What would a blog be without a list! Here is my countdown to the Top Fifteen Sports Stories of 2015. Over the next five days, I will share three stories each day that involved the Olympic Games, Olympians or Olympians to be. Here are number 13 – 15, featuring Mayweather, Rousey and Kobe.

Manny Pacquiao-vs Floyd Mayweather-2015-Fight-of-the-Century

FIFTEEN – Olympian Floyd Mayweather Defeats Manny Pacquiao: In the long-awaited match in May, Mayweather won the welterweight championship fight in a unanimous decision over Pacquiao. Mayweather is a bronze medal winning champion at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

Ronda Rousey Holly Holm tale of the tape

FOURTEEN – Olympian Judoka Ronda Rousey loses to Holly Holm: In an attempt to defend her Ultimate Fighting Championship, Holm ends Rousey’s streak of 12 victories in a row in November. Rousey won a bronze medal for the United States in judo (-70kg).

Kobe Bryant USA_Basketball_Dunk_Wallpaper_Olympics

THIRTEEN – Two-time Olympian Kobe Bryant Announces Retirement: Bryant won gold with the US Men’s basketball team in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012.

Created by CaroRichard http://carorichard.deviantart.com/

On the opening day of the Nagano Winter Olympics, February 7, 1998, the five continents of the Olympic rings came together in a chorus of thousands to perform Ludwig von Beethoven’s Ninth.

As described in this post, this was a feat of technical amazingness.

Each chorus was miked and its performance relayed back to Japan individually with precisely the amount of delay required in each case to get the choral parts arriving simultaneously, where they were then blended with the (delayed) live performance in Japan. All of these parts were coordinated and re-broadcast to the whole world together.

May you all find joy, coming together across the seas and over the mountains,  in harmony, as we bring 2015 to a close.

kiddy land present dayIt’s Christmas Eve! If you’re in Tokyo and you still haven’t found time to go Christmas shopping for the kids because you’ve been drinking late into the night at all of the bounenkai parties inside and outside your company, there is a one-stop shop for childrens’ presents – Kiddy Land!

Like FAO Schwartz in New York City, Kiddy Land is a go-to place for tourists visiting Omotesando, the main strip in one of the ritziest parts of Tokyo. Celebrities and tourists of all persuasions have gone up and down its five stories, getting their fix of Japanese cuteness (kawaii) and toy innovation all in one place.

There are whole sections dedicated to Hello Kitty and Snoopy. But more significantly, Kiddy Land claims to have introduced the Valentine’s Day tradition to Japan in 1972 (although that is more likely to have happened in the 1950s), as well as the Halloween parade in 1983.

kiddyland ad in japan times
Kiddy Land ad in the Japan Times_October 19, 1964

In other words, it is a Tokyo cultural icon. I just never knew it had been around so long, as evidenced by the ad seen above in the October 19, 1964 Japan Times. In fact, Kiddy Land started in 1950 as a book store.

Many Olympians probably did visit Kiddy Land as it was only about a few football fields down the road from the Olympic Village. But toys made in Japan at the time did have a poor reputation, at a time when Made in Japan meant, cheap but poor in quality.

Even more interestingly are the other ads that populated that space. I suppose these ads reflected what was popular with visiting foreigners: swords, pearls, tailored clothes, handicrafts and “Beautiful Sweet Girls Beer” (only 280 yen!)

KiddyLand 1950

Candace Hill, of Rockdale County High School, after being named the Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, Thursday, June 25, 2015 in Conyers, GA.Photo/Gatorade, Susan Goldman, handout.

Candace Hill is one of the fastest women in the world. And she’s turned pro. At the age of 16.

She’ll be running in Rio, and she’ll be likely making a very, very good living along the way.

“Skipping college is attractive for three reasons: money, fame and momentum,” the sprinter from Georgia was quoted as saying in this New York Times article.

Candace Hill running

Call her arrogant. Call her the embodiment of the American dream. With the third best time ever in the 100 meters for women under 20 years old (10.98 seconds), she is not only the youngest woman to turn pro in track and field in America, she is the youngest person man or woman.

You would never have seen a woman like Hill over 40 years ago, before Title IX.

Title IX (nine) is part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, a law that states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Barbara Winslow in the Journal of the Gilder Lehrman Institute stated the situation this way:

It’s hard to imagine that just forty years ago, young women were not admitted into many colleges and universities, athletic scholarships were rare, and math and science was a realm reserved for boys. Girls square danced instead of playing sports, studied home economics instead of training for “male-oriented” (read: higher-paying) trades. Girls could become teachers and nurses, but not doctors or principals; women rarely were awarded tenure and even more rarely appointed college presidents. There was no such thing as sexual harassment because “boys will be boys,” after all, and if a student got pregnant, her formal education ended. Graduate professional schools openly discriminated against women.

Today a generation or two of women have grown up in a culture that has encouraged women to all the pursuits that men had previously enjoyed. Thanks to Title IX, educational systems had to begin investing in girls and womens’ teams, which resulted in the popularity for women’s team sports like soccer, basketball, and baseball. Mo’ne Davis, who was the first girl to earn a win and pitch a shutout in a Little League World Series


Tokyo Olympics with Rafer Johnson
Thomas Tomizawa with the NBC News team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Rafer Johnson seated.

My father was a member of the NBC News Team that covered the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He’s far left, and that’s Rafer Johnson, Rome decathlete champion, seated, also a member of the news crew. The crew are wearing protective masks, being cheeky. They probably saw a lot of Japanese wearing these masks in and around town.

