Go down in (Olympic) history


{Inspiration by the approach of Friday, July 23, 2021, 20:00 - 23:30 (JST), Japan National Stadium.                                                       

Opening Ceremony, the Games of the XXXII Olympiad}

Tōkyō; fourth state of emergency. Dubiety amongst society. No spectators, joyful athletes. Few officials, empty seats.

Preparations, complications. Consensus, Controversy.

Hope, defeat, a lot to compete. Success, delight, and sometimes bright.  

The Olympics marked humanity. And since now more than a century,  in the modern form, they expanded progressively.                          

Japan, a hope, for 40 million visitors last year (2020), however the reality (4.12 million) was anything but near.                 

Praised as a global congregation, the Games, to celebrate unification.

In lieu, separation and isolation.

Various opinions, repeated consideration, leading to exasperation.

The cruel fact: no universally valid solution. Abiding discordance as a conclusion.

A lasting seesaw, a tug-of-war; but already arrived so far.

Towards oneself, high expectations. Compounding various small aggregations. 

Tōkyō prepared and adapted to the event, yet eventually, it had to bend.

Many may long for the journey to end.

Regardless what happened and what is to come. One point exists where doubt there seems none. 

The unprecedented postponement, already at this moment, assured that one shall keep a memory…

Tōkyō 2020 is to go down in (Olympic) history.

Around (in) Circles, Shinjuku Chūō Kōen, Tōkyō 2021/07/23  © Louise Claire Wagner

On Track & Likely (in) Time to approach the Finish Line

June 23, 2021, presumably one month To Go to the Opening Ceremony of the postponed Tōkyō 2020 Olympic Games. Put on hold, yet to hold on, thence, withal a long stagnation, there prevailed a bizarre acceleration.

Over half a year has passed since the publication of my last report, and as much there was to say, as difficult it felt to convey. I enjoyed this self-initiated activity, though it seems that by writing rather persistently, I at some point lost my words and avidity.  There was also an important change in my daily occupation, and despite my (continued) fascination, my estimation and sincere appreciation, taking up a position at the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government induced a new balance between time and energy; a challenge for a former work-maverick like me. Anyway, added to the Games-related uncertainty, it was easy to behave slothfully, and so, I ended up suspending my Towards Tōkyō 2020 activity. 

The journey to the XXXII Olympiad has been enduring, with people leaving and people joining. The Games itself handed on from one to the other, just as the flame at the torch relay.  

During the months that I remained in silence, the president of the Tōkyō Organising Committee resigned and got replaced; a self-caused scandal leading to a meaningful promotion of gender equality. The exclusion of overseas spectators was decided, then test events resumed. A petition against the event was initiated, and the cancellation repeatedly debated, however the holding was again and again reassured. The symbols in the Tōkyō Bay got illuminated to raise hope, then dimmed out to avoid mass visits, and whereas training camps have been widely cancelled, athletes gradually qualified for the Games. A constant back and forth, an up-and-down - Chutes and Ladders, with various players. Sufficiently documented in Japan and abroad, it didn’t seem pertinent to add my two cents.

Eagerly climbing up the ladders, Tōkyō 2020 though eventually approaches its own realisation.

On June 2, 2021, an overlay was pasted on the walls encircling the Japan National Stadium. Short while after, parts of roads around venues were closed off. The city dressing was expanded, including Tōkyō 2020 banners that now decorate various public escalators, stairs and elevators. Items such as the podium, theme music, costumes and medal trays for the victory ceremonies got revealed. The Japanese meal proposal for athletes was announced and on June 20, 2021, the equipped Olympic and Paralympic Village was opened to the media. On June 21, first day that the third state of emergency in Tōkyō was lifted, the decision about allowing, in principle, a maximum of 10,000 domestic spectators or 50% of the seating capacity (whichever is fewer), to the Olympics was officialised. However, it was said that in case of the declaration of a new state of emergency, the Games might be held without spectators. 

With ups and downs and many hurdles, the circuit to Tōkyō 2020 has been demanding, and although the postponed Games is certainly merely one of many reasons, Governor Koike’s hospitalisation on June 22 brings to mind that the (long way to the) Olympics may fatigue, not only athletes who are to physically compete. 

The postponement of the XXXII Olympiad came like the sudden elongation of a race, a detour amidst a thoroughly prepared marathon. Although 30 days ahead nothing is yet sure, Tōkyō coped with staying on track; withdrawing from the Games at this advanced time, would somehow occur as abandoning just before the finish line. 

