Heavy weight, high hopes and long traditions

Wrestling counts amongst the oldest forms of human physical exercises and appears in various cultures under different forms. First figures of wrestlers date about 4000 years back, and are visible on ancient Egyptian frescoes. In Greek Antiquity, the activity was particularly popular and an important component of the Olympiad. Centuries later, at the first Games of the modern era in 1896, wrestling with unified rules belonged again to the programme.  

Sumō, Japan’s national sport, is a form of wrestling or, more accurate, grappling. It is said to have originated in contests of strength between gods recorded in the ancient history Kojiki and is similar to the Korean Ssireum and the Mongolian Boke. However, it is distinguished through two main elements: the dohyō, a ring with 4.55 metres in diameter and mawashi, a belt. The ring is not only a circle surrounding the participants, but also a boundary, which’s overstepping results in a loss. Furthermore, it is a symbolic barrier, and women are strictly prohibited to enter. The belt is a source of leverage for the opponent, allowing to apply different throwing techniques. Both of the elements exist in similar forms in other types of wrestling, yet their combination makes the Japanese activity distinctive. Sumō is both a performance and sport and counts many rituals like purification with salt, hand gestures, ring entering ceremonies, bows and feet stomping, most of which find their origins in Shintōism. 

The governing body of professional sumō is the Japan Sumō Association. Since 1958, six honbasho (Grand Sumō Tournament) are held each year. Three in Tōkyō (January, May & September), one respectively in Ōsaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). The tournaments run for 15 days, beginning and ending on a Sunday. The rules of sumō as a sport are rather simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any other part of his body than the soles of his feet loses. Rikishi (professional wrestlers) are often rather young and have chosen to dedicate their lives since an early age. Each wrestler has one match per day and tournaments start in the morning with the jonokuchi (lowest rank), gradually proceeding to jonidansandanmemakushita, jūryō and makuuchi, category that includes the ōzeki (highest rank) who precede the final bout of the yokozuna (Grand Champion) at around 6pm.

Female sumō is practiced, albeit only accepted as an amateur activity. Notably with the documentary, “Little Miss Sumō,” published in 2018 and since autumn 2019 available on Netflix, the female activity recently receives the more and more attention.

There exists an abundant amount of literature about sumō, and I have hardly even a small knowledge of the activity, its history and its significance in Japanese culture. Naively, I primarily related wrestlers to rather flabby, huge bodies and heavy weight. However, attending for the first time a tournament made me conscious not only about competitors’ dexterity and flexibility but also about their physical and especially their mental strength. Sitting on my zabuton (Japanese cushion) in a traditional 4-people masu seki (box seat in a small square of tatami mat), sipping some tasty beer while chatting and watching wrestlers competing was for sure a very pleasant, yet also a highly instructive experience. 

The fight in-between two wrestlers begins with the so-called niramiai, a prolonged war of nerves in which the combatants size each other up. During this time, they have to maintain their concentration and try to read the opponent’s intent. Many sumō wrestlers and experts believe that one can break the other simply by staring him down at this point. Niramiai lasts often longer than the physical battle that is carried out over few seconds.

The Sumō Association officially recognises 70 moves that fall into four categories: throws, trips, bending and twisting. Almost all moves apply yotsu-zumō and tsukioshi-zumō. Yotsu-zumō entails the use of the mawashi belt to lift and throw an opponent out of the ring whereas tsukioshi-zumō involves pushing and thrusting. The longer a match lasts, the more important yotsu-zumō becomes. There are no weight restrictions or classes, which implies that significant physical disproportions can appear. So, on the fourth day of the 2020’s first tournament, the audience had to witness how the 168cm small and 98kg light Japanese wrestler Enhō Akira got carried away by 191cm tall and 178kg heavy Georgian Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi, whilst kicking his legs like a helpless child. The way how each wrestler uses his body is very different and shows the subtle balance in-between weight and speed. Although starting off well with an adroit move, once Enhō’s adversary succeeded to grab him by his belt, there was strictly nothing he could do. 

Olympic martial arts include boxing, karate, taekwondo, wrestling, jūdō and fencing that will all be figuring in Tōkyō 2020. Karate, which originated in Okinawa during the Ryūkū Dynasty period spread out throughout Japan during the 1920s and over the globe after World War II. Karate’s application to be part of the Olympic programme dates back to the 1970s. Though, it was only in 2016, after the Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee’s proposal for inclusion that it was approved as part of the Games, but it is not foreseen to be on the list for Paris 2024. 

During the 133rd International Olympic Committee session meeting held in Buenos Aires in October 2018, the International Sumō Federation (IFS) has been granted full recognition. The decision to be officially upgraded from provisional to full recognition was made as a result of significant progress made by IFS in its institutional development in addition to the promotion and progress of the sport of sumō. The Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF) lists sports that are recognised but not yet part of the Olympic programme. Although it is a first step in order to someday become part of the Games, numerous sports such as bandy, flying disc and netball have been recognised as Olympic sports without ever getting practiced at the event. Sumō had also been among the 26 sports to apply for inclusion on the Tōkyō 2020 programme, though without success. 

Regardless the non-inclusion at the home nation’s Games that may question sumō’s potential position within the Olympics, the sold out 11’098 capacity Ryōgoku Kokugikan arena last week left no doubt for me about the persistence of the archipelago’s long-lasting tradition in future.

I wish to express my deep gratitude for having been given the opportunity to make the above-mentioned experience. 

