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.
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 demonstrations of a few of the new events to debut in 2020, like 3-on-3 basketball and sports climbing.
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.
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.
Here, I put my origami skills to the test to fold a paper crane. I failed…but I still put my heart into it.
On November 29, it will be 1,000 days to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
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.
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.
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.
This is part three exploring the words of William Graves, and photos of Winfield Parks, staff of the monthly magazine National Geographic. Graves and Parks spent weeks, if not months in Japan, uncovering the insight that would make Japan in 1964 comprehensible to the West.
In the pictures in this post, Graves and Parks try to help us understand the “leisure boom” of the times, and to show us how Tokyoites played. As (the predominantly male) Western journalists at the time often did, they focused on the night life. Graves tracked down a woman named Reiko, who worked as a hostess at a nightclub called Hanabasha.
In Tokyo nightclub slang, Reiko is what is known as a toranshista garu – “transistor girl” – one who, as the name suggests, is small, compact, and full of energy.
The dance floor resembled the platform at Shinjuku Station in rush hour, so Reikko and I settled for a napkin-sized table in a corner. We talked of Tokyo’s reija boomu – the “leisure boom” – and the city’s fantastic wealth.
“This year, most richest one,” Reiko began. “Japanese call this Year of Tatsu – Year of Dragon. Dragon stand for rich.”
This is part two of a series on the October 1964 National geographic article called “Tokyo The Peaceful Explosion,” a fascinating portrait of Tokyo on the eve of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Staff writer, William Graves, and staff cameraman Winfield Parks provide a mosaic of life in the most populated city in the world at the time.
Change in Japan was fast and furious. In a conversation between Graves and an economist and editor for NHK, Hiroshi Narita (whom Graves calls “Nick”), they try to understand the secret of the emerging Japanese miracle.
I mentioned what everyone notices first about Tokyo – its fantastic prosperity. Shop windows were full, crowds on the streets were handsomely dressed, and thousands on thousands of sleek Japanese cars choked the streets. Nick nodded happily.
“Even to Americans, the figures are staggering,” he said. “In construction, Tokyo starts 800 major new buildings a year, more than two a day. The city’s – and Japan’s – economic growth rate runs about 10 percent a year, the highest in the world. In 1959 the rate rose to almost 18 percent; now people are talking about the recession.” He smiled.
“We have a stock market, too, and it’s doing just what yours is. Since 1949, for example, a share of Canon Camera Company stock has multiplied 865 times in value.”
“What’s behind it all?” I asked, trapping an elusive piece of shrimp with a chopstick.
“We are,” Nick said simply. “The Japanese people. You’ll get other answers – postwar aid, protective tariffs, new markets in Asia, and all of these things have helped. But basically the boom is built on Japanese brains, skill, and fantastic energy.”
The crowds, the traffic, the lights, the smog, the noise, the peace, the plenty, the interplay of East and West, the exotic…. William Graves, staff writer for the monthly magazine, National Geographic, stayed in Tokyo for weeks if not months with cameraman Winfield Parks in an attempt to paint a picture of Tokyo in 1964 with words and photos.
Tokyo is not easy to love at first sight. In daylight, from the air, it resembles an enormous coffee stain, blotting the green velvet of the surrounding farm country. Seen from the ground, it lies blurred under layers of smog – a city wrapped in soiled cotton wood.
At night, however, Tokyo bursts through its somber wrapping. Then the city is aflame with neon, its low hills pulsing like great beds of coals, with crimsons, lavenders, greens, and golds of flashing electric signs announcing nightclubs, coffee bars, truck tires, television sets, cameras – everything that Tokyo owns or makes in some 57,000 factories.
Here are a few of the pictures and words from that National Geographic article, a portrait of an explosion.
The Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee was ready for the hordes of foreigners to descend upon their shores, preparing processes, rules and documentation that made it clear to officials, workers and volunteers in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic bureaucracy who an Olympian was or wasn’t.
So when Ted (Theo) Mittet came to Japan as a rower on the US Olympic Team, he had his documents. I know this because he kept them in a box over the past five decades, and he graciously allowed me to rummage through it.
The image at the top of the article is his Identify Card. Sent about five months in advance to some 7,900 competitors and officials, blank identify cards were provided to all National Olympic Committees (NOC) or International Sports Federations (ISF). Those NOCs and ISF’s in turn filled in the cards and handed them to the athlete.
