At the end of the opening ceremonies of the Tokyo2020 Olympics, Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron as a white ball peeled open like a flower, it’s metallic petals reflecting the light of the ignited Olympic flame.
Designed by Japanese company, Nendo, helmed by a Canadian-born Japanese named Oki Sato, the cauldron is a scintillating sight.
At most Olympiads, the flame remains in that cauldron for the extent of the Games. But in the 2020 version, a lick of the Olympic flame was moved to a small lantern, and transported about 13 kilometers southwest of the stadium to a bridge that connected two man-made islands in Tokyo Bay – Yume no Ohashi Bridge (or Great Bridge of Dreams).
That Tokyo Bay area has many of the Olympic venues, and under normal circumstances, would have been viewed by masses of passersby. I passed by at noon on Thursday, August 5 where about a few dozen people were snapping pictures of the sacred flame.
The sacred flame will be extinguished at the Closing Ceremony to be held on Sunday, August 8. It is unclear whether the flame will again be transferred from the Tokyo Bay cauldron to the National Stadium cauldron, or whether the flame continues to burn within the bigger version hidden inside the stadium.
It’s probably the former.
The National Stadium was designed without a permanent fixture for the Olympic cauldron. One underlying reason for not including such a fixture was the use of wood in the construction of the stadium. The most common and apparent use of wood are the eaves that adorn the roof and other levels of the stadium, made from cedar sourced from the 47 prefectures of Japan.
According to the stadium designer, Kengo Kuma, the cauldron wasn’t in the original specifications and so he imagined that it would be like other Olympiads where the cauldron was situated inside the stadium during the opening ceremony and then moved.
The National Stadium in Tokyo opened its doors to 60,000 people on Saturday, December 21, 2019, a combination ceremony to mark a major milestone on the road to Tokyo 2020, and a concert featuring popular Japanese bands Dreams Come True and Arashi.
Designed by architect Kengo Kuma, the venue is sometimes referred to as the Forest Stadium, in reference to the significant use of wood in the stadium’s exterior. With cedar and larch sourced from each of the 47 prefectures of Japan, Kuma designed a stadium he intended to meld into the green surroundings of the stadium, particularly the spiritual woods of neighboring Meiji Shrine.
The stadium is composed of five levels above ground, which rises to about 50 meters at its highest point. Each level is topped by lattice rooves of long wooden slates, designed to allow seasonal winds to flow into and through the stadium, aided by 185 fans that direct the winds inward.
Kuma has said that he modeled his stadium design on the Buddhist temples of Kyoto and Nara, appreciating how well those temples have aged. “We will show the model of a mature society in the stadium,” Kuma says. “That’s the way to live a happy life relying on limited natural resources from a small land.”
On the whole, the Japanese who have seen it appear to be happy, according to posts on social media or reports on Japanese television, particularly proud that the biggest visible milestone to the start of Tokyo2020 has been completed.
Entry into the stadium appears smooth with QR readers, although I haven’t seen anything on whether that included security checks. The corridors that ring the seating areas and house the food and beverage booths are wide and easy to navigate through crowds.
Inside, there are 500 spaces for spectators in wheelchairs. For everyone else, there are seats for 60,000. The seats are in five different colors, which cleverly deceive the eye into thinking empty seats are occupied, although no one anticipates too many empty seats in the coming Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Different from other stadium in Japan, there are two large screens at the ends of the oval, with a ribbon screen that rings the middle level of the stadium, so replays and information should be easy to view. And apparently, thanks to the fairly steep angles of the seats, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
However, there have been a few comments about issues. The seats, which provide a great view, have very little space for people for possessions or for people to pass. If you happen to sit in the middle seats, you’ll make everyone stand up to get through, and you’ll have be careful not to knock over peoples’ beverages.
And for foreign visitors, the signage in English appears to be much to be desired.
But there’s time for that to be corrected. Tokyo2020 awaits.
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.”
November 30, 2019 is the targeted completion date for the New National 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.
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.
When you walk through Meiji Shrine, a peaceful oasis of green in the middle of Tokyo, your pulse rate drops and you forget the hustle bustle of one of Asia’s most dynamic mega-cities. Its location next to the National Stadium for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the Olympic Village made the wooded park of Meiji Shrine a wonderful place for runners to train, a la middle distance double gold medalist, Peter Snell.
When images of the planned National Stadium for the 2020 Olympics were released, there was a mixture of groans and puzzlement. Globally renown architect, Zaha Hadid, presented a design of sleek modernity. Frankly, I thought it looked like a bicycle helmet, somewhat out of place in its surroundings.
TOCOG quickly put together another search for a stadium designer. And suddenly, Kuma Kengo, whose design was selected, was in the spotlight. Not only will the cost of the Kengo stadium be closer to the originally proposed estimate (JPY150 billion), the design of the stadium will more seamlessly blend into the environment.
Kuma has built a reputation for his use of wood, and plans to employ wood, particularly wood grown in all prefectures of Japan, to fashion a stadium that folds into the relatively green surroundings, as he explains in this Nippon.com interview:
Instead of the old-fashioned idea of putting up a huge monument, my idea is to create a stadium that people will remember as part of the Meiji Shrine outer gardens, the wooded area in which it’s located. And we’re planning to uncover the Shibuya River, which was put underground during the rapid-growth years, and have it flow at surface level through the stadium grounds. I believe that creating something sustainable for future generations, with the surrounding nature open to the public, is a more important considerations than the physical shape of the edifice, and so that’s what I’ve been focusing my efforts on.
Kuma was 10 years old when the 1964 Olympics came to Tokyo. He remembers witnessing the rapid growth of the post-war years, and being amazed in particular by the two complementary buildings of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, built for the aquatic and basketball events. According to the Nippon.com article, he remembers often visiting the First Gymnasium designed by legendary architect, Tange Kenzo. “The light shining down from the windows in the high ceiling made the water of the pool sparkle. I was captivated by this sublime sight, and that was what made me decide that I wanted to become an architect.”
Kuma’s approach is perhaps best illustrated by a series of buildings he has built in and around a small town called Yusuhara on Japan’s southern Shikoku island. The Yusuhara Town Hall (2006) sits under a roof and frame of Japanese cedar in a traditional structural arrangement, but one that gives off more than a hint of high-brutalism in the strong articulation of its thick beams and columns. The outside features a series of timber panels of various dimensions, alternating with glazed panels – a genuinely interesting take on the “barcode” facade.
A small hotel and market (2010) that Kuma built nearby is just as unconventional, with a curtain wall on the main facade made of straw bales and bamboo that can actually be opened out to allow light and ventilation through – a very odd combination of rustic material and hi-tech detailing. But the wooden bridge building (ICON 101) that Kuma built over a road to link a spa and hotel on the outskirts of the town is stranger still. Here is a version of traditional Japanese roof construction blown up to super-large scale, a series of single wooden elements all overlapping and stepping up towards the bridge itself. It is this radical re-imagining of a historic building material or method of construction that one sees time and time again in Kuma’s work.
I’m truly excited for the debut of Kengo Kuma’s national stadium. I feel it will not only be appreciated for its uniquely Japanese sensibilities, but will be a lasting legacy of the 2020 Games, a fitting complement to its green surroundings, particularly the peaceful Meiji Shrine.
“I want to go beyond the era of concrete,” Kuma, 62, said in this Japan Times interview. “What people want is soft, warm and humane architecture. We will show the model of a mature society in the stadium. That’s the way to live a happy life relying on limited natural resources from a small land.”
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