Sumō wrestlers forming a circle around the gyōji (referee) in the dohyō-iri (ring-entering ceremony) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Sumō wrestlers forming a circle around the gyōji (referee) in the dohyō-iri (ring-entering ceremony) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Sold out 11’098 capacity Ryōgoku Kokugikan arena 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Throwing salt, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (L) & Enhō Akira (R) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Getting prepared, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (L) & Enhō Akira (R) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Approaching each other, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (L) & Enhō Akira (R) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Grabbing the belt, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (R) & Enhō Akira (L) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Carried away… 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner


Fly the flag to set sail

With the aim of bringing together competitors, team officials and other personnel in one place, the Bye-law to Rule 38 of the Olympic Charter prescribes that the Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (OCOG) shall provide an Olympic Village for a period determined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board. 

For the Tōkyō 1964 Games, it was Washington Heights, a United States Armed Forces housing complex located in Shibuya-ku next to Tange Kenzō’s famous Yoyogi National Gymnasium and annex that was chosen to house the Olympic athletes. Built in 1946, the complex accommodated families of the American military forces until 1964, by when all land had been returned to the Japanese government who also covered the full amount of relocation expenses for moving the former residents to Chōfu. The village counted 250 wooden country houses and 14 4-storey apartment buildings. With the exception of the Dutch Olympic team house, all houses of Washington Heights were demolished shortly after the Games, and a large park (Yoyogi Park) was created instead. 

In April 2016, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) started to work on a Type 1 Urban Redevelopment Project in the uninvested West Harumi 5-Chōme District in Chuō-ku. 

After serving as the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2020 Games, HARUMI FLAGdeveloped on a 44ha plot with a built area of approximately 18ha, is meant to become a new residential zone. The site is owned by the TMG though constructed by a group of private developers including Mitsui Fudosan Residential Co., Ltd., MITSUBISHI JISHO RESIDENCE CO., LTD., Nomura Real Estate Development Co., Ltd., Sumitomo Realty & Development Co., Ltd., SUMITOMO CORPORATION, Tokyu Land Corporation, Tokyo Tatemono Co., Ltd., NTT Urban Development Corporation, NIPPON STEEL KOWA REAL ESTATE CO., LTD., DAIWA HOUSE INDUSTRY CO., LTD. & Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Co., Ltd.

The Athletes Village will provide 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 beds during the Paralympics. Since the residences are built by the private sector, the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) will pay a rent during the reception of the competitors. 

In line with plans developed by the TMG, two 50-storey towers (of about 180m height) will be added to the condominium after 2020. By 2024, HARUMI FLAG should count 21 residential 14-18 floors block-type buildings and two residential 50-storey towers proposing all together 5,632 units. 4,145 thereof shall be for sale (with prices starting from about 54 million yen, USD 500,000) and 1,487, including senior housing and shared housing, for rent. Furthermore, there will be one commercial building, nursing homes, day-care centres, schools and parks. The green area facing the sea should serve for various activities and help to encourage exchange in-between the about 12,000 new residents. HARUMI FLAG is divided into SUN VILLAGE, PARK VILLAGE, PORT VILLAGE and SEA VILLAGE and will include a central plaza, a public space with a diameter of about 100 metres created through a public-private partnership. There will be accessible, barrier-free routes on the site and the common hallways in the residential buildings will be approximatively 1.5 metres wide, which is more than typical Japanese condominium standards. 

For the purpose of creating an environmentally advanced city and leave a long-term legacy, hydrogen will be used as an energy source to generate electricity and as fuel for buses and cars. Water supply, sewerage and gas, but also electric wires (often placed above ground in Japan) are buried underground. Furthermore, heat-insulting pavement are used for roads as a measure against summer heat.  

One of the main issues in attracting people to this area is the difficulty of access by public transportation. The new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that should be opened before the Games is seen as a solution to connect HARUMI FLAG with downtown districts such as Shimbashi Station and Toranomon. The BRT operation will gradually be expanded according to the status of maintenance of Ring Road 2 and the Olympic Village area. The installation of new routes and bus stops are in consideration in accordance with the area’s development and demand. Community cycles will be available at major BRT stops in order to develop transit facilities for local traffic. 

Within these few years, the village could fly the flag, and shall soon be ready to set sail for the Olympic journey. 


2020: we are here, in the Olympic year

Nisennijū - how often have I heard this term in the past; have I figured its signification and imagined its repercussion. As far away it seemed, as fast it arrived: 2020, the year that Tōkyō will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games again. 

It was on 7 September 2013, after a bidding period of around two years, that the Japanese capital was chosen for the second time to host the Olympics. This was the fourth time that the city intended to hold the event: the Games of the XII Olympiad in 1940 were assigned to Tōkyō, though they had to be cancelled due to World War II. It was finally in 1964 that the Japanese capital became the first host city in Asia. The archipelago’s population, eager to demonstrate to the rest of the world its post-war recovery and modernisation, placed big importance on the event. The Tōkyō 1964 Games, often called the rebirth of Japan, had a noticeable impact on the city’s urban development and on the people all over the country. The event allowed to rewrite the national image and to prove that Tōkyō was henceforth able to compete with other world cities. In order to meet the needs of a growing number of visitors, large railway works were carried out and the Shinkansen (= bullet train) was inaugurated on 1 October 1964, 9 days before the beginning of the Games. As authorities estimated that the number of cars circulating in Tōkyō would exceed one million in the Olympic year, more than 70 km of roads were rehabilitated and freshly built, and 22 highways and 8 expressways constructed. Two new metro lines were established and integrated into the already existing network. In addition, 15 km of rails for the Haneda-Tōkyō central monorail train were built and renovation works on Haneda Airport, which was at the time the main gateway of the country, were undertaken.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Japanese capital prepared a bid for the 2016 Games. Its outline was different than for 2020 and did not sufficiently resonate with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Four years later, Tōkyō won against Istanbul and Madrid, the two other Candidate Cities. The Japanese capital had then 5 months to create the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG), a privately funded organisation and main interlocutor of the IOC. 