These identity cards, were for all intents and purposes, a passport within Japan, and so Japanese officials took the time and effort to design a card appropriate for its level of importance. Not only was the paper manufactured with waterproof texture paper, and watermarked to prevent forgery, the card included a serial number that was fed into an IBM computer system. That serial number was also printed on a vinyl case designed to further protect the document.
The identity card allowed the athlete or official free passage on all related Olympic transportation, free admission into parks, zoos, museums, as well as free access to trains, buses and trams in Tokyo.
As described in this post, Mittet traveled through Japan. In as much as he could, he likely used identity card to travel, but he may have also used his railway pass, one issued to all Olympians. This pass may have been more to explain which train lines the foreigners were allowed to use, as the document kindly shows in red which lines they can board free of charge.
Inside the Olympic Village, Olympians had access to the dining halls. Each individual was provided with a book of meal coupons, which they could use breakfast, lunch and dinner in any of the dining halls they wanted. The picture below is of Mittet’s coupon book, with coupons left for only October 28, several days after the end of the Olympics.
As one can imagine, the Japanese organizers thought deeply about how the foreigners would interact with the Japanese at the countless number of touch points in Tokyo, and believed that easily recognizable documentation in English would become in certain instances the instant translation of an unspoken exchange.
“Having established procedures and protocol the Japanese organisers devised a document of reference for (almost) every forseeable contingency,” wrote Doug Ibbotson of the Evening News, in an article entitled Tokyo – Marvel of Efficiency and Goodwill. “This resulted in the distribution of mountains of paper which, I regret to say, frequently was jettisoned into the waste basket. However, once a document was in existence, the lesser officials were happy, for it became the sole arbiter in any dispute between Western Logic and the Oriental Mind.”
Paper work – one reason why the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were considered one of the smoothest operations in Olympic history.
Airbnb helped find accommodations for 85,000 people during the 2016 Rio Olympics. That is, according to Fortune Magazine, 17% of the approximate 500,000 local and foreign tourists who visited Rio during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Handling spikes in tourist traffic during big-tent events like the Olympics, World Cup, or industry conventions is a challenge, even more so in cities like Tokyo that are already at high occupancy rates during normal weeks. Services like Airbnb have business model which connect travelers with individuals who commonly offer up their own apartments or houses and sometimes more personalized service, for fees often lower than the hotel chains.
As the “Official Alternative Accommodation Services Supplier” of the 2016 Rio Olympics, Airbnb can argue that it put cash directly in the hands of Brazilian citizens, and helped the government and organizing committee deal with room over-capacity during the Olympics. According to this Fortune article, 421,000 arrivals stayed at Airbnb rooms in Brazil in 2015. In 2016, the year of the 2016 Olympics, the number of arrivals doubled to more than 1 million.
When surfing was selected as a new Olympic sport for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, enthusiasts wondered how organizers were going to keep score.
One of the challenges when organizing surfing competitions is to create the perception that everyone has a chance at similar size and types of waves. After all we can’t control the moon and the tides they create on the vast ocean waters. And so very quickly enthusiasts wondered whether the Olympics were going to introduce wave pools to the competition, large mechanical pools that create waves. In that manner, you can pretty much guarantee that competitors will get the same level of difficulty every time.
As it turns out, surfing at the Tokyo Olympics will be held out in the wild, on the waves of Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan. Perhaps it’s because wave pools have not yet become a part of top-flight surfing competitions, that from a technological or even a surfing culture perspective, competitors are not yet ready for wave pools. But the president of the International Surfing Association (ISA), Fernando Aquerre, gave another, economic reason in this interview with Surfer.com:
The IOC does not want to build more “white elephants” – structures that have no use after the Olympics are over. The Olympics organizers want to focus on legacy, on building things that can be used by host cities after the games. As of now, there is no commercially sustainable wave pool. You can build a wave pool like Snowdonia, but nobody knows if that will be commercially sustainable over a period of time.
So how will the surfing competition be run in 2020?
First, there will be a total of 40 surfers allowed to compete, 20 men and 20 women.
Second, the event will be shortboarding only – no longboards or bodyboards.
Third, Aguerre said that they will be patient over the two-week Olympic competition to find the right two-day period to hold the surfing competition.
That last point is interesting because television will probably demand that surfing establish a set time in advance. But then again, the Olympics are also about putting “athletes first”.
“We’ll try to start it at the front end of the games, but we can wait to run it if the waves look better at the end,” Aguerre said. “We have ten years of wave history and wind conditions data to rely on. We’re very confident, and so are Tokyo and the IOC, that we’ll have reasonable waves of good quality.”
