Construction of the National Gymnasium_AP

It’s already a year behind schedule.

When the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee decided to renege on its agreement to Zaha Hadid to build the National Stadium for the 2020 Olympics, the decision resulted in a second search for an architect, and a plan that had a year lopped off the timeline.

So while many people have faith in the Japanese construction industry to make heroic efforts to get the stadium ready in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it comes with an extra challenge – the fact that unemployment is at its lowest unemployment rate since 1995 – 2.8%. While politicians in America and Europe are looking for easy ways to produce thousands if not millions of new blue-collar jobs, Japan cannot find enough people to keep up.

The aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, aka 3.11, is still impacting Japanese society today, as construction work in the Tohoku region of Japan sucks up a large percentage of the construction worker pool. So construction companies are rushing ahead with the talent they have. In the productivity equation, that should mean longer hours for the workers.

But Japanese corporations have been warned by the government that they cannot work their people to death. Compensation claims for cases of “karoshi” (worked to death) have been steadily increasing over the years as the public realizes there are limits to the loyalty one can show one’s company or one’s leaders.

Recently, Olympic Minister Shunichi Suzuki was at the construction site of the National Stadium and said that while the work is continuing as scheduled thanks to the workflow efficiency, he warned that “working conditions must meet legal standards.”

He cited the case of a 23-year old worker who had been working on the construction site of the National Stadium, and who had committed suicide in July. According to the Mainichi, he was working well over the limit of 80 hours of overtime per month, although the records showed that he was under the limit. According to this article, the worker’s mother said that her son would routinely wake up at 4:30 am and get home at 1 am. The Japan Times stated that the suicide note of the worker stated he was “physically and mentally pushed to the limit.”

The rock of the 2020 deadline. The hard place of the worker shortage. Is there a way out of this squeeze?

This is Part 2 of a breakdown of the amateur film by George and Lilian Merz.

The Merz’s, who won an award for their summary of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, stayed primarily around the National Stadium, so their view of the Olympics was primarily track and field. But on occasion, they trained their cameras at events outside the National Stadium, as well as on non-sporting events. Their footage of the ceremonies have been more effectively captured elsewhere, but their human interest forays are interesting at times.

US Team Opening Ceremony_Merz Film
US Team Opening Ceremony
  • Opening Ceremony: 1:25 – It’s the Opening Ceremony at the National Stadium on October 10, 1963. At the 3:12 mark, the US team enters the stadium. The men on the US team are wearing cowboy hats, and it appears that is all you see in their sea of members. The women however aren’t wearing any hats. President Johnson, who is believed to have had the hats sent to the Olympians, probably didn’t think it was appropriate for women to wear these cowboy hats. What struck me was how small the female crowd was. When I looked it up, of the 346 people on the US Olympic squad, only 79 were women. And many of them were likely swimmers who had to compete in the next few days, so were likely not allowed to march in the opening ceremony. Interestingly, the men who dominated the US sailing team brought up the rear, not in cowboy hats, but in sailor caps. Also great footage of the balloon released, the Olympic flag raised and the cauldron lit, in a jam-packed stadium. At the 8:36, Merz has footage of the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the stands!
  • Huckster Girls: 12:25 and 13:56 – That’s what Merz calls the women selling food and drink in the National Stadium. I can’t tell what snacks they were selling, but they were selling a bottle of Coca Cola for 50 yen. At 360 yen to the dollar, that’s about 13 cents!
  • Nature Boy: At the 14:32 mark, Merz films an unusual looking Japanese man outside the National Stadium, whom he dubs “nature boy”. He’s bald headed and bare chested, except for a sash, and holding a banner. The sash says “Make Your Body as Naked as Your Face!”. His banner basically says the same thing, further emphasizing that nudity is healthy, and that he belongs to some sort of nudist association. In modest Japan, this is the last thing I would have expected to see in this documentary.

Nature Boy_Merz Film

  • Rain Rain Rain: You can see at the 17:16 mark a sea of umbrellas. On certain days, it simply rained through the day.
  • Press Seats and TV Monitors: As you can see at the 16:44 mark, the press section in the National Stadium had little TV monitors so that the press could watch the action up close.
  • Eating Bento: I don’t know what the guy is eating, but I’m sure it was good! At the 23:16 mark you can see the spectators sitting on wood-slat benches, and this particular man enjoying a bento. He appears to be sitting in a covered section of the stadium too.

eating bento in the stands_Merz Film

  • 4×100 Swimming Relay Men’s: 5:26 – The Merz’s visit the National Gymnasium and fil the second heat of the men’s 4×100 swimming relay, which the Americans win handily.
  • Field Hockey Men’s: 25:24 – The Merz’s take a break from the National Stadium and head to the Komazawa Stadium to watch a field hockey match between Germany and Kenya.
  • Basketball: 25:48 – The Merz’s then head to the National Gymnasium Annex to see men’s basketball. Unfortunately, the footage is too dark to tell which players are from which countries.
  • Closing Ceremony: 27:38 – And finally, here was footage of the closing ceremony. The film is dark, but you can see the Olympic flame extinguished – a blurry light extinguished, the Olympic Flag lowered, to be send to Mexico City, and an fireworks display to cap off an incredible two weeks.

