tokyo, and 2022 – Beijing).

The 1972 Sapporo Olympics, only 8 years after Japan’s triumphant hosting of the Summer Olympics in 1964, were also a success. Not only did Japan win its first gold medals in a Winter Olympiad, it is said that the Sapporo Games turned a profit. The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were considered the first Olympiad to make money as well.

So while the Olympics in general are not profit-making events, the Year of the Rat and its aura of prosperity may make a difference in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. By many measures, Tokyo2020 is already a success.

So if you smell a rat this year, that may be a good thing.

The view of the new National Olympic Stadium – the anticipation is growing.

There are a little more than 200 days to go before the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There’s always noise before an Olympic Games, as there’s always excitement. I believe Tokyo 2020 will be an incredible Summer Olympic Games. I hope you can make it to Tokyo to see for yourself.

 

Three Times Failed

As they say in America, three strikes and you’re out.

In the latest round of the lottery for Tokyo 2020 Olympic tickets for residents in Japan, there were 23 million requests for tickets….chasing 1 million tickets. A 1 in 23 chance doesn’t sound horrible, but doesn’t sound likely either.

My chance to win tickets to opening and closing ceremonies disappeared at 8 am yesterday morning when the automated email hit my inbox.

The demand for tickets was incredibly high, and unfortunately, you were not awarded any of the tickets you requested in the lottery. 

This is the third time I “failed” (Tokyo 2020’s word – see picture) to win tickets.

But while I am personally sad, this overwhelming demand speaks volumes to the popularity of these games, according to The Mainichi.

Next summer’s Olympics have generated unprecedented demand. Organizers said 3.57 million tickets had been awarded to Japan residents in previous lotteries. Organizers confirmed for the first time the demand was almost 20 times over supply — about 60 million tickets requested.

Demand for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is also very high. According to reports, there were 3 million requests for tickets at the paralympic lottery a couple of months ago, which is three times the demand of the popular 2012 London Paralympics.

At least in that case, I won the right to purchase tickets to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies.

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Chiharu Ts’baki and Steve Myers rehearsng for my book launch party!

It was October 10, 1964 – a bright and beautiful Autumn day.

After years of hard work, years of worry, years of questioning whether the world would embrace Japan after the turmoil of world war, the Tokyo Olympics had finally arrived.

To the world, Japan was radiant, fresh-faced, smiling from ear to ear, looking at the world with eyes wide open, like a baby, looking at her beautiful mother for the first time.

The feeling at that time was reflected in the song, “Konnichiwa Akachan” (こんにちは赤ちゃん) , sung by Michiyo Azusa. This popular tune was released in 1963, but Japanese would still hear it on the radio and the TV constantly throughout 1964 as it captured the spirit of the time – optimism for a bright future!

Below is the singer, Chiharu Ts’baki and the guitarist Steve Myers, performing “Konnichi was Akachan” (which means “Hello, My Baby!”) at my book launch party on October 10, 2019, the 55th anniversary of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games.

The sense of optimism at the time was powerful, as Japanese adults who made the Olympics possible, and who cheered on and welcomed athletes from all visiting nations, were alive at the end of the Pacific War, when all they and their families knew was poverty, homelessness, hunger, and disease, at least for those in the burned out rubble-strewn cities of Japan.

The Japanese rebuilt the nation and were rightly proud to bring to the world the most logistically demanding global event of its time. And on that beautiful Autumn day on October 10, never was the nation prouder. Japan was akin to a newly born baby, smiling into the eyes of her mother, as in the song.

The person who wrote the lyrics to “Konnichiwa Akachan” was Rokusuke Ei. He also wrote the lyrics to a 1961 song that was very popular during the Olympics, not only to the Japanese, but also to foreigners visiting the country. The song was sung in Japanese, and still sold over 13 million copies worldwide, hitting number 1 on the pop charts in the US, Canada and Australia.

This song was known in Japan as “Ue o Muite Arukou,”(上を向いて歩こう) and its catchy melody made singer Sakamoto Kyu a global star, and made Japan relevant to the world. To the rest of the world, it was known as “Sukiyaki,” the idea of a British music promoter who thought that the Japanese dish would make more sense to the Western world. You can’t argue with success.

If you understand the lyrics,“Ue o Muite Arukou” sounds like a love song, or one of unrequited love. But Rokusuke Ei wrote not about love, but about defeat.

Ei participated in the anti-government protests against Japan’s signing of the Mutual Treaty of Cooperation and Security with America. And after the government signed the treaty, American soldiers and military bases were allowed to remain in the country. Ei was sad, and wrote that famous song, reflecting a more complex relationship Japan had with the West, particularly the United States.

While anti-government protests were happening in Japan in the early 1960s and around the world, they were gaining real force in the late 1960s. In fact, the 1968 Mexico City Olympics were scarred by the killing of dozens if not hundreds of students during an anti-government protest by government forces, only 10 days prior to the start of those Games.

If the Olympics came to Tokyo in 1968, it’s likely that the clamor of anti-government protests in Japan would have created tension if not trouble during the Games.

If the Games came to Tokyo in 1960, it’s likely that the Japanese economy in the 1950s, while accelerating, would not have been robust enough to support the organization of the Games for the summer of 1960.

In other words, 1964 was the perfect time, the right time. And after the successful completion of the 1964 Olympics, they were often called the Happy Games, and in retrospect, the Last innocent Games.

Two of Rokusuke Ei’s most popular songs captured the mood of the time, and are, in my mind, intertwined with the joy and wonder the Japanese had for the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo.

Here again are Chiharu Ts’baki and Steve Myers with their beautiful rendition of “Ue o Muite, Arukou.”