Additionally, Aguerre wants to make sure that the venue at Tsurigasaki Beach has the right vibe. “The IOC has asked us to to create a full-on beach scene at Chiba that will last the whole length of the Olympics,” he said. “It will include the surf events of course, but also organic food, yoga in the morning—it will be a place where you want to hang out. There might be a skate ramp — maybe it will be like what you see at the U.S. Open. It’s never been done before at the Olympics.”
I’m not a surfer, but when I think of places to surf in Japan, I think of Shonan Beach in Kanagawa Prefecture, or the islands of Okinawa. After all, it was the American soldiers based in those areas since the Japanese occupation of the late 1940s and early 1950s who introduced surfing to the Japanese, sparking a fascination for Hawaii, the American beach culture, and how to ride the waves with a board.
But when the Olympics return to Tokyo in 2020, all surfing eyes will turn to Chiba. Last year, surfing was voted in as a new Olympic sport for 2020, and Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba was selected as the venue. Located about 90 minutes east from Tokyo in the city of Ichinomiya, Tsurigasaki Beach has become the go-to place to catch waves in the Kanto region.
In this survey of the best surf spots in Japan, JapanSurf.com ranked Chiba as having the best quality waves in the country. “Consistent, powerful beach breaks and thundering reefs make this area a mecca among surfers in Japan.” The Mainichi Daily News explained that surfers enjoy a “consistent flow of waves toward the shore from three different directions, namely northeast, east and southeast.”
Even more interestingly, the Mainichi article states that surfing has been responsible for a phenomenon unseen for decades in Japan – a small town that is actually growing in population.
Ever since the 1980s, people wanting to surf all year round have been moving to the town, and since the 2000s, numerous surfing shops, restaurants and new homes have emerged along prefectural Route 30, which runs parallel to the Pacific coast. As a result, the area has taken on an atmosphere of a “tropical island” bustling with youngsters, attracting what is believed to be about 600,000 visitors a year.
According to the article, the town of Ichinomiya has grown to 12,400 at the beginning of 2017, in a country where both the rapidly aging population and the desire of the youth to work in the big cities has shrunk the populations of cities and towns that are not named Tokyo or Osaka.
The Japanese love for surfing has revitalized Ichinomiya. And as planning continues to bring the biggest beach party in the world to Tsurigasaki Beach, ambitions climb. “We want to spread the name and culture of Ichinomiya across the world,” said Ichinomiya mayor, Masaya Mabuchi.
But the seed of the idea of surfing as an Olympic sport was planted, apparently, in 1912 by the Johnny Appleseed of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku.
According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the swimming legend who won three golds and two silvers across three Olympics and 13 years, Kahanamoku “first presented his dream at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, where he expressed his wish to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to see Surfing included in the Games.”
In fact, this little historical footnote was the inspiration for the current head of the ISA, president, Fernando Aquerre. The surfer from Argentina was newly elected to the ISA in 1994, and according to Olympic.org, he had a dream to get surfing into the Olympics. In fact, Aguerre met Juan Antonio Samaranch, in 1995, part of his pitch was to give the then 75-year-old president of the IOC a surfing lesson in his office.
Unfortunately for Aguerre, what was true in 1912 was also true in 1995 – the IOC was not ready to hang ten.
“We had paddled out but there were no waves,” Aguerre said (in reference to his meeting with the IOC). “We kind of figured out that waves were going to come at some point but we didn’t really know when they were going to come because they were out of our control.”
Still president of the ISA, and still hanging on to his dream, Aguerre opened up his options by connecting with Thomas Bach in 2013, who was a candidate to become the head of the IOC. And by this time, Aguerre was more able to lay out a vision for why surfing needed to be in the Olympics – the need to attract youth to the movement with the rise of action sports. Bach, who was elected to head the IOC that year, made the attraction and retention of youth to the Olympic Games part of his platform.
Surfing has grown significantly in popularity over the recent decades. There were only 32 member countries of the ISA in 1995, but now there 100. So when surfing was submitted to the IOC in September 2015 as a part of a shortlist of new events for Tokyo 2020, primarily driven by youth-oriented action sports like skateboarding and sport climbing, surfing finally caught a wave. In August, 2016, the IOC voted surfing into the Olympics.
Come July 2020, if you want to watch the first Olympians set Olympic records with every top score in surfing, then plan to bake on the hot sands of Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan. That is where the surfing world, Barney and pro alike, will gather.