Tōkyō 2020 is divided into two main areas, the Heritage Zone and the Tōkyō Bay Zone. Over the years, the venue plan has been adapted. Now, the Olympic Games count 33 sports and 50 disciplines that will be carried out over 42 sites from 24 July to 9 August 2020. The Paralympic Games include 22 sports and 23 disciplines that are to be held in 21 venues from 25 August to 6 September 2020. The Olympic / Paralympic Village and the IBC / MPC Tōkyō International Exhibition Centre (Tōkyō Big Sight), which will house the International Broadcast Centre and the Main Press Centre, remain during both events. 

With the aim to vitalise the city’s waterfront, 14 out of the 42 venues are located in the Tōkyō Bay Zone, 10 thereof in Kōtō Ward. Although in the 1980s the Japanese capital already made attempts to develop the artificial islands in its bay, the result was rather inefficient, leading to the under-utilisation of facilities and emptiness of urban space. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are seen as an opportunity to animate street life through the implementation of temporary and permanent venues and the organisation of various event-related activities. The Athletes Village, developed on a 44-hectar plot located in the Harumi district in Chūō Ward, is meant to become a new residential zone after the Games. The site is owned by the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) though constructed by a group of private developers. The village will provide 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 beds during the Paralympics. Since the residences are built by the private sector, the TOCOG will pay a rent during the reception of the athletes. After the Games, the buildings will be renovated and sold or rent as apartments to the public. In line with plans developed by the TMG, two 50-story skyscrapers will be added to the condominium. By 2024, there should be a total of 23 buildings counting 5,632 residential units and 24 commercial facilities. For the purpose of creating an environmentally advanced city and leave a long-term legacy, hydrogen will be used as an energy source to generate electricity and as fuel for buses and cars. 

The initial 2020 Olympic budget was fixed at USD 6 billion. As of April 2018, it increased to around USD 13.5 billion and is now estimated at USD 12.6 billion. Roughly USD 6 billion are privately funded, mainly through sponsorship, ticket sale and marketing as well as a contribution from the IOC. Consequently, more than half of the Tōkyō 2020 budget is to be covered by the public sector. Moreover, the real cost of the Games is difficult to determine and may be much higher, as expenses related to various initiatives like building barrier-free facilities for Paralympic athletes, training programs for volunteers or heat prevention are commonly not included in calculations. Organisers justify the increase of the original budget by the fact that first estimates were intended to form a framework and that the two-year bid did not leave enough time to conduct detailed studies. Furthermore, it is argued that Olympic forecast is made between 7 and 9 years in advance and that therefore some flexibility and adaptation to economic fluctuations is required. In order to prevent the permanent rise of costs linked to the Games, Tōkyō reviewed its plan and decided to privilege the use of existing sites. Hence, certain locations outside the capital were added. Furthermore, Zaha Hadid’s expensive project of the National Olympic Stadium was scrapped in 2015 and replaced by Kuma Kengo’s design proposal the same year.

Shortly after rumours about the stadium started to spread around, the organisers of Tōkyō 2020 again encountered a period of tension. Following the accusation of plagiarism from Liège Theatre’s logo creator Olivier Debie, worried Japanese internet users launched an investigation on Sano Kenjirō, the designer of the official Games’ logo. Even though the lawsuit was dropped, concerns about a possible scandal grew and the design was quickly abandoned for reasons of credibility. In order to regain public’s trust, the TOCOG announced the foundation of a preliminary selection committee for new emblems in September 2015. In April 2016, after a long selection process, the new emblems of the Tōkyō 2020 Games were unveiled. 

Succeeding a public call for applications, elementary school students chose the two final Games mascots out of three proposed sets. Besides being a method to ascertain younger generations’ preference, the selection procedure was also an opportunity to integrate discussions about the Olympics creatively in the national education programme.Two years and one day before the opening of the sporting event, the first official licensed 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games shop opened. At that time, about 700 articles were for sale and in summer 2019, another 445 officially licensed items got released. The mascots are privileged characters that figure on numerous products. 

The 2020 version of Tōkyō Gorin Ondo is a new interpretation of the official song of the 1964 Games. The lyrics, originally written by Miyata Takashi were adapted to the 21st century and sung by Ishikawa Sayuri, Takehara Pistol and Kayama Yūzō on Koga Masao’s initial melody. The music video includes an educational part that teaches how the dance moves are to be performed. 

In the run-up to the Tōkyō 1964 Games, the Japanese population made all possible effort to provide the best setting for visitors. Concerned about the image foreigners may get of host city Tōkyō and the country as a whole, the Land of the Rising Sun is once again anticipating the arrival of international athletes and spectators. Initiatives range from the establishment of innovative constructions and the arrangement of a functional infrastructure to the implementation of a high-level security system and the meticulous play of each stage of the event beforehand. The 80,000 Games and 30,000 City Volunteers are expected to help out at competition venues, support Games operations and provide services and information for visitors at airports, train stations and sightseeing spots. In order to prepare a broader part of the society, classes about the Olympic and Paralympic Games, sports and health as well as different cultures are given to elementary-, middle- and high school students. In addition, English language programmes and courses about interaction with foreigners are proposed to adults. In order to prevent from overcrowded public transportation, Tōkyō now highly encourages the former rather depreciated practice of teleworking. 

Over the past years, the Japanese capital has expanded the use of simplified signage in public space, including station names written in both Japanese and Latin alphabet and the systematic numeration of subway stops. Furthermore, announcements are today often made in Japanese and English language. It is to mention that national TV channels have gradually increased the number of programmes about the Games, reaching from the diffusion of documentaries about the 1964 Olympiad to the introduction of future venues and more recently the attendance at training sessions of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. 

