Samurai Surfing

My friends know this: I’m addicted to Nissin Cup Ramen.

There’s something about the aroma after I’ve waited that obligatory 3-minutes for the hot water to soften the noodles and bind the various spices and ingredients in a flavor that instantly gratifies me. This is not a universal addiction to Cup Noodle. It has to be made in Japan – the ones manufactured elsewhere are probably catering to local tastes, and to my palate, pale in comparison.

I don’t believe they manufacture the King Size version anymore, but if they did, I’d buy.

Nissin Cup Ramen also tends to have the coolest commercials. One released in November, 2016 is not only super fun, it is appealing to the same demographic the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are trying to appeal to. In a somewhat tenuous take on The Seven Samurai, Nissin created a commercial that features athletes decked out in traditional armour that the West now associate with the warrior class known as the samurai.

And the seven featured in this commercial are magnificent! They surf, they skateboard, they pogo-stick over street vendors, they spin on their bikes, do acrobatic twists on skis to the amazement of the bewildered crows around them.

Over the decades, the IOC has worked with host countries to appeal to the youth, and ensure a market for their product for years to come. The X-Games, an ESPN-sponsored event featuring extreme sports, drove up the popularity of skateboarding and freestyle motocross. Thanks to growing popularity of these youth-driven activities, snowboarding became an Olympic sport in 1998, while BMX cycling debuted at the 2008 Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 will feature a bevy of new competitions that the organizers hope will build a new generation of Olympic fans, including surfing, skateboarding, and sports climbing.

Samura bike tricks

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tokyo-2020-anime-ambassadors
Tokyo 2020 Anime Ambassadors

A big part of the pitch for the 2020 Games by the Japan Olympic Committee to the IOC in 2013 was that the Tokyo Olympics would appeal to youth. Along those lines, new sports added to the Games in 2020 are skateboarding, surfing and rock climbing.

At the Tokyo 2020 preview at the end of the Rio Olympics closing ceremony, the world was pleasantly surprised by the emergence of Prime Minister Abe as the world-renown game character, Super Mario.

And last week, Tokyo2020 announced the lineup of its anime ambassadors for the Tokyo Olympics. They include such globally recognized characters as Sailor Moon, Goku from Dragon Ball, Crayon Shin-chan and a classic character that was a huge hit in Japan in the 1950s and was broadcast in the US in the 1960s, Astro Boy.

Anime, the catch-all phrase for Japanese produced comics or animated television or film, has enjoyed a boom internationally. It is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone. Japanese manga in English can be found liberally in bookstores or online. Japanese anime film directors like Hayao Miyazaki and Osamu Tezuka are global icons. And of course, illustrated characters from Japanese games, television programs and films are re-drawn in daydream doodles, their costumes adorned, and their merchandise snapped up the world over.

So yes, who will begrudge the TOCOG (Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee) the opportunity to make a few extra gazillion yen with Tokyo2020-Sailor Moon bags, and Tokyo2020-Dragon Ball hats.

You can buy your Tokyo2020 swag here.

astro-boy
I am a proud owner of a Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy original, drawn for my father in the early 1970s.

Twenty-six sports were recommended as new additions to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As many of you now know, Tokyo2020 and the IOC selected five new competitions: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.

But there were others recommended that I was either surprised about or unfamiliar with. I’ve created a list below of all the “sports” that were considered officially by Tokyo2020 for the next Summer Games. I took the liberty to make sense of them by organizing them into four categories, which you could most certainly dispute.

sports-nominated-for-tokyo2020

The Olympics are, in a way, an endorsement of the international relevance of an organized sport or gaming activity. This year, there was a conscious emphasis to increase the youth following, so skateboarding (roller sports), sports climbing and surfing were added.

Baseball and softball were actually Olympic competitions from 1992 to 2008, so it probably was not a difficult decision with the Olympics returning to Asia, where baseball is very popular. However, tug of war, which was an Olympic competition from 1900 to 1920, did not make the cut.

I was faintly familiar with Netball, which is popular in Singapore where I lived a couple of years. It is a derivative of basketball, played mainly by women. But I was not familiar with Korfball, which originated in the Netherlands and is similar to basketball, but certainly not the same. First, the teams are composed of both 4 men and 4 women. Second, you can score from all angles around the basket. Third, there is no dribbling, and fourth, you can’t shoot the ball if someone is defending you. Watch this primer for details.

Orienteering is new to me, but then again, I was never in the Boy Scouts. Orienteering is a category of events that require the use of navigational skills, primarily with the use of a map and compass. Most are on foot, but some are under water, or in cars or boats. Think The Amazing Race, without all the cameras. The video gives you an idea of what this activity is like.

DanceSport is essentially competitive ballroom dancing, which is popular in Japan. The 2004 movie “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and Jeffifer Lopex is a re-make of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name. A film that you may know that focuses on the competitive side of dance (with a smattering of American football) is “Silver Linings Playbook” with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.

And then there’s Bridge and Chess, what most people refer to as games as opposed to sports. I used to play chess a lot, since I grew up in the days of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. And while I won second place in a chess tournament when I was 13, I would never experience the mentally and physically draining levels of tension that world-class chess masters go through. Still, is it a sport?

Does it matter?

roys-chess-trophy
The second-place chess trophy I won at a competition at the Manhattan Chess Club when I was 13 years old. (If you must know, there were only three competitors.)
Farrah Fawcett
Farrah Fawcett

I used to ride a skateboard that looked just like the blue one below, riding it up and down Daniels Street in front of my house, and then taking it up the steeper hill past Coolidge, and bringing it back down that 45 degree incline, wondering if a car was going to speed through the intersection.

It was the early 1970s, and I used to get my polyurethene wheels at a store on Austin Street, learned how to remove the wheels and ball bearings, oil it up and secure the new wheels on to my board.

skateboards

I never got good at all the fancy tricks, but back in the early 70s, that wasn’t the big thing. It was just about going from point A to point B and getting some speed down the hills.

But skateboarding has grown up since I was a kid, and it is serious business, not only in competition, but also in fashion and lifestyle. And it is a central element in the global youth culture. The Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee definitely recognized the trend towards youth, and picked skateboarding on September 28 as one of its five recommended new sports for the 2020 Olympics.

As skateboarding icon and entrepreneur, Tony Hawk, said in this interview with Larry King, “If you look at the success of snowboarding, and how that’s a brought a more youthful edge to the (Winter) Olympics in general…they don’t have that with the Summer Games. They don’t have anything that’s bringing in a younger viewership.”

So maybe it’s skateboarding. But it may have to triumph over a similar young generation sport – sport climbing, or a traditional and former Olympic sport, baseball. Can it convince IOC officials that it is worth the endorsement more than homegrown karate?

But as Hawk explained, it’s no biggie if the IOC fails to recognize the timing and importance of skateboarding as an Olympic sport. “Honestly, I think they need skateboarding than we need them because skateboarding’s popularity is solidified for the most part in a lot of countries.”