Rain Rain Go Away_Merz Film

Olympic National Stadium design_Kengo Kuma
Images of Kengo Kuma’s National Stadium

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.

National Stadium and Meiji Shrine_google maps
National Stadium and Meiji Shrine on Google Maps

Then suddenly, in July, 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scratched plans for the design of the new National Stadium planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was revealed that the estimated cost of the stadium ballooned from JPY252 billion, from the original proposal of JPY130 billion, an approximate difference of USD1 billion. Scrapping Hadid’s design meant a massive delay, resulting in a particularly embarrassing broken promise. Plans to have the new national stadium host the 2019 Rugby World Cup also had to be scrapped, resulting in a move of the tournament to Yokohama.

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.”

 

Yusuhara Town Hall_Kengo Kuma
Yusuhara Town Hall

 

Over the years, Kengo has become known for his use of wood in his designs, in ways that recall times when wood was the primary construction material, layered, and exposed to the elements. Design website, Icon, describes Kengo’s work in detail:

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.

Yuuhara hotel and market_Kengo Kuma
Yusuhara hotel and shops

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.”

Kengo Kuma profile
Kengo Kuma
Konjiki Tsukasa and Masa Akimoto _The Yomiuri_October 5, 1964
From The Yomiuri_October 5, 1964

Konjiki Tsukasa was on October 10. So he thought it would be great to get married on October 10. And since the Olympics were in town, why not get married at the National Stadium on October 10, 1964, the opening day of the Tokyo Olympics.

His fiance, Masa Akimoto, agreed.

But first they had to get tickets. According to an article in The Yomiuri on October 11, 1964, the couple had 70 friends apply for opening day tickets, perhaps the hottest tickets ever to go on sale in Japan at the time. The system at the time was to apply and get your names thrown in a lottery. Fortunately, two of their friends landed them a ticket each.

But now, in addition to a ticket for the priest, they needed two witnesses. Instead of trying to find two more tickets, Konjiki called the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) many times to try to convince them to find two people who already had tickets to the Opening Ceremonies to be their wedding witnesses. According to an October 5 Yomiuri article, JTB personnel did not initially take the requests seriously, suspecting a possible scam. But Konjiki persisted, and finally convinced JTB to find two people who happened to be seated near Konjiki and Akimoto. JTB then provided an extra ticket for the priest.

Wearing red blazers with the Olympic emblem, likely similar to what the members of the Japanese Olympic team wore, the party of five entered the stadium at 10 am, about 5 hours prior to the start of the Games, and got hitched. They then proceeded to wait patiently, got to their seats for the Opening Ceremonies, and had one of the memorable wedding days a Japanese couple could possibly have.

That was one way to get in to see the Opening Ceremonies. The Yomiuri explained on October 11 another way…which did not end well. I’ll just let you read the report about these two students:

Two youths without tickets so eager to see the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games that they hid themselves in National Stadium before the event, were arrested before the start of ceremonies by patrolling policemen.

A 19-year-old boy from Tsuabame, Niigata-ken, whose name was withheld, entered the stadium Thursday (two days before) wearing a fake press armband, after showing a business card of a Niigata Nippo newspaper reporter.

A second youth, Shuro Iino, 21, freshman a Waseda University, was discovered hiding in a toilet at 11:15 pm Friday, after climbing over a fence.

Winning National Stadium Design
Winning design for 2020 Olympics National Stadium

 

Oops!

If you’re going to design an Olympic Stadium, you have to include plans for a very large cauldron that feeds the Olympic flame for two weeks.

Due to increasing costs that strained the patience of even government bureaucrats, the stadium design by world renowned architect, Zaha Hadid, was scrapped quite suddenly, pitting the Japanese government and the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee in a pissing match with the architect.

Subsequently, new designs were rushed into competition, and the winning architect stated that the stadium would not be completed in time for the 2019 World Rugby Cup, which has been particularly unpleasant and embarrassing for the organizers.

