National Stadium design_Kengo Kuma 2
Kengo Kuma’s design for the Tokyo 2020 National Stadium

 

936 more days to go until the Opening Ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Here are a few of my favorite stories and thoughts on Tokyo2020.

 

2020 Mascot Candidates
Tokyo 2020 Mascot Candidates

If you’re flying in and out of Haneda Airport from January 9, 2018, you may be surprised to see a new team on hand to assist you. The team will be made up of seven robots designed to assist staff and visitors at the busy domestic and international airport, located very near the central part of Tokyo.

Robots will be there to provide information, offer interpretation into four different languages or carry your bags, for example. When you’re at Haneda in January, you’ll see a C-3PO ancestor, the”EMIEW3″ robot, which is less than a meter tall and can provide you with information in English and Japanese.

 

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The EMIEW3

 

With the number of foreign visitors to Japan climbing rapidly – the total number of visitors to Japan exceeding 24 million this year – combined with a tight labor market, Haneda officials realize that they will need robots to increase productivity and meet the needs of travelers. Additionally, there is a pride associated with showing the world during the Tokyo2020 Olympics that Japan is cutting edge.

As Yutaka Kuratomi, a representative from the Japan Airport Terminal, said in this article, “We want foreign tourists to think that the Japanese people are cool when they come here.”

Willie Banks

Think San Diego, think sun and fun.

The inaugural ANOC World Beach Games are coming to San Diego in 2019. Wake boarding, beach volleyball, beach wrestling, beach handball, bouldering among many other events will be on display at Mission Beach. Mix sand and sun, with youth and sports and you get something less formal and more participative than the Olympics.

In fact, Chief Executive Officer of the ANOC World Beach Games Sand Diego 2019, Willie Banks, calls it the “anti-Olympics Games – fresh and fast paced, more community based, more of a festival feel.”

ANOC World Beach Games San Diego 2019 logoI had the opportunity to sit down with Banks in Tokyo as he was in town on business His career path is a model for athletes who wonder what to do after spending so much of their youth training and competing. Banks was one of the premier triple jumpers, breaking the world record in 1985 with a hop, skip and a jump of 17.97 at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, a record that lasted over a decade.

Banks competed at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In 1994, he was deputy venue director of the Rose Bowl for 8 games of the FIFA World Cup in the United States, where the finals between Brazil and Italy were held. In 1996, Banks was the director of athletes service at the Atlanta Olympics. And over the years, he has been a consultant to cities bidding to be Olympic hosts. Today, in addition to serving on the executive committee of the World Olympians Association, he runs his own company, HSJ Incorporated, which markets an artificial turf called Fieldturf in Japan and Taiwan.

Banks, who grew up in San Diego, is looking forward to bringing the world to his neighborhood. “The most important part of these Games is that we will have fun and the athletes and spectators will enjoy, which will build a wonderful brand,” he said.

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Willie Banks and me in Tokyo.

PyeongChang Olympic ski venue

I’ve decided on a Christmas present for myself – a trip to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics!

I woke up one morning a couple of weeks ago thinking – South Korea is only 2 hours away by plane, February is manageable workwise, and I’m a total fanatic about the Olympics – why not go?

So, I’m going. But I had to make some decisions based on information only on the Internet.

Rooms were hard to figure out. Nothing but guest houses with shared space, or really expensive hotel rooms seemed available. Then, Airbnb came to the rescue! I found a private room not far from the Olympic Stadium, and the hosts speak English!

Then, I had to see whether I could purchase tickets for the Opening Ceremonies. I know that ticket sales for these Winter Games are a little weak right now, but I thought that the opening ceremonies would be sold out by now. They weren’t! I secured my seat for the evening of February 8!

And finally, I had to buy my plane ticket, which was the easiest of the tasks. After I arrive in Seoul, I will take a train from Incheon to Jinbu Station, check in, and have a day to acclimate to the surroundings.

How cold will it be? Will tickets for all events be relatively easy to attain? How convenient is transportation between the various sites? Will I make further inroads in my understanding of the Olympic bureaucracy, and expand my Olympic network? Will the Games actually be exciting?

I look forward to answering those questions!

Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in Manhattan
Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in Manhattan_Reuters

On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, Sayfullo Saipov rented a truck in Passaic, New Jersey, and less than an hour later around 3pm was barreling down the scenic Hudson River Bike Path, mowing down runners, pedestrians and bikers alike. Victims and fatalities were found at different points along this 10-block killing spree, finally ending when his truck crashed into a school bus parked outside Stuyvesant High School.

Saipov was gunned down and captured by police who happened to be in that area investigating another incident. By the time the day ended, 6 people were killed on the spot, with two more dying later in the day.

This was the worst terrorist attack on New York City since September 11, 2001.

I feel pained at the loss of life and the inability to make sense of the murderous actions of this terrorist in my home town of New York, the frustration heightened by the fact that Saipov was apprehended outside my high school alma mater. Stuyvesant was only four blocks from the World Trade Towers, and thus ended up serving as a triage center for those injured and dying after the 9/11 attacks. On Tuesday, it served yet again as a backdrop to incomprehensible hatred.

