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!
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?
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.
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?
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.”