And now it was revealed that the winning architects forgot to design a place for an Olympic cauldron, something that the IOC specifically stipulates must be visible both inside and outside the stadium. On top of that, the new design will rely heavily on wood in the interior part of the stadium. As you should be reminded, wood is susceptible to burning. And bringing a massive fire close to wood may have negative ramifications.

But the designers will move things around and find some innovative fix that will allow a fantastic stadium to be built. After all, they caught this design flaw early. Let us not forget, there have been many instances where design flaws hidden or ignored eventually led to disaster. Here’s a great link called, The 50 Worst Architecture Fails. And here are a few of the more interesting fails:

The Aon Center
The Aon Center in Chicago, Illinois

The Aon Center: This skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois used carrara marble on the exterior of this building. When a marble slab fell off and crashed into the roof of the neighboring building, they decided that it was safer to spend USD80 million to resurface the building than wait for another marble slab to fall to earth.

Lotus Riverside
The Lotus Riverside in Shanghai, China

The Lotus Riverside: This 13-story residential structure in Shanghai, China fell over due to the effects of an underground parking lot being built underneath. Actually, the reason is kind of complicated. Here’s how the article explained it: “When creating a parking structure beneath the building, workers had placed removed earth into a nearby landfill The weight of the added dirt caused the banks of a bordering river to collapse and the resulting water infiltrated the building’s base, turning the foundation to mud and causing the building to topple onto its side.”

highway 19 overpass
Highway 19 Overpass in Laval, Quebec, Canada

Highway 19 Overpass: A 20-meter section of an overpass in a Montreal suburb simply broke off and dropped to the road below, killing five people in their cars.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge: Opened on July 1, 1940, this suspension bridge in Tacoma, Washington lasted only four months. Yes, when you don’t pay for support materials like trusses and girders, you definitely save money. There are other costs however. Watch this amazing video of the bridge actually breaking apart in the 40 mph wind.

Sendagaya platform
The phantom platform on the southern side of Sendagaya Station.

 

Did you know that of the 50 busiest train stations in the world, only 6 are outside Japan? Here’s a list from 2013 if you’re curious.

Tokyo’s train network in particular is amazing, or bewildering if you look at a train map. The train will get you almost anywhere you need to go, and if the schedule says it’s arriving at a specific time, it’s a pretty safe bet it will.

Not on that list is Sendagaya Station. But I know for a fact that it was one of the busiest stations in 1964, and will be again in 2020. Sendagaya Station is about 300 meters away from the once and future National Stadiums. Sendagaya Station itself is a relatively small station. It’s a one-platform station that accommodates trains going East and West on the Sobu Line, which cuts through the heart of Tokyo.

Sendagaya platform exit stairwell

 

But if you have ever been there, you may have noticed another platform on the southern side of the station. This was a platform used in 1964, when the area was flooded with folks going to and from the various Olympic venues in that area. And a single platform was simply too narrow to handle the volume. Train authorities shuddered at the thought of waiting passengers getting shoved onto the tracks because of the crowds, so the extra platform was built two months prior to the opening of the Tokyo Games.

Since 1964, that platform has very infrequently been put back into use – the time of Emperor Hirohito’s death and funeral rites in 1989 being one of those few exceptions. But come 2020 and the crowds, the phantom platform will find employment again.

US team

zaha-hadid-japan-national-stadium-0

SIXProposed 2020 Olympic National Stadium Design Dropped Due to Pricetag: The $2 billion price tag for the new National Stadium in Tokyo proved to be too high. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, faced down the president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, and send the committee back to the drawing board. This decision effectively removed the possibility of the stadium debuting for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

No Boston Olympics

FIVE – Both Hamburg and Boston Drop Out: Both Hamburg, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, USA were selected by their respective national Olympic committees to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, but both ended pulling out after referendum votes indicated the Games would not be supported by the cities’ citizens. While the bid for the 2024 Games remain competitive, with Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome still in the running, the reputation of the Games for their high cost, facilities that serve little purpose after the Games, the disruption to business and everyday life to locals, among others, continues to grow.

US Women Celebrate 2015 World Cup Victory

FOURUS Defeats Japan to Win Women’s World Cup: US had beaten Japan in the Olympics, but Japan was the reigning World Cup Champion. US goes into Rio with hopes of winning their fourth consecutive Olympic championship. The US team currently has 11 Olympians who only know gold: Christie Rampone in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Abby Wambach in 2004 and 2012, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Amy Rodriguez, Hope Solo in 2008 and 2012, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn in 2012.

See this link for 13 through 15, 10 through 12, and 7 through 9.