A few weeks ago, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published their 2017 Safe Cities Index. In the dimension of “Personal Security”, which reflects the level of urban crime, violence or the likelihood of terrorism, New York City ranked 25th out of 60 cities surveyed. After seeing citizens run down on a bike path on a sunny afternoon, one might wonder why that ranking isn’t worse.

terror lower west side Stuyvesant

But on the whole, when EIU looks at all factors of security relevant to big cities, including digital, health and infrastructure safety, New York City ranks fourth safest in the world for cities with populations of 15 million or more.

At the top of the list, as the safest of the biggest cities, is Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo continues as the safest city in the world, maintaining its EIU reign since 2015. With the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the public and private sectors in Japan are both working on measures to improve security, particularly in regards to digital security. While bombs and gun attacks are concerns, even in super safe Japan, great attention is being paid to ensuring Japan’s power grids, transportation systems, and digital platforms are not compromised now, or doing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Japanese are highly detail oriented and biased towards checking and re-checking for points of weakness and flaw, which is something I and many others can take comfort from if we dare to think about how creative and diabolical terrorist and crime organizations can be.

And yet, how do you protect against someone renting a truck and plowing into a crowd?

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Oh there were a bunch of dignitaries there. A Governor. Organizing Committee Head. Olympians. Celebrities. There were proclamations. Couldn’t see it. It was rainy. And I was too late to get to a good spot.

But it was still cool, on October 28, 2017, to celebrate 1,000 Days to the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the Ginza.IMG_5418

 

At the moment the photo above was snapped, there was 1,000 days and over 4 hours to the start of the Tokyo Olympiad – in other words, 8pm on Friday, July 24, 2020.

We got to see the 2020 logo on display, the white geometric design on traditional Japanese indigo blue, featured on the festival happi coats of supporters.

We got to see demonstrations of a few of the new events to debut in 2020, like 3-on-3 basketball and sports climbing.

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In the case of 3-on-3 basketball, basketball players slipped on the rain-slicked asphalt, but still put on a show. Afterwards, renown kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa and Olympic weightlifter Hiromi Miyake showed off their shooting prowess.

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Olympic weightlifter Hiromi Miyake

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Famed kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa
This event at the Ginza, still one of the world’s swankiest shopping areas, was an opportunity for Tokyo 2020 local sponsors to promote their linkage to the Olympics.

 

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Eneos does the classic tourist gimmick.

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A new ANA plane, with artwork designed by a junior high school student.
Here, I put my origami skills to the test to fold a paper crane. I failed…but I still put my heart into it.

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Kinki Nihon Tourist asking passersby to fold cranes.
On November 29, it will be 1,000 days to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

The countdown continues…..

Sacred Flame in Kagoshima 1
Sacred Flame during torch relay in Kagoshima in September, 1964

It was called the Flame of Hope – a flickering flame kept alive in a boat lantern in the city of Kagoshima. Until it wasn’t.

The sacred flame came to Japan after being ignited in Olympia, Greece, and traversing South, Southeast and East Asia. When the flame arrived in Kagoshima on September 9, 1964, one of the many torch relay runners, a sports store owner, took his torch back home with the flame still alive. When the principal of the local elementary school saw the flame, he said he wanted his students to see it.

The Lantern that Held the Olympic Flame
The Lantern that Held the Olympic Flame

And thus was born the idea to keep the Olympic flame alive, where it finally settled in a city youth training center. It was called the Flame of Hope. And for decades, residents of Kagoshima would over the years request the honor of using the Olympic flame to ignite fires for weddings, festivals and camp outings. For all intents and purposes, the Flame of Hope became an Eternal Flame, at least that is what the people of the youth training center dedicated to protecting.

Then one day in November, 2013, the flame went out, although no one really knew that until recently. In reports that came out only last week in October 2017, the head of the youth training center admitted this: “I saw with my eyes that the flame went out on November 21,” he added. “We re-lit the fire and kept it going for about two weeks, but I thought that was not good.”

According to that AFP report, the head of the center was feeling considerable pressure at that time as the news of Tokyo’s selection for the 2020 Olympics was bringing considerable attention to Kagoshima and the legacy of the eternal flame from 1964. “At that time, I could not say something that could destroy (people’s) dreams,” added the official, who declined to be named.

With so many people requesting use of the Flame of Hope, the guilt over deceiving the public had reached its breaking point, so he recently decided to come clean. In the past four years, the Flame of Hope had actually been re-lit by a magnifying glass and sunlight in December, 2013.

To be fair, the Olympic flame has a history of being extinguished, particularly those held by runners during torch relays, most recently when striking teachers disrupted the torch relay prior to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

But you have to feel for the employees of the Kagoshima youth training center – to see hope flicker out before their very eyes. Fortunately, hope takes on many forms, and still fuels expectations for greatness in 2020.