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2020 is such a round number, intuitively connected to 20:20 vision, and thus an easy deadline for lofty organizational and national goals, at least for another year at most.

One such goal is the Health Ministry of Japan’s drive to ban smoking in Japan, in time before the spotlight is cast on Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics. Clearly, evidence regarding the health effects of smoking, as well as effects on non-smokers via second-hand smoke is too compelling today to ignore.

And since the Olympics have an agenda that bidding countries need to sign on to, there will be a strong attempt for Japan to honor the Tobacco Free Initiative co-sponsored by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Their goal is to keep non-smokers away from the dangers of second-hand smoke, and even get all smokers to quit.

But ensuring all Olympic venues are tobacco free, which also means tobacco-promotion free, is a challenge. It’s an Olympian challenge.

First, Asia is still a smoker’s paradise, sales booming in places like China and Indonesia. And while smoking has dropped significantly in Japan (for men from 80% in the 1960s to about 30% today), there is significant resistance to the banning of smoking in public places.

According to this Japan Times article, the Health Ministry is recommending that all restaurants, bars and clubs either ban smoking or install special enclosed areas for smokers, at the risk of heavy fines. Currently, the law only asks businesses to make efforts while imposing no penalties for non-compliance, according to this article. Apparently those ideas are getting significant push back from the restaurant industry, particularly the smaller businesses. Thus the Health Ministry is working on compromises that will still allow smoking for places that are 30 square meters in size or less, as long as they clearly explain that in signage and properly ventilate.

In other words, short-term revenue and the survival of small business is more important than the long-term health implications of people who do not smoke.

That may sound harsh to the ears of health idealists around the world, but the truth of the matter is, the IOC and WHO have had challenges getting comprehensive compliance to their Smoke Free Initiative.

 

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FreakingNews.com

 

In this recent study of the impact of the Tobacco Free Policy, entitled “Smoke Rings: Towards a Comprehensive Tobacco Free Policy for the Olympic Games“, it appears that reaching the goals of this policy are difficult.

For example, the goal of keeping all Olympic venues smoke free has been labeled “unrealistic and unreasonable.” Apparently at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, according to the study, foreign visitor unused to the strictness of these measures led the Vancouver Olympic Committee to ease up on the policy.

Smoking areas were subsequently permitted on all Olympic sites including the athletes village and sporting venues.

It was a challenge to implement that ban at the 2012 London Olympics as well.

As well as being unaware of the IOC policy, officials found LOCOG staff believed tobacco use was a “personal choice” and thus unsupportive of strong tobacco control. The election of a coalition government in the UK in 2010, and disbanding of the London Regional Tobacco Control Team amid public sector cuts, further weakened commitment. The London games were eventually designated as smoke-free with “discrete smoking areas”.

The policy states that tobacco sponsorship related to the Olympics is not allowed. And yet, that has proven difficult to police, particularly in Asia, according to the study.

It is perhaps in Asia that tobacco sponsorship of Olympic athletes and teams has been most active. When two Filipino athletes won medals at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games, they were rewarded prize money by the Philippines’ Tobacco Fortune Corp. In 1991, the Sports Authority of Thailand and Thai National Olympic Committee pressed the government to lift restrictions on tobacco sponsorship. While acknowledging that it was “illegal for us to be involved” in sponsorship, BAT subsidiary Singapore Tobacco Company (STC) described its use of “a primary sponsor as a cover” to channel funding, admitting “it needs careful handling… The politics are complex–but things are possible”.

At the 1964 Olympics, Japan was tobacco heaven, and the marketing of cigarettes at the 1964 Olympics may be contributing to the current peak in lung cancer deaths over the past two decades, as I wrote about here. But to be honest, I am a non-smoker, and the attitude towards smoking has changed, and the number of smokers in public areas has decreased since the time I first arrived in 1986.

I remember in the 1980s the ball-like metal ashtrays on the train platforms of the Yamanote Line in the mornings, filled with cigarette butts, spewing poison into the air like the Gates of Hell. Today, those are long gone.

The ban may not be total by 2020. But fewer people will be smoking in public. Progress is definitely being made.

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Testing the new high-tech road surface August, 2016

The average temperature in Tokyo in July and August is around 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit. But on the roads of Tokyo, after absorbing day after day of heat, can get as hot as 50 degrees Celsius, or over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s hot!

And that’s not counting the dreadful humidity that time of year in Tokyo. I hated summers in New York City, but they’re worse in Tokyo.

Now, imagine running 42 kilometers on those roads, in that heat and humidity, because the marathons for women and men are scheduled respectively on August 2 and 9 in 2020. Researchers say that on average optimal times to run a marathon are temperatures of around 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Average body temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius and research also shows that running performance drops significantly if body temperature rises above 38.8 degrees celsius, according to this article.

At 38.8 C, the body can no longer effectively cool itself and it begins to divert blood to the skin to help keep it cool. This decreases the amount of blood available to carry oxygen to working muscles, which affects performance.

In intense hot weather athletic events, as the body becomes severely dehydrated, the result can be heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke, heat-induced coma and then even death.

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The examples of the high-tech road surfaces: the one on the left is the water-retaining material and the one on the right is the ceramic-based sprayed material

Clearly, organizers of the Tokyo Olympics want to avoid both cramps and death. What are they going to do? They’re going to turn the roads white. On August 31, 2016, a special event was held on a 250-meter stretch of road in the middle of Tokyo that incorporated two pieces of heat-reducing technology:

  • a ceramic-based spray coating with insulating properties which resulted in a whitish-colored road that reflects the sun’s infra-red rays, as well as
  • another road material that has water-retaining properties, by which water is retained and slowly evaporated, thus cooling the roads.