In modern-day Tokyo, men and women routinely wear masks during hay fever season to avoid the pollen, or during the fall and winter months to avoid giving others their colds. But I now realize that in 1964, the reason for wearing the masks was different – the air back then was filthy. Routinely in these crisp winter days, we have perfect views of Mt Fuji. Back then you couldn’t see it for the pollution. In the 1960s, Tokyo was a year-round cloud of dust. Here’s how writer, Robert Whiting described it in the Japan Times: “Tokyoites dwelled under a constant cloud of noise, dust and pollution as the city struggled to rebuild itself from the wreckage of the American B-29 Superfortress bombings.”

The dust, the noise, the smells, the ever-changing skyline and the disorientation with unprecedented change – for many, the transformation of Tokyo was overwhelming. What took the West a couple of generations to do – moving from agriculture to manufacturing – Japan was trying to do much faster. While the pace of change was exciting to many, giving them hope after post-war desperation, the 1960s was also a period of confusion and alienation for those coping with life in the most crowded city in the world.


Documentary Tokyo
Screenshot from NHK documentary, Tokyo.


I took an EdX MOOC course called Visualizing Postwar Tokyo under Professor Shunya Yoshimi of The University of Tokyo in which he highlighted the stress people in Tokyo were under due to this change. He shared the opening minutes of this NHK documentary called “Tokyo”, by director Naoya Yoshida, which shows the crowds, the noise, the traffic and the construction through the eyes of a woman whose father was killed in the Tokyo firebombings and mother who ran away from home.

As the woman says in the documentary, “Tokyo, unplanned and full of constructions sites, is no place for a human being to live. Only a robot with no sense could live in this rough, coarse, harsh and dusty city that doesn’t have any blue skies. Many people complain like this. But I disagree. I think this city is just desperately hanging along, just like me.”

As Professor Yoshimi said, “the woman in this film is a symbol of the isolation in the big cities.”

But again, rest assured. Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, and today, is arguably, the cleanest.

Mt Fuji from Roppongi
The view from my office.


Sepp Blatter press conference

BREAKING: #FIFA president Sepp Blatter banned for eight years

(ATR) FIFA’s top judge today handed down bans for world football’s most powerful men for financial misconduct.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his UEFA counterpart Michel Platini each received eight-year bans. Blatter was also fined 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,230) and Platini 80,000 Swiss francs ($80,370).

Hans-Joachim Eckert, chair of FIFA’s ethics adjudicatory body, ruled that they had breached four articles of the governing body’s Code of Ethics over the $2 million “disloyal payment” FIFA made to Platini in 2011 for his work as a consultant to Blatter.

Source: BREAKING: #FIFA president Sepp Blatter b

Shinjuku After the War
Shinjuku right after World War II


“I was born in Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1947. It was a bombed out city, and Shinjuku was a rowdy part of the city – the black market area, an area where prostitutes walked,” recollected gymnast, Makoto Sakamoto. “I remember returnee soldiers with no legs, stumps, playing the accordion, with a jar for money.”

You can see a bit of what it was like in Tokyo in this British Pathe stock film of Tokyo in 1946 – Japanese getting on with their daily lives amidst the rubble.

Sakamoto’s father moved the family to California in 1955, but in those seven years young Makoto lived in Tokyo, his home country underwent a complete overhaul. He grew up under the Allied occupation of Japan, led by General Douglas MacArthur. He could see cottage industries, roads, houses, buildings sprout up around him. He may not have realized it, but the near-dead Japanese economy began to grow at a tremendous pace as the pulse of normalcy and optimism became the steady beat of Japanese society.

He remembers watching his brothers in foot races, encouraging him to eat cheese so that he would have the power to run with them. He remembers getting cleaned up in the public baths with his mother. And he recalls their home in Shinjuku, before they moved out to a better part of Tokyo, was very near the Musashino-kan, a movie theater in that still exists in the heart of Shinjuku. The business of movie theaters were booming in Japan, and was a reflection of a growing consumer class, as well as a need to escape the stress of re-building their homes and a nation.

Years later, Sakamoto would return to Tokyo as an American citizen to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. He came back to a gleaming, modern city. The American occupation had ended in 1952. The Korean War had kickstarted the Japanese post-war economy as the American military procured a lot of materials and goods from Japan for its war effort in Korea. By the time 1964 Olympics rolled around, Japan was the pleasant surprise of the East, a land of industry, modernity and quiet cool and exoticism.

Sakamoto-khun arrives in japan
17-Year-old Makoto Sakamoto returns to Japan representing the US Men’s Gymnastics team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Here is more British Pathe footage of Tokyo in the 1950s. It shows a rising middle class, businessmen at a restaurant, women working at a rubber boots manufacturer, children doing their morning exercises on the school grounds, as well as men and women in suits and dresses walking along wide sidewalks.

Sakamoto attended school in Los Angeles where he would emerge as America’s top gymnast. At the Tokyo Games, he finished 20th overall, best on the US team, but in no position to muscle past the great competitors from Japan, Russia and Germany. He would continue to be America’s best gymnast through 1972, and would go on to be assistant coach to the US men’s gymnastics team that finally won gold in 1984.

But in 1964, Sakamoto was back home, competing only 2 kilometers from where he was born. “I remember walking down a cobblestone road, going to the public bath with my mother,” Sakamoto told me when reminiscing about his childhood. “My mom would look up and say, ‘there are a lot of stars tonight. It will be a beautiful day tomorrow.’”