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Photo taken by author on January 6, 2019, from the fifth floor of a building.

It’s rising!

The New National Stadium, which will be the focal point for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is about twice as high as it was a year since I last took pictures.

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Current view of inside the stadium, from Nippon Terebi.

The architect of this stadium, Kengo Kuma, is famous for working with wood, and you can now see long slats of light brown cedar wood lining the upper part of the stadium. While criticized heavily for dropping plans for a thoroughly different design by world-renown architect Zaha Hadid, the organizing committee did well in selecting Kuma. His design will certainly merge more harmoniously with the surroundings, particularly the wooded confines of Meiji Shrine. In fact, the New National Stadium is called The Mori no Stadium (杜のスタジアム), or the Shrine Forest Stadium.

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The cedar slats that line the stadium eaves.

As Kuma explained in this interview, he was anxious about whether the color of the wood, which was tinged a light white color, would blend well with the green of Meiji Shrine’s trees. “But when I saw the texture of the trees (as a backdrop to the stadium), I was relieved that it was okay.”

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An Oedo Line train station – Kokuritsu-kyogijo Eki – is right underneath the stadium.

November 30, 2019 is the targeted completion date for the New National Stadium.

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Tokyo wins 2020 bid
Tokyo wins 2020 bid

573 days to Opening Day of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. On July 24, 2020, all the questions, all the angst, all the planning will end, and all that will matter are the athletes. For now, we can only speculate about what will be, and recall what has been.

 


Kazuhito Sakae Kazuhito Sakae

Kaori Icho is arguably one of the strongest women in Japan physically. And after the 2016 Rio Olympics, she is arguably the best ever women’s wrestler, capturing her fourth straight Olympic title since wrestling became an Olympic sport at the 2004 Athens Games.

And yet, even the strongest are susceptible to power harassment. In April of 2018, after a thorough review of an independent panel, Kazuhito Sakae was fired from his position as head of top athlete development in the Japan Wrestling Federation, and then in June, fired as head coach of the Shigakkan University wrestling team, for harassment of two Olympians.

As the #MeToo movement hit the shores of Japan, the story of Icho and Sakae played out in the Japanese press, revealing, as Mainichi put it, “an outmoded relationship of master and disciple.” The bulk of the harassment took place in the period around 2010, after Icho had won her 2nd gold medal in individual freestyle wrestling at the Beijing Olympics, and as she was preparing for the 2012 London Olympics.

According to the independent panel, formed at the request of the Japan Wrestling Federation, there were four clear cases of power harassment suffered by not only Icho, but her coach and former Olympian and bronze medalist in men’s freestyle wrestling, Chikara Tanabe.

  1. In 2010 Icho moved to Tokyo from Aichi Prefecture where she was attending Chukyo Women’s University (which is now called Shigakkan University), in an effort to remove herself from the direct influence of Sakae who was the head coach there. When Icho participated in a training session for the Japan national team, which Sakae was overseeing, Sakae said to Icho, “you have the nerve to wrestle in front of me.”
  2. Icho, who effectively stopped taking any coaching from Sakae, asked Tanabe, the coach of the national men’s freestyle team, to coach her. Sakae then demanded that Tanabe to cease any coaching activities of Icho. When Tanabe refused he found himself harassed by other members of the wrestling team, as directed by Sakae, according to the independent panel.
  3. Quite inexplicably, the world’s best female wrestler in her weightclass, Icho, was left off the women’s freestyle wrestling team for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. The committee that left Icho off the team was headed by Sakae.
  4. In 2015, Sakae was seen harassing Tanabe to leave a national team training session, screaming, “You are an eyesore! Get out!”

Those were the four specific proofpoints of power harassment that the independent committee described. And while one may suspect there was more, this was enough for the Japanese public to nod their head and think, yes, I’ve seen that too.

According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in Japan, one out of every three workers had experienced power harassment over the previous three years. This was up from one out of every four when the survey had been conducted five years earlier in 2012. Additionally, 7,8% said they were harassed “many times”, while 17.8% were harassed “occasionally.”