Media about the 2020 Games has long been relatively reticent. However, since the One Year To Go, discussions about Tōkyō’s preparation are multiplying. The transfer of the marathon and walking race to Sapporo, accumulated with the difficulty to access tickets for competitions, have lately caused frustration among Tōkyō’s population. Few manifestations from opponents of the Games have been recognised. Nevertheless, a No-Olympics movement has slowly grown in size and importance.  

Over the past years, I have frequently visited the Japanese capital. Therefore, I could not only witness the construction of venues and attend event-related activities, but also assess the detailed changes of the city and the increasing attention that is drawn to the Olympics. Again and again I am fascinated by the very subtle communication strategies, amused by labelled everyday goods, surprised by people’s conversations and intrigued by official’s speeches.

At the current state it seems difficult to make reliable presumptions for the Tōkyō Olympics and Paralympics let alone to predict post-Games legacy. However, as I have the honour and privilege to stay in Tōkyō until after the event, I wish to continuously share small parts of my acquired knowledge in the most correct and neutral way. Anyhow the impact will be, one thing is certain: as time passes, the Games are undeniably approaching. 

2020: we are here, in the Olympic year !


A thousand words in one same language

As the Olympic and Paralympic Games are an international event that attract various people among the world, difficulty in communication and language barriers are a recurrent phenomenon. Sports illustrations and graphic images for providing general information have been used in early modern Games such as 1912 in Stockholm, 1924 in Paris and 1948 in London. However, they were quite complex, kept on a small scale and not universally recognised. 

Careful about the sense of hospitality and anticipating the influx of non-Japanese speaking visitors, it was in the run-up to Tōkyō 1964 that the Olympic pictograms officially made their debut. In the arise from a need to communicate visually to an increasingly international group of athletes and spectators, designer Yamashita Yoshiro and art critic Katsumi Masaru led a team of specialists who worked together on the development of icons reduced in shape and size to the minimum needed for understanding each message. The set included 20 figures for the different sports, as well as 39 additional icons for various kinds of information. They were used on venue maps and programmes, but also on building walls and inside airports and train stations. As the pictograms have proved successful at the Tōkyō 1964 Games, subsequent hosts followed the Japanese example. Furthermore, design critics have stated that these Olympic pictograms have permanently changed the idea of graphic design and consider it as one of the earliest steps on the way to replace words with images on the global stage. Indeed, the concept of using icons in the communication around everyday facilities and services spread widely, and so, for example, the now well-known toilet signage emerged in the context of 1964.

Olympic pictograms from the 1960s to the 1980s looked similar and were primarily supposed to be informative. Progressively, they then received an individual design. Thus, Lillehammer 1994 marked a turning point by developing a very unique type of icon, inspired by Norwegian rock paintings that are estimated several thousand years old. Creators wished thereby to incorporate the country’s history, and additionally made a commercial campaign out of it, leading to the production of t-shirts and various objects for sale. 

With almost all of the 128 million existing native Japanese speakers living on the archipelago, the ninth most practiced language in the world stands out with its strong geographical concentration. Although reaching a record of more than 31 million tourists who visited the Land of the Rising Sun last year, the country’s language remains rather isolated. Compared to 1964, much information in English and other foreign languages is available today. Nevertheless, communication is still seen as a difficulty in the context of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the use of symbols seems to remain an efficient solution in the orientation of international visitors. 

Designed by a team led by Hiromura Masaaki over an almost 2-year period, the Tōkyō 2020 official sport pictograms of the Olympic Games got introduced on 12 March 2019. There are two sets (unframed and framed) of 50 designs representing the 33 sports that will feature next summer (some sports count individual pictograms per discipline). The unframed version will be used on posters, tickets and licensed products whereas the framed type will be figuring on maps, signage at competition venues, guidebooks and websites. The Paralympic pictograms were unveiled one month later, on 13 April 2019. They count a total of 23 designs for the 22 Paralympic sports (two different ones are used to express each of the cycling disciplines). 

The Tōkyō 2020 sport figures were created with the idea to combine the heritage of the past Games with innovation. The 1964 pictograms consisted of straight lines and precise circles. The 2020 version aims to add the vibrancy and athlete’s movements as a new dimension. The design has been developed in dialogue with various specialists and athletes who shared their perception and knowledge. However, when looking at the frozen images, this intention seems hard to discern and the mentioned vibrancy and motion are difficult to seize.

In the preparation of this report, I traced the 20 corresponding pictograms of the 1964 and 2020 Games on translucent paper. The immediate comparison of the pencil’s flow in my hand made me experience the motion in the figures. It showed me the refinement of each pictogram and made me understand the subtility of the new design. 

The following photograph shows the 20 pictograms used in both, the 1964 (left) and the 2020 (right) Games. Please note that the Olympic and Paralympic Games have not only grown in size but today also embrace a wider range of sports. Tōkyō 2020 therefore includes an additional 30 Olympic pictograms that I did not draw. As there were no Paralympic pictograms developed for 1964, the ones of 2020 do not figure in the following image.



Spread out, be around

It was at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble that a mascot made its debut. Schuss was a little man on skis, painted in the colours of the French flag, created by Aline Lafargue. However, it was not called a mascot by then and an official one was used four years later at the Munich 1972 Summer Games. Waldi, a dachshund dog was designed by Elena Winschermann three years before the event. The Paralympic Games didn’t have an own mascot materialised until 1980 as they were not officially branded. The following years, each Games had different mascots and only from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games on, they have been represented together. 

Olympic mascots are fictional characters, usually resembling an animal typical for the host city or region or human figures who represent the local culture. They are particularly important in the promotion of the Games and meant to please a wide range of people, including the younger generations. 

The Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee began the selection of the mascots roughly three years prior to the Games. From 1 to 14 August 2017, design proposals could be made by principally everyone who was at least 18 years old as of 1 April 2017 and who either has Japanese nationality or is holder of a Japanese residence card. All in all, 2,042 applications were received; 1,753 of which answered the format criteria. In September 2017, specialists from different involved companies decided if the proposed designs and profiles would be suitable for elementary school children. 98 entries made it to the next stage. Then, members of the Mascot Selection Panel examined whether the remaining designs reflected the spirit of the Tōkyō 2020 Games Vision and the values of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. 16 proposals made it through. On 13 October 2017, the Mascot Selection Panel began the selection of the final three candidates. From 11 December 2017 to 22 February 2018, 205,755 classes from 16,769 elementary schools in Japan and Japanese schools abroad were asked to vote for their favourite set. The winning design, chosen by 109,041 classes was announced on 28 February 2018. It is to mention that the votes decreased proportionally to the order of the presentation: 109,041 for Pair A, 61,423 for Pair B and 35,291 for Pair C.

From the end of April to the end of May 2018, the mascot naming was developed based on questionnaires given to the children who had participated in the voting and an interview with the winning design creator Taniguchi Ryo. For each character, 30 proposals were made. Finally, the names Miraitowa (Olympics) and Someity (Paralympics) were unveiled on 22 July 2018. A special naming ceremony was held on the occasion. Although written in katakana, Miraitowa is based on the Japanese word mirai (future) and towa (eternity), whereas Someity comes from someiyoshino, a popular cherry blossom variety and echoes with the English “so mighty”.

One day after the announcement of the names, and two years and one day before the opening of the sporting event, the first official licensed 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games shop opened inside major consumer electronics retailer BicCamera Shinjuku West. At that time, about 700 articles, such as pins, t-shirts, mugs, booklets, and stuffed toys were for sale. In summer 2019, another 445 officially licensed items got released, including products featuring the “1 Year to Go!” logo and sports pictograms.

At present, the Organising Committee of the 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games has two further official retailers, one inside BicCamera Akasaka-Mitsuke and one at BicCamera Ikebukuro East, as well as an online shop. In addition, other merchandisers sell official licensed products. 

The recently launched Olympic and Paralympic Licca-chan has particularly been hailed. The Japanese version of Barbie made its debut eight years after her American counterpart and therefore missed the 1964 Games by three years. The Tōkyō 2020 doll comes in two types, one is a blond girl wearing a blue yukata kimono (Olympics) whereas the other is brunette with a pink yukata (Paralympics). Licca-chan has marked different generations and is popular among children and adults. Being particularly favoured articles, the two dolls may help the mascots generate the expected ¥14 billion from licensing and merchandising.


Work together, help one another

Last Thursday, 5 December, the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, commonly known as International Volunteer Day (IVD) was celebrated. Mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1985, its aim is to promote volunteerism, encourage governments to support volunteer efforts and recognise volunteer contributions at local, national and international levels. 

The term volunteer finds its origins in Latin voluntārius, meaning “of one’s free will” from voluntās “will”. Supposedly, it was first used in 1755 when it got derived from Middle French voluntaire, related to military service in the early 17th century. However, organised forms of volunteering occurred only in the 19th century. Gradually, it became an international concept, notably hailed by Western countries, where around 20-25% of the population yearly offer services for free. In the context of globalisation, those with disposable incomes frequently take advantage to visit new destinations with the motive of experiencing a place or event as a volunteer and so, the fusion of volunteering and tourism has led to the recently popular concept of “volunteer tourism” / “voluntourism”.

Over the past decades, the events industry has rapidly expanded and in the sport sector competitions have been growing in size. Given that mega-events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games are time-bound and take place within a short period, they generate few permanent long-term employment. Considered to be economically and socially beneficial, volunteers have therefore become essential to the delivery of the Games. 

The Tōkyō 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are expected to count 80,000 Games and 30,000 City Volunteers. On 12 September 2018 the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) announced the opening for the Games Volunteer application programme scheduled from 26 September to 21 December 2018, with an extended deadline for people with visual impairment. Candidates were to be born before 1 April 2002 and had to be Japanese nationals or persons with a valid (short- or long-term) visa. They were asked to assure devoting eight hours a day for a period of over ten days consecutively. The so-called Field Cast is supposed to mainly help at competition venues, the Olympic and Paralympic Village, support Games operations and provide services to spectators, media and others. As common, the volunteers are in charge of their accommodation and transportation to the host city. In return, they are to get meals, uniforms and ¥1,000 support for transportation per working day. 

In the beginning of the recruitment process, rather few applications were received. Therefore, conditions were lowered: the requested period of ten days got possibly adapted and the guidelines for consecutive volunteering were changed to five days. Also, Japanese companies were asked to encourage their employees to apply for the programme. In the end, the efforts were fruitful, as 204,680 people from Japan and overseas have applied. Interviews and orientation sessions for applicants who reside in Japan started in February 2019 and the general training commenced in October 2019, with a first one for English speakers the month after. Role-specific trainings are scheduled for April 2020, and from May 2020, uniforms will be handed out. Interviews and orientation for overseas applicants were held between March and September 2019 via video calls, and trainings will take place in June 2020. Twelve percent of the accepted volunteers are non-Japanese, coming from 120 countries.