These two technologies will be combined to build out a road of some 21 kilometers, according to a television broadcast I recently saw, and allows the entire 42-kilometer race to be run, presumably, on a road much cooler than what they would experience today.

Olympic marathon runner Toshihiko Seko and Paralympic wheelchair marathon runner Nobukazu Hanaoka, were on hand on August 31 to test them out the new road. Their reaction?

  • “The heat-insulating paving was clearly cooler,” said Seko after a test run on the road.
  • Hanaoka said: “The wheels did not slip when I applied the brake, even when the surface was wet.”

Other ideas being explored to keep the road and the runners cooler are:

  • More shade along the course
  • An earlier start in the day
  • Routing the course through more open areas with greater wind movement
  • Routing the course near water and presumably lower temperatures
  • Placement of cool mist stations along the course
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From the 2016/2017 Manpower Talent Shortage Survey

Another study has revealed another issue in planning for Tokyo2020. According to a Japanese Sports Agency panel, there are concerns that Japan won’t have the necessary manpower to ensure drug testing is handled effectively and in a timely fashion.

According to a recently released report, Tokyo2020 will need approximately 200 analysts rotating in round-the-clock shifts every day during the Olympic Games, in order to complete an estimated 6,500 tests. Each test has to be completed within 24 hours of receipt of the sample.

Currently, there is only one lab in Japan that can conduct drug tests to the standards of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and they employee 15 analysts. Their turnaround time for a drug test is 10 days.

I have no doubt that Tokyo2020 will figure out how to efficiently and effectively process the required drug tests by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around, but it will not be easy to find the talent. As a Human Resource professional working in Japan, I am fully aware of how fierce the war for talent is in this country. Manpower.com, in its most recent Talent Shortage Survey, announced that the country where employers are having the most difficulty filling roles is Japan, by far. In fact, Japan has been the most difficult country since 2010.

Japan, in comparison to other countries in Asia, has a significantly low level of English capability, which impacts all organizations in Japan that require involvement in international endeavors or global markets. The technical sales, managerial, IT, engineering or design skills may exist in Japan in abundance, but the inability to communicate efficiently in a common global language like English can often slow down the pace of cross-boundary projects. And one of the biggest cross-boundary projects to hit Japan, perhaps the biggest, will be the 2020 Olympics.

Right now, the number of people in the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) who can interact with members of the IOC and individual National Organizing Committees has got to be low – in other words, so much is dependent on the few people who can speak English.

In 2020, who will be the ones who will coordinate with all of the visiting national teams, the international press, the highly technical demands of the dozens of international sports federations, the thousands of foreign athletes, and the tens of thousands of foreign tourists that arrive en masse for a few weeks in July, 2016?

More interestingly, what innovative ideas will emerge in the coming four years that will help Japan meet the demanding requirements of Tokyo 2020? What technologies will emerge as game changing? What tweaks to hiring or immigration policies will be revealed?

The Olympics can be a wonderful opportunity for change and growth in Japan.

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Junko Tabei on top of Mt Apo, December, 2005

“She would have to make a downward traverse of this ridge for about 14 or 15 meters — knowing that one mistake would send her plunging 5,000 meters on the northern, Chinese side or down to around 6,400 meters on the Nepalese side, where she could just see her Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition’s Camp II.”

That was the situation on May 16, 1975 that confronted Junko Tabei as she attempted to become the first woman to conquer Mount Everest, according to the Japan Times. Upset that there had been no mention of this treacherous path as she prepared for this ascent, she gritted her teeth, and with her Sherpa guide, made her way on a ridge with the narrowest margins for error.

Tabei survived Everest, but could not survive time. She passed away on October 20 at the age of 77.

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Junko Tabei at the top of Mount Everest

Since Edmund Hillary became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, Tabei would become the 36th person. She would also become the first woman to climb the so-called Seven Summits: Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Aconcagua in Argentina, McKinley (Denali) in Alaska, Elbrus in Russia, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia.

Japan is a mountainous land and so mountain climbing is popular among all age groups. And with the growing global popularity of sports climbing, the IOC granted Tokyo2020’s request to make that sport’s debut at the Tokyo Olympics in four years.

There’s really no comparison between the Olympic-sponsored sports climbing events and the death-defying challenge of the Tabei’s of the world. But her spirit to ascend will always be an inspiration, at the climbing walls of the Tokyo Games and beyond.

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For those of us in Japan, now thinking of how we are going to get ready for Tokyo 2020, the handover ceremony from Rio to Tokyo still resonates.

For eight minutes at the end of the Rio Olympics, Japan was given the spotlight. And the light shone brightly on Japan’s technology, fashion, arts, children and of course, Tokyo. They even made the solemn national anthem somewhat modern and uplifting with the stunning focus on the hi-no-maru, the red circle on white that symbolically represents the country.

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Tokyo2020 recently shared a video of this ceremony’s production, which is fascinating. These are the kinds of intense, complex projects that I would absolutely love to be a part of.

Global marketing and advertising powerhouse, Dentsu, was hired to create the closing handover ceremonies for Tokyo2020 for both the Rio Olympics and Rio Paralympics. Dentsu was paid JPY1.2 billion (USD12 million) to produce these segments, and of the big decisions they made was to include globally reknown cartoon characters: Doraemon and Super Mario.

Clearly, the transformation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into Super Mario and back again was the highlight of the handover ceremony. And interestingly, Nintendo is reported to have paid nothing to have one of its characters be front and center.

Four more years to go. So much to do, so little time.