Airbnb in Hokkaido
Airbnb listings for Hokkaido, Japan

The Silicon Valley home-sharing accommodation business has faced first-mover angst. While customers seeking cheaper, more varied accommodations are using Airbnb more and more, the hotel industry in particular is pushing back, lobbying local governments to put a stop to these unregulated competitors.

Even in San Francisco, its home base, Airbnb faces pressure from the government to prove that the Airbnb hosts are indeed residences of the rooms they rent out, not companies that own various condos or houses and rent out rooms like hotels.

But Airbnb, while it has faced push back from authorities, have just been given a very bright green light in Japan. On Friday, March 10, the cabinet of Prime Minister of Shinzo Abe “approved rules…limiting home-sharing by private citizens to 180 days a year,” according to The Japan Times. Prior to this, hosting a room in your home to rent was essentially illegal in Japan.

The impact will be significant. According to this report, hotel vacancies in Tokyo are currently limited, as occupancy rates in recent years have consistently been over 80%, which has allowed the average daily rate (ADR) to climb significantly. With foreign tourist numbers expected to climb, and with the inevitable spikes in demand for hotel rooms for the World Rugby Cup scheduled for Tokyo in 2019 and the Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in 2020, there is continued fear of angry visitors from outside Tokyo and Japan screaming for hotel rooms, certainly with hopes of less expensive options.

Japan Hotel Performance 2007 to 2015

But also significantly, this is an opportunity to expand the number of accommodations available to travelers in the more remote parts of Japan where corporations are reluctant to invest, as well as put tourist money into the pockets of rural folks whose towns have been hollowed out by loss of youth, and a lack of energy to continue with the labor intensive agricultural business.

Japan hand, Terrie Lloyd, believes Airbnb Japan is going to grow the number of room listings significantly thanks to this law, which is expected to be passed easily in the not so distant future. And he believes the impact will be great:

  • People owning homes in areas under served by hotels (pick almost any countryside area in Japan) will now be able to step into the breech and offer accommodation with little/no development cost. This will significantly increase the flow of tourists out to more remote areas, which of course will be a shot in the arm for local economies.
  • 180 days a year means that the average household out in the countryside could make up to JPY900,000 or so a year (JPY5,000 average per night) that would have been impossible otherwise – and with very little outlay – thus offering a low barrier to entry per household.
  • There will be a regional property boom, at least in those areas which have visually attractive tourist assets, and this will encourage other regions who haven’t preserved their traditions to do more conservation work to pull visitors.
  • There will be a rebuilding boom, as relatives of hospitalized elderly and the recently deceased start to realize that instead of allowing a home to decay into a rotting ruin, it can be restored and rented out to local and foreign tourists.
  • There will be a surge in demand for rental cars, as the proximity of accommodation to the train station no longer determines where you want to travel.
  • There will be a surge in demand for services to maintain rooms and to look after foreign guests.

When I saw the CEO of Airbnb give a talk last year, I remember him waxing poetic about the possibilities for the graying countryside of Japan, where curious foreigners meet elderly entrepreneurs who gain a financial reward, and perhaps a personal reward in opening their homes up to the world.


Muirfield Golf Club
Muirfield Golf Club


The oldest golf club in the world, Muirfield Golf Club, located in Scotland, the birthplace of golf, recently decided to provide women the opportunity to have equal membership with male members. It took 273 years, but as Virginia Slims once proclaimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

This change in policy came after the famed golf club was denied the chance to host the British Open golf championship because of its membership rules. Other clubs like R&A, The Royal St George’s and Royal Troon in Scotland, Augusta National in the USA, and most recently the Royal Adelaide Golf Club in Australia have changed their membership policies to allow for full membership to women.

But the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, not far from Tokyo, has stuck to its guns despite significant pressure to offer equal membership rights to women. Currently, female members of the Kasumigaseki C. C. are not considered full members, and are not allowed to play on Sundays. Ordinarily, this particular policy would go unnoticed if not for the fact that Kasumigaseki C. C. was selected to be the Olympic venue for golf during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike fired the first salvo in January when she said she felt “very uncomfortable that women cannot become full members in the 21st century.”

More recently, International Olympic Committee Vice President, John Coates, said that “Image-wise, our position is clear. We will only go to a club that has non-discrimination.”

Coates went on to reveal that discussions with the Kasumigaseki Country Club have been positive, and that “It’s heading in the right direction for them to have a nondiscriminatory membership procedure. It would appear that we should be able to have this result by the end of June.”