In parallel, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) outlined a recruitment process of another 30,000 volunteers on 18 September 2018. The period for applications correlated with the one for the Tōkyō 2020 Games Volunteers. The City Cast is supposed to provide tourism and transport information for visitors at airports, train terminals and sightseeing spots. Their conditions differ from the Field Cast’s, demanding only five hours of activity per day for a period of at least five days, non-consecutively. However, candidates need to have conversational Japanese skills, and most of the recruitment and orientation is undertaken in Japanese language. Interviews and information sessions took place from February to May 2019. The selected candidates got notified in September the same year. Group trainings started on 4 October 2019 and are to be continued until late February 2020. From April 2020, role-specific trainings will take place, followed by location-specific trainings and the distribution of uniforms in June 2020 .

With all in all 110,000 event-related volunteers, Tōkyō 2020 reaches for slightly more than its Olympic and Paralympic predecessors Rio de Janeiro 2016 (56,000 Games and 1,700 City Volunteers) and London 2012 (70,000 Games and 8,000 City Volunteers). 

In anticipation of Tōkyō’s summer heat, the marathon and walking race have been relocated to Sapporo on Japan’s northern main island Hokkaido in October / early November this year. Now, concerns not only about athlete’s health and the convenience of spectators, but also about working conditions have been pronounced. Therefore, it was decided that all Olympic and Paralympic staff including volunteers will receive tablets for salt supplementation, wet wipes, instant coolants and… ice cream. A sweet surprise for the enthusiastic helpers.


A house is a home

When homes fall apart 

Initially, my field trip to Nagano was scheduled for mid-late October 2019. However, Hagibis thwarted this plan by strongly hitting central and eastern Japan. The heavy rainfall which came with the typhoon caused severe inundation in several prefectures of the archipelago, including my destination: the Hokuriku Shinkansen depot was flooded, leading to the destruction of ten out of thirty trains that serve the region. Houses, bridges and roads were devastated, and some parts of the landscape ravaged. 

When about one month and a half after, I finally undertook my journey, I was shown around the disaster area. The atmosphere was calm, sincere, snivelling. Seeing the still standing train cars, the damaged houses, empty restaurants and stores, the trees covered with mud, and the garbage spread on the ground, I was overcome with emotion. At some spots, poles had a 5-metre mark, illustrating the water level that was attended during the flood.

Since rescheduling, the programme for my stay was adapted and should not only comprise the visit of Nagano 1998 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games’ legacy, but also include one day of volunteering in the disaster area. The day after my arrival, we therefore headed out early to the Prefecture’s Northern Disaster Volunteer Centre. Dressed warmly, wearing gloves and rubber boots, equipped with a hat, goggles, a breathing mask, onigiri and tea, we arrived shortly before 9am at the centre. Together with about 30 other newcomers, we were kindly welcomed and briefed about safety precautions and the progression of the day. Also, the volunteers were asked were they came from. Most were from the region, yet some from various parts of Japan. The last ones were particularly acknowledged. Then, we registered, and wrote date, name and the assigned working sector on a sticker that was to be stuck on our jacket. 

Following, we got systematically divided into groups of five people. A volunteer staff member explained some organisational elements and a group leader (リーダーさん / leader san) was designated. リーダーさん was in charge to fill in and keep a paper with the names and phone numbers of the members. We introduced ourselves and got together on board of a shuttle bus that brought us to a Satellite Volunteer Centre. Our centre was settled in a former Nagano Prefecture Branch Office which had endured strong damage during the typhoon. Again, our group got some information, this time about the lot of land that we would be working at. We took five shovels and two wheelbarrows, without really knowing what we were going to use them for. About four groups of five people gathered around the same lot. The nearby small, empty and partly damaged house served as a storage room and shelter. The task was quickly explained and fairly easy to understand: pick up all the garbage you find, and dig if it is buried under the ground. Then, shift it to a pile. 

As far as I could see, there was definitely enough work for us… 

Enthusiastic, I reached for the first item I saw. It was a blue cloth that was half buried under the ground. After some minutes of digging, I pulled, and found myself with a big pair of trousers. { I knew that fortunately relatively few people had died in the district and therefore I could get rid of the thought that the owner of the clothing may not be alive anymore } However, the pants in my hands, I imaged where their possessor may be. I questioned if he (deducing from their shape and size) was with his family or friends, if he could rest in someone else’s house, and if he would come back to live here in some weeks or months. Also, I wondered if ever he would miss his blue pants or think about how his belongings got removed. { He may currently have other concerns though } Then, I found a blanket, and several small espresso cans. The blue pants owner must like coffee. Or were the cans someone else’s ? I felt disrespectful for my thoughts. So, I decided to henceforth focus on my physical activity. The mission turned out to be like a treasure hunt: the more items I found, the more satisfied I started to feel. 

As it was advised, every half an hour, we took a 10-minute break. After the first two shifts, when in-between mud, dust and delusional digging I slowly started to lose my sense of orientation, I realised how important these breaks were. Sometimes, I felt almost offended, when within only few minutes of absence, someone had dug out and removed my garbage. Of course, I was conscious about the absurdity of this thought, and did very much appreciate the cooperation. As a matter of fact, we frequently complimented one other’s exploit. 

At half past noon, we had a lunch break. At our Satellite Centre, there was everything one could need: mobile toilets, basins to clean the boots, soap, mouthwash, hand sanitiser, towels, spare goggles, gloves, food and drinks. 

The second half of the day, men should continue to remove garbage at the morning’s lot, whereas women were asked to “clean” houses. The house I was assigned to stood on a bare, wooden structure. Impressively, its first floor seemed to be in good condition. I wondered if the owner would rather live in a place with a half-damaged base, or if the house would soon be demolished. Therefore, I was concerned about the utility of my task. However, I did my best to remove the dust. 