Of those harassed, 41% took no action, citing the belief that nothing would come of it. According to this Deutsche Welle article, only 4% of the cases of sexual violence against women are reported, and that only one of every three rape cases reach the Japanese courts.

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Kaori Icho, right, is one of Japan’s biggest stars but has yet to announce her plans for Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

“Not speaking out is rooted in Japanese culture. Traditionally, people here are not accustomed to revealing details about themselves or sharing personal issues in public,” Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of communications and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, told DW. “And society looks down on people who do break that unwritten rule.”

Supporting the tendency in Japan not to report, Icho said in a statement that she was not “involved in any way” in lodging the complaint, according to Inside the Games. Thankfully, three Olympians did send an official complaint to the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese Government.

On June 14, Sakae finally apologized. “I would like to express my deepest apologies to Icho and her coach (Chikara) Tanabe,” Sakae said. “I will treat people with respect at all times so I never make the same mistake again,” he said as he bowed his head in apology in a news conference.

Despite the swirl of controversy, there is still hope that Icho will commit to an attempt at an unprecedented fifth straight Olympic title in 2020, under the warm gaze of a home crowd. Now 34, she has refrained from competition since the Rio Olympics. If she does, she has said that she will resume her training in 2019.

Icho in 2020.

Imagine what she could do without being harassed by the head of the national wresting team.

1000 days in a row

Every day.

He ran every day for at least a mile from December 20, 1964 to January 30, 2017.

That’s 52 years and 39 days straight!

Ron Hill, of Accrington, Lancashire, is a three-time Olympian, who finished 19th in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and is without a doubt, my patron saint of consistency.

So, I state with some humility that today, Wednesday, January 24, 2018, with this post, I have published an original article on The Olympians for the 1,000th day in a row.

When I started this blog on May 1, 2015, as a kind-of first draft of my book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, I had no intent of publishing a post a day. But alas, one day led to the next, and so on and so on….

I will continue the streak for a while, but I will no longer fret about skipping a day, or two or three. What little time I have for writing on the weekend will eventually shift to time writing the book on ’64, the raison d’etre of this blog.

Now it’s time to do the real writing. Gotta start moving faster. 2020 is around the corner.

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Musashino Forest Sports Plaza on the left, and Ajinomoto Stadium on the right

It was a cold and desolate Sunday when I walked around the grounds of the new Musashino Forest Sports Plaza. Located a short walk away from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is right next to Ajinomoto Stadium, the home of the J-League Division 1 soccer team, F. C. Tokyo.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza google maps

There were no events scheduled at either the Sports Plaza of Ajinomoto Stadium on the January afternoon I visited, but come July 2020, this quiet area of Chofu, very near the American School in Japan where my son went to high school, will be filled with thousands of noisy fans. The Musashino Forest Sports Plaza opened on November 27, 2017, the first of eight new permanent Tokyo 2020 venues to be completed. The Plaza will host badminton and pentathlon fencing in the 2020 Olympics, as well as wheelchair basketball during the 2020 Paralympics.

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View of the Main Arena on the left background, the sub-arena with its pool and gym on the right background, with a track and field in the foreground.

According to this article, the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza is built to serve the community long after the Olympics end. The facilities include a swimming pool, a gym, a multi-use sports area and two fitness studios which are available to the public. The roof of the facilities are made up of solar panels, to help provide a more sustainable energy source.

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Main Arena and its solar panel roof

And in line with Tokyo2020 Accessibility Guidelines, “the facility designed to be accessible to all, including the elderly, people with impairments, parents with infant strollers and those with guide dogs. The main arena has space for wheelchairs, and the space is designed with enough height difference between the rows of seating to ensure that those in wheelchairs can see clearly, even if spectators in front of them stand up.”

Ajinomoto Stadium will also host matches in the soccer competition during Tokyo 2020, and will be called Tokyo Stadium during the Olympics in accordance with its non-commercialization policy.