So will Kasumigaseki Country Club end up par for the course, or will they shank their last drive and lose out on this golden opportunity at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?


UPDATE: On March 20, 2017, the 15 board members of the Kasumigaseki Golf Club, all men, voted unanimously to overturn restrictions on full membership for women.

There be gold in them thar phones!

If you’re living in Japan, and you buy smartphones like you buy a fashionable spring jacket, then you’ve got a bunch of phones in your cabinet that are just gathering dust.

Tokyo2020 wants your phone! Starting April, Japan telecommunications conglomerate, NTT Docomo, will set up collection boxes in over 2,400 NTT Docomo stores across Japan. Additionally, the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center, will also set up collection centers to collect old PCs, tablets, wearables, monitors, and other electronic devices that can be mined for metals.

The goal is to collect 8 tons of metal, which will yield 2 tons of gold, silver and bronze, and eventually result in the production of 5,000 medals for winners in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Said Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura of this initiative, “computers and smart phones have become useful tools. However, I think it is wasteful to discard devices every time there is a technological advance and new models appear. Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste. I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”

Sustainability will be a key theme of Tokyo2020. And my hope and expectation is that Tokyo2020 will be a shining model of how to present the Olympics, as it was in 1964. Tokyo2020 will stand in stark contrast to past Olympics.

For example, there are already signs of decay in Rio de Janeiro as venues used for the 2016 Rio Olympics have been abandoned. This is an oft-told tale, with plenty of photographic evidence of waste from past Olympics. Only six months later, the main venue for the Rio Olympics is an empty, pilfered and unused shell of a stadium.

The IOC knows its reputation and perhaps its long-term survival are dependent upon making the Olympics more in line with the host country’s economic plans and means, and more conscious of its obligations to be more socially tolerant and more purposeful in driving sustainability.

Kohei Uchimura’s next gold medal might be made from recycled smartphones

Since its inception in 2014, IOC President, Thomas Bach, has driven home the 40 tenets of his vision – The Olympic 2020 Agenda – a list of priorities, principles and actions that will guide the IOC in the coming years. Some of the hopes is to help ensure that host cities do not end up with an overly burdensome budget to hold the Games, to make the bidding process less complicated and less expensive, to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and to drive greater sustainability.

The IOC has been working closely with Tokyo2020 to bring its operational budget down from USD30 billion, which is four times the budget put forth in the 2013 bid for 2020. The current goal is to get the budget down to under USD20 billion, which is far under Sochi’s USD50 billion spend, Beijing’s USD40 billion spend, and more in line with London’s USD20 billion spend. I believe that Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is making an honest attempt to drive the budget down, as well as create a legacy of sustainability and inclusiveness in Japan.

If you’re in Japan, you too can help! Look for your old smartphones, and the signs at NTT Docomo. Donate a phone, and ensure that a piece of your property becomes a piece of the winning medal for Olympians in 2020.


Tokyo2020: It’s still three-and-a-half years away! It’s only three-and-a-half years away!


A sign at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, the point of arrival of most Tokyo Olympians in 1964

Bob Schul planted the seed in my brain.

At the end of a wonderfully long interview in early 2015, the 1964 gold medalist of the 5,000 meter track competition mentioned it would be nice if Olympians who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Games could return to the Tokyo for the 2020 Games. He wasn’t suggesting that the government or anyone pay for their expenses. He was just wondering, wouldn’t it be nice if they could get assistance in finding accommodations or meals, for example.

That would be nice.

But it would be nicer, frankly, incredibly inspiring actually, to find a way to bring ALL 1964 Tokyo Olympians back in 2020. I have interviewed over 70 Olympians from the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. I would estimate well over 90% of them, without prompting, described their time in Japan and at the Olympics as a wonderful and special experience. Many have said they would love to come back to Japan for a visit, particularly in 2020.

Imagine the stories that these Olympians would tell about 1964, about their memories of Japanese graciousness, resiliency, efficiency, and pride. There is little doubt that bringing the 1964 Olympians would result in a mutual lovefest. There could be opportunities for fundraisers dedicated to the 1964 Olympians, educational opportunities for Olympians to share their memories at schools or museums. And it would be another opportunity for embassies and chambers of commerce to embrace their heroes from 1964, reliving their stories, and reinforcing cultural impressions.

How many Olympians would that be? Allow me to make assumptions (and use admittedly somewhat cold and clinical language about life expectancy).


According to this article in The Daily Mail, British athletes were offered free admission to certain events at the 2012 London Olympics. It was estimated that around 125 Olympians were eligible (ie: still alive). Since there were 404 Brits representing their nation at the 1948 Games, one could say that 31% of that group of Olympians were alive in 2012.