At around 3pm, the mission was to be ended. Exhausted but satisfied, I joined the other members of my group. As they were all male, they had continued the morning’s task. リーダーさん handed in our group’s sheet, confirming that everyone got back safely. We went through the same cleaning procedure as at lunch time and headed off to the shuttle bus. Many volunteers stood in line, so we had to wait for about 20 minutes. When we arrived at the Northern Disaster Volunteer Centre, we found again basins to wash our boots, soap and mouthwash. Then, we were offered hot (delicious) tea, apples and onigiris as well as big smiles, warm お疲れ様でした / otsukaresamadeshita (meaning “thank you for your hard work”) and バイバイ / bye bye’s. 

That Saturday, all in all, an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 people volunteered in Nagano Prefecture; a mass that is certainly not easy to manage. Nevertheless, everything went very smoothly, and the centres were incredibly well organised. 

One day of volunteering is for sure not enough to reconstruct the house of blue pants’ owner, let alone to sincerely help the region. Though, more than I had imagined could be done within only few hours of cooperation. From my perspective, volunteering in a disaster area is an educational and essential experience for a researcher in urban studies, as it may be for any human being.


In the respect of all those who lost their home, I do not publish any photograph of inside the disaster area. 


Nagano 1998, a Look at Olympic Legacy

The history of the world’s biggest sporting event dates back to the year 1894, when Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s dream to revive the ancient Olympic Games in a modern form was realised in Paris. Held every four years, the Games first only staged the summer event. However, some of the early host cities like London 1908 and Antwerp 1920 included activities such as figure skating and ice hockey in their programmes. 

Following the success of a winter sports week held in Chamonix, France, in 1924, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided in 1925 to retroactively recognise this event as the first separate Winter Olympic Games. At the time, the both were held the same year. In order to maximise the profile of the event and its television revenue, the Summer and Winter Olympic Games got from 1992 on scheduled at two-year intervals. 

The Winter Olympics differ in several points from their aestival counterpart: they are usually staged on a smaller scale and take place in fragile landscapes. Until the 1952 Oslo Games, they were held in relatively few populated areas (often counting less than 13,000 residents) and attracted a small amount of people. Though like the Summer Games, the hibernal competition has over the years increased in size. From the 1960s, they were mostly assigned to centres surpassing a population of 100,000 people and were largely considered as a tool of regional development. So, the 1972 Sapporo Olympic Winter Games were seen by the Japanese government as an economic opportunity to vitalise the countries’ northern island of Hokkaido. As a matter of fact, less than 5% of the Games’ budget was invested in sports facilities, the rest finding its interest in the development of urban infrastructure, notably transportation. 

The Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games took place from 7th to 22nd February and resembled 2,167 athletes coming from 72 countries. The Winter Paralympic Games, for the first time held outside Europe, took place from 5th to 14th March and attracted 571 athletes from 32 nations. As that years’ winter was particularly warm, officials had feared a snowless Olympics leading to the creation of contingency plans, which included laying tatami mats across the melting cross-country course to shade it from the sun. However, the concerns were causeless, as two weeks before the opening ceremony a storm moved across the Sea of Japan and covered the region with a decent amount of snow. 

The Nagano 1998 Games played an important role in the development of the region: almost all of the 15 sports venues were new built, and the event was seized as an occasion to undertake major projects such as road development, facilities’ construction and the implementation of a new bullet train line in-between Tōkyō and Nagano that was inaugurated on 1st October 1997, roughly 4 months before the opening ceremony. The direct sports-related cost of the Nagano Games was around USD 2.2 billion and therefore ran over budget by 56%. The indirect cost, rather difficult to estimate, added an important sum. 

Although centred in Nagano City, the Games spread over a wide area, notably the mountain communities of Hakuba, Karuizawa, Nozawa Onsen and Shiga Kogen. The city itself counts 5 venues, including the Minami-Nagano Sports Park where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. The Olympic Village, new built, housed around 3,000 people, mostly athletes and officials. After the event, it was transformed into upper middle-class housing, nowadays still in good condition. Right next to a train station, it is easily accessible and rather a convenient place to live in. A Satellite Olympic Village, located in the Karuizawa Skate Center Hotel, hosted an additional 120 people for the Curling events. 

Most of the facilities that are located in the city’s centre were reconverted after the Games. So, the Minami-Nagano Stadium and the White Ring nowadays host different sporting events and competitions, such as baseball and basketball matches, and the second one mentioned above has also become a multipurpose municipal sports gymnasium.  The Aqua Wing, which originally served to host the secondary ice hockey matches, got reshaped into a year-round indoor swimming centre, containing a small gym and various training rooms. It is currently in good condition, well frequented, and seems appreciated by Nagano’s citizens. The Spiral, however, located at a 20-minutes car ride from Nagano City and difficult to access by public transportation, is a counterexample. Used for the bobsleigh and luge competitions, it was supposed to become a training site and host competitions in winter, and serve as a leisure facility in summer. Yet, its maintain is pricy and the venue is progressively degenerating. The M-Wave, which was Japan’s first indoor rink with a 400-meter standard double track, staged the speed skating competitions. Today, it offers Nagano’s citizens a big public ice skating rink from autumn to spring, and transforms into a multipurpose arena in the summer months. This venue is also Japan’s national training centre for figure skating. Likewise, the Big Hat, during the Games the primary ice hockey venue, today serves as a big event arena. 

Nagano seems to be a good example for a partially successful Olympic legacy; whereas some facilities have (thanks to the sufficient maintain by the city) become well-used and appreciated locations, others visibly lose popularity and little by little fall apart. It is to say, that in the 20 years which have passed since the Olympics, Nagano has established and kept the position as a popular winter sports destination.


This article is notably based on my recent field trip to Nagano. Due to their geographical dispersion (and the lack of time), it was not possible to visit the entity of the Olympic legacy. Nevertheless, I wish to express my sincere gratitude for having been incredibly well shown around within short time.