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The new National Stadium on 27October2017_Asahi

Ground was broken for the new National Stadium in Yoyogi on December 11, 2016, where the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will kick off.

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My photo of the stadium on December 29, 2017, from the Northwest side.

Exactly a year later, the International Olympic Committee declared that Japan is on schedule with all new venues for Tokyo 2020, even the National Stadium that was put perilously behind schedule when the Japanese government demanded the organizers drop Zaha Hadid’s winning design as costs escalated from JPY130 billion to JPY252 billion.

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My photo – a look inside through one of the few gaps in the wall from the northeast part of the stadium.

As the IOC officials recently saw, the shell of architect Kengo Kuma’s design has risen. I took a walk around it on December 29, 2017, the area quiet as the construction crew was on holiday break. The high protective wall that surround the stadium area is clean and white, only the tiniest of views available for the pedestrian promenading the path around the wall.

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My photo – a view from the west of the stadium.

I looked for high ground near the stadium – office buildings and apartment buildings – but I lacked the reporter’s motivation that day to go up to a lobby receptionist or maintenance person to ask – “can I go up to the top of your building and take a picture of the stadium?”

This post has pictures I was able to take, as well as images off of the internet.

My 3 years to go Coca Cola pin

A friend of mine at Coca Cola gave me a gift that I treasure – a “3 Years to go!” pin, distributed to all Coca Cola Japan employees in anticipation of the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Coca Cola is a TOP Sponsor, which means they are one of 13 global sponsors of the Olympic Games. In fact, Coca Cola is the longest running sponsor of the Olympics, having first established its presence at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. They also produce Coca Cola branded Olympic pins, and sponsor pin trading centers at the Games.

The “3 years to go!” pin highlights the official Tokyo2020 logo and Olympic rings on the right, with a red Coca Cola bottle swathed in a green and gold kimono obi.

No, I won’t trade.

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Torch Runner passing the front of Mt Fuji, from the Kon Ichikawa film, Tokyo Olympiad. Click on the image to see this scene at the 9 minute 30 second mark to see.

In 1964, the cycling road race in Hachioji, a suburban area in Western Tokyo, was considered too easy, which allowed too much bunching of elite and mediocre racers during the bulk of the race. In 2020, the road race route “will be tough, with a lot of difference in elevation,” according to this Japan Times article.

More importantly, for the viewer, the backdrop will be wonderful. The 2020 route will take Olympian cyclists by the foot of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture. According to the article, the 270-km course will start near Musashino Forest Sport Center (not far from ASIJ, the school to which my son cycled to every day), and continue through National Route 413 all the way to scenic Lake Yamanaka and Mt Fuji.

According to Cycling Weekly, the organizers said that the race might even include a climb up Mt Fuji.

The final major obstacle of the men’s road race should be another long climb of around 15km, going half way up the side of the iconic Mount Fuji. This is likely to be crested with around 36km to go, half of which will be a descent before a flat or rolling run-in to the finish line back on the Fuji Speedway circuit. If this mountainous course is confirmed by the organising committee, the men’s race will feature more than 5,000m of climbing and be the longest race since professional riders were allowed to compete in 1996.

Reports are that the women’s 143-km road race will also have a similar route but will have less climbing.

In 1964, Mt Fuji was certainly one of the top five things a visiting Olympian would know about Japan. Some may have seen it on the plane ride into Tokyo. But most could not see it even if they wanted as the Tokyo skies were filled with the soot and dust of industry and construction. Additionally, it rained a good part of the Tokyo Olympics.

In July and August, 2020, the competitors in Tokyo will still unlikely be able to see Mt Fuji – the skies usually don’t become clear enough until the Autumn and Winter months. But the cyclists will have a front row view from their bikes.

As a side note, I did as well in the Autumn of 2005. I stupidly joined a bunch of young but experienced mountain bikers who convinced me that biking up and down Mt Fuji is a blast. As you can see in the picture below, I did not fare well, wondering how I did not break any bones hurtling down steep slopes of lava rock.

Ah, Mt Fuji….

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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…..