But the gap between the 1964 Olympics and the 2020 Olympics is smaller – 56 years to be exact. In other words, assuming an average Olympian age of 25, most 1964 Olympians would be in their mid-70s to mid-80s. Because of that, we could assume that more than 31% of all 1964 Tokyo Olympians could be healthy and ambulatory and interested in coming to Japan in 2020. For the sake of generating an estimate, let’s say 40%. That would mean, of the 5,151 worldwide Olympians who participated in the 1964 Games, a little over 2,000 Olympians could be here in Japan in 2020!

But alas, this is still only a dream. If London organizing committee’s offer were expanded to all 4,100 Olympians from 1948, it’s possible they would have had to extend their offer to over 1,200 Olympians. I am not aware of such a program to bring all the 1948 Olympians back to the 2012 Games, but I imagine the organizing committee considered it, and I’m sure they knew the challenges. How do you contact all those Olympians? How would you finance it? At a time of peak capacity for the city, how do you accommodate so many people who deserve respectful attention and may have special needs due to their age?

Good questions all.

But it all starts with a dream.



Sports Fest 1

Mitsui Fudosan won the rights to be the Japan Olympic Committee’s exclusive real estate Tokyo 2020 Gold Partner. That shuts out companies like Mitsubishi Jisho (Mitsubishi Estate, in English) from marketing themselves using the Tokyo 2020 logos, or even the word, Olympics, and of course, the five-ring Olympic logo.

But there are ways companies get around the strict licensing rights dictated by the IOC. They market themselves by association.

From August 4 to 22, Mitsubishi Jisho sponsored Sports Fes Marunouchi, essentially in the middle of the Ginza, Tokyo’s established business, entertainment, shopping district, very near the famed red-bricked Tokyo Station. The Sports Fes featured over two weeks of athletic displays, Olympian appearances, and interactive sporting activities, all on the most expensive streets in Japan.

Sports Fest 2

On the Sunday afternoon I went, I saw people watching the Rio Olympics on the big screen, as well as adults and kids testing to see how high they can jump, how low they can extend their arms, how fast they can throw a basketball. And I got to see London Olympian and fencing silver medalist, Kenta Chida, in a display of fencing so close, I could have jumped into the match from my front-row seat.

Sports Fest 3

Except on the large-screen TV where NHK was broadcasting the 2016 Rio Olympics, you didn’t see the word Olympics, or the Tokyo 2020 logo, or the five-ring Olympic logo anywhere. Mitsubishi Jisho is not an official sponsor, and is forbidden from doing so. But it’s clear to everyone why Mitsubishi Jisho is sponsoring the Sports Fes Marounouchi. By holding this event during the Rio Olympics, and inviting former Japanese Olympians to talk about their experiences and display their skills, this Japanese real estate firm is basking in the golden glow of the Olympics, so hard to contain behind the curtains of IOC contracts and rules.

Sports Fest 6
Men’s individual foil silver medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, Kenta Chida.

Does this rankle the official real estate sponsor of Tokyo 2020, Mitsui Fudosan? Most likely, yes. But these are the Olympics, a premier symbol of competition. And the competition doesn’t end with the athletes. Companies in Japan will be battling for our mindshare in the coming years. And if necessity is the mother of invention, then I look forward to the creative ways non-sponsors guerilla market themselves, as we embark on the road to Tokyo 2020

Watch the video below for an up-close display of foil fighting. En garde!

Silver Samurai Japan Team pose
The Japanese men strike a pose – as if pulling out swords for a fight – during the introductions to the 4×100-meter relays finals.

Upstage Usain Bolt? Hard to imagine doing that. But in Japan, the four young men of Japan’s 4×100 team, Ryota Yamagata, Shota Iizuka, Yoshihide Kiryu and Aska Cambridge, did just that.

Very unexpectedly, against such traditionally strong competition as Jamaica, America, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago, Japan sprinted to second place at an Asian record of 37.60 seconds, a fair distance behind champions Jamaica, but ahead of the United States and Canada.

No sprinters from Japan had ever done so well. Famous for long distance runners, particularly with its share of marathon Olympic champions, Japan had only one sprinting exception: a bronze medal finish in the men’s 4×100 relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As Andre De Grasse, who won silver in the 200 meters and bronze in the 100 put it, “Japan probably surprised us a little bit. We didn’t expect to see them up there. But congrats to them as well.”