Minami-Nagano Stadium, November 2019 © Louise Claire Wagner

Nagano 1998 Olympic Torch, November 2019 © Louise Claire Wagner

White into White, White Ring © Louise Claire Wagner

Former Olympic Village, November 2019 © Louise Claire Wagner

Spiral, November 2019 © Louise Claire Wagner

Aqua Wing, November 2019 © Louise Claire Wagner

Big Hat (people attracted by a pop-event) November 2019 © Louise Claire Wagner


Shutdown, carry on

Amongst the privileges of being a researcher on a one-year field mission in Japan, counts the freedom to manage one’s own schedule. When people ask me if I have to work the next day, if I am free on weekends, and if I can take long vacation, I struggle to explain that there is rarely any specific obligation and that I could, theoretically, be off days and days in a row, just like I could spend every minute working. 

Being your own boss certainly requires an amount of self-discipline and motivation, and the rather solitary everyday life may not always be easy to handle. Indeed, by focusing on a specific field of study, it becomes difficult to share thoughts and theories with others. However, it is notably my research that introduces me to various individuals with different cultural backgrounds. Given that the Olympic and Paralympic Games are an international happening, they attract also in the academic field a wide range of people. In the run up to Tōkyō 2020, the more and more event-related conferences, seminars and meetings are taking place, and it sometimes feels as if this very particular research community scales down the globe and makes it more palpable. 

The sceptical looks when answering questions about where my working place is or who my colleagues are, sometimes become destabilising and make me feel illegitimate. When adding that I neither regularly attend classes, nor do any teaching, my vis-à-vis often abandons understanding. However, I highly appreciate the variety of my occupation and the fact of not having what commonly is considered as an office. As a matter of fact, besides symposiums, study sessions and meetings, I can not only choose at which moment I wish to advance on what topic, but also where I want to spend my day. Therefore, libraries, cafés, but also my home have become my office; practically, my laptop is my office. 

Announced as extraordinarily strong, typhoon Hagibis’ approach in October 2019 confronted me with the fact that in case of house damage or widespread flooding, an external hard disk (like any other material storage option) would not prevent my work from disappearing and although saving files in some unknown cloud is still abstract and scary to me, I considered it being the best option.  Ironically, exactly one month after, by the happening of unfortunate circumstances, my so-called office and business partner had to endure an internal shock. Perplex, I did not really know what to think or how to react, but I did know that the reparation would take some time and come at a cost. Abashed, I also had to confess to myself that my last backup dated from Hagibis’ landfall and that I could risk the loss of one-month collected / -and produced material. 

Although it was possible to make a new backup, knowing about the defect computer threw me off the trail. As if I was in a vacuum or having a handicap, it suddenly seemed impossible to write or read, to use my camera, or advance in any way on my research. When analysing what was going on in my mind, I felt foolish: shouldn’t, after all, my brain be my main tool 

The weather being incredibly nice, I took it as an opportunity to cycle around Tōkyō; to seize the atmosphere, to reflect upon my perception, to sit down and think. 

As the reparation was supposed to take around one week and as the substitute device was not equipped with the same software I work with, one of my preoccupations was the publication of this week’s report including a satisfactory photograph. 

In the end, I didn’t need to persevere for long and my concerns turned out to be causeless. Only two days later, my laptop was handed back to me, fully repaired, free of charge, accompanied by a generous smile. The consequences were by far less troublesome than imagined and the shutdown was rather instructive. It made me reconsider the use of technology and questioned me about the importance I give it in my research. It confronted me to its dependence, and to the fragility of my work as well as my office.

Last but not least, it made me grateful for other people’s help and gave me input in terms of methodology. Wherever we want, my computer and me can henceforth carry on working. 


Whiteness, the City

An Essay about Silence

In Japanese urban areas sound seems omnipresent. Cash machines speak, subway stations diffuse melodies, stores play repeatedly songs and at home my rice cooker tells me when the grains are ready to be eaten. 

Naming where in Tōkyō I live about, my surrounding often refers to high-rise buildings and offices, and points out the large avenue which connects the neighbourhood with Shinjuku and its famous train station, elected in 2011 by the Guinness World Records the busiest station in the world. With a current average of around 3.5 million passengers per day and over 200 exits, it tops Shibuya Station, second busiest in the world, counting about 2.4 million passers-by per day. 

The noise of Tōkyō’s main axes combined with the throng of people and permanently blinking light panels can be overwhelming and the abundance of information may provoke disorientation. However, is to mention that regardless the number of individuals, there is practically no (petty) crime, and I can hardly come up with any place on earth that handles human afflux in such a smooth way. 

In fact, these axes seem like magnets that bring people together, that assemble energy, that accumulate vitality, and that beat like the heart and breathe like the lungs of a human body. Next to this, there are small paths, empty alleys, trees, flowers, and singing crickets at night. 

Compared to Paris’s homogenous architecture, characterised by its rather uniform (beige) tint, Tōkyō is quite colourful. Though, ironically, I have always related white to the Japanese capital.

In many Western cities, noise is a rather violent element that interferes with silence. Perceived as a slap in the face, a slamming door or the crash of a car, its absence may however correlate with a feeling of anxiety in urban space. In Japan, noise invokes for me the image of a mumbling forest or a blanket of fog floating above the floor. Few people shout on the street, rarely cars horn, there are hardly loud motor engines and the uniform stream of human crowd is a rhythming element. 

The signification of silence is various: it is used to express remembrance or sadness, as much as it may be related to relief and calmness. Often, I would sense it as onerous and associate it with black. However, in the Land of the Rising Sun, I relate it to white. 

Again and again, I am intrigued and amazed by the whiteness of Tōkyō metropolis.

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