After all, at the beginning of the track and field competition in Rio, there was very little to indicate that Japan had the talent to medal in any sprint competition, as seen early on in the men’s individual 100 meter heats.

Cambridge Bolt and Brommel
Aska Cambridge and Usain Bolt face off in the final let of the 4×100-meter relays final.


In Heat 8, Yamagata came in second with a time of 10.20, qualifying behind South African Akani Simbine. In the semis, Yamagata finished fifth in his heat with a very solid run of 10.05 seconds, but did not qualify for the finals. Iizuka, who did not compete in the 100 meters, failed to qualify in the 200 meters with a time of 20.49 seconds.

In Heat 7 with Usain Bolt, Kiryu placed fourth, his time of 10.23 not good enough to quality for the individual finals. Cambridge qualified with the second fastest time in Heat 4 at 10.13 seconds, behind Canadian star, De Grasse. In the semis, Cambridge did even worse with a run of 10.17 and crashed out of the running for the finals, finishing last in his heat.

Fortunately for Japan, the individual sprints were one thing – the team sprints were another. In the two preliminary relay heats, Japan was not intimidated. In heat 1 of the 4X100 men’s relay, the United States team bested China, which set an Asian record time of 37.82. Japan won the second heat, not only topping the Jamaican team (sans Bolt), but also setting a new Asian record time of 37.68 seconds.

After the heats were completed, the eight teams competing in the men’s 4×100 relay were set. In order of lanes 1 to 8 were Great Britain, Brazil, The US, Jamaica, Japan, China, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago. But in the finals, most of the teams were able to conserve the energy of their super stars in the heats, while Japan stuck to their four thoroughbreds. The Japanese were in lane 5, next to the Jamaicans, as the lead runners settled into their starting blocks.

Yamagata exploded out of the blocks, which is what you want from your lead runner. He seemed to gain ground vis-a-vis the lead runner for China in lane 6, but exchanges between runners for the Canada and Jamaica seemed to have happened a split second before Japan’s.

Yamagata passed off to Iizuka, who was Japan’s 200-meter runner. The runner of the second leg has to run in the baton exchange lanes twice, which means he runs about 125 meters. You want someone who’s speedy at longer distances, so Yamagata fit the bill. When Iizuka took off at the 100-meter mark, it appeared nearly all teams were tied.

Iizuka passed the baton to Kiryu for the third leg. The third leg is often a make or break leg. Not only does the runner in the third leg have to run 125 meters, he also has to ensure a smooth baton exchange while rounding a curve. Kiryu handled that responsibility to perfection. At the 300-meter point, Jamaica, Japan, China, Canada, as well as Trinidad and Tobago were looking equal, with a slight edge to Jamaica, Japan and Canada. Great Britain and Brazil had fallen significantly off the pace in the inside lanes, while the USA seemed to be slow on the exchange.

The fourth leg, or anchor, is often run by the swiftest on the team. Cambridge was the anchor, and his personal best was 10.1 seconds. Not only did he have the fastest time for Japan in 2016, he was seen as capable of going faster. As we all know, or could expect, Bolt was a runaway freight train and Jamaica was heading for its inevitable golden finish. But Japan’s Cambridge burst out of the exchange, and for a while appeared even to keep pace with Bolt.

silver samurai asian record
The new giants of Japan.

While gold was out of the question, Cambridge’s job was to hold onto silver. Trayvon Bromwell of the American team exploded through the anchor leg and was pushing hard for second, so desperate that he went flying to the track while crossing the finish line.

The citizens of Japan, fortunate to be able to watch this race on a lazy Sunday morning, worked themselves into a frenzy as the race came to a finish, holding their collective breath as their hearts caught up with their eyes.

And then Japan erupted. Cambridge crossed the line in front of Bromwell. Japan had taken silver.

“Nippon! Nippon!” the announcer from NHK shrieked as Cambridge flew past the finish line. The Japanese quartet instantly became the new giants of Japan. We expected the Japanese men’s gymnastics team to do well. We expected the Japanese women’s wrestlers to do well. We did not expect the Japanese men’s sprinters to beat the Americans, the Canadians and push the legendary Jamaicans and Usain Bolt.

But the Silver Samurai did. And heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, pre-teens and teenagers all across the islands of Japan will be saying, “maybe, just maybe, that could be me.”


The emblem for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was simple and bold.

The emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was presented last week. I’m no art or design expert, but the new one reminds me of the JAL re-branding of the 1990s.


The design concept, which you can see more clearly in the video, feels like some cubist blend of Miro and Picasso.

I’m sure it will grow on me.