Approaching the Finish Line, Miniature, Tōkyō 2021/06/23 © Louise Claire Wagner

As if the sun would never shine for me again

In memories of Friday, November 13 and to what followed

On Friday, November 13, 2015, exactly one week after having been joyfully and honourably celebrated for reaching a new age, I was headed out to meet a dear friend near the neighbourhood where I resided back then in Paris. Peacefully, I walked to République Station, looking forward to a pleasant conversation and dinner. The air was fresh, the temperatures decent. It was a nice autumnal evening. My friend was a little delayed and in a rather hectic condition, she explained that she had passed a long and cumbersome day at work. I was by then enrolled in my studies at university and generally felt fairly balanced and serene. That evening, we aimed for an Italian place next to the Canal Saint-Martin. We counted on putting our names on the list of the restaurant and whilst waiting, sip a fresh beer on the terrace of the place next to it. As a matter of fact, there were two restaurants and a bar situated at an intersection, one of them slightly set back. Surprisingly, and to the happiness of our craving stomachs, the Italian place immediately had an available table inside. So we were sitting there, with a glass of red wine, talking about our day and week, about all the unimportant yet seemingly relevant happenings. Our pizze were served. My friend quickly left to the washroom. When she came back, I thought of going too, but ravenously, I preferred to first eat some bites. Then all of a sudden, my human needs would unconsciously and for hours be put on hold. 

I did not watch much Crime in my life, I had grown up without television and mostly experienced fear rather through stories which put mental tension above physical violence. However, once it happened, I instantly knew what it was… The moment I heard this fast, fierce, shuttering sound. A man next to me whispered to his partner that it was fireworks. Her look, sceptic, but hopeful. I myself didn’t believe him, but desperately stuck to the thought. The table my friend and me were seated at was quite close to the entrance of the restaurant. I can until today not say whether it is my brain which transformed the situation or what my eyes really saw. When I think back of that particular moment, the picture that repeatedly comes up is the one of a big, glowing, yellow cloud covering the intersection. Even though I am curious about the reason, I did not try to push my research further, the yellow cloud somehow protects my mind. 

Obviously, I was not familiar with crime scenes, as it was only once I noticed all the other customers had crawled under the tables that I realised I should for my sake do the same. I saw my friend, squeezing up against the wall, leeching on to the woman next to her. Then the noise pended for a second. Someone was shouting to stay on the ground, to not move, anon the person screamed Louise !? The shouting man was big, frightening and as he was running around, I knew that if they had entered our restaurant, it could hit any of us; my life was not in my hands. Eventually, I would understand that the shouting man was a customer and that an other person was named the same as me. 

When not even seconds later the shuttering sound started again, my instinct made me flee. I happened to find myself relatively near a grid which led to the restaurant’s basement. It was narrow, and days after, when I saw the bruises covering my body, I got conscious about how narrow it must have been. It is known that as long as your head makes it through, your body will do so too, my mother told me. I would priorly not have believed her. Anyway, I was one of the first persons who arrived in the basement. To my surprise and to my shock, which made me subsequently deeply question my character and values, I had not only fled and left my friend alone to her destiny, but also grabbed my bag - What an egoistic and materialistic human being I am - it chased me for a long time and took many sessions with a therapist before I was able to put my actions under a brighter light. It is true that as I had my bag with me, I was one of the few who could contact the outside world. My reaction was quick, a brash text message to my parents in Switzerland saying something like I don’t know how, but everything will be fine. I want you to know that I love you very much. To my astonishment, their answer came immediately You scare us. With a helpless and almost sarcastic tone, I replied I am scared too. 

The moment after was a relief. When I saw my friend arriving in the basement, I slumped down into her arms. We clung together and hid in a corner. Meanwhile, the whole restaurant – approximatively 30 people – had come downstairs. No one knew what was going to happen. Oppressed silence. The staff was impressively calm, handed out glasses and opened bottles of water and wine. I dropped mine instantly. Then we received the news that they had continued towards Bastille. From my geographical understanding, I knew that this meant Away from us – selfishly, the major thing I right then cared about. Around half an hour later, it felt like an eternity, the police arrived in the basement. We slinked back to the ground floor, and what we encountered was literally a battle field: chairs and tables upside down, broken glass, dishes spread all over. The police’s explanation was simple and seemed rough Either you stay here, protected but you will be witnessed and this will take time, or you leave - on your own. As soon as I saw the blood on the street and the bodies being carried into ambulance, I decided We leave ! And so we left, two small human beings on the open streets of the French capital. My reasoning was merely that we would be less interesting as a target than a group of people, a taxi, or anything which attracts attention. Panicked, we ran to my apartment. Phone calls and messages. Horrifying information, emotions and dumbness. I can not sum up the rest of the evening. My spirit was all over and nowhere, at least We were together. The following night felt unbearable yet created a fusional relationship between my friend and me. Fearful, we startled at any tiny sound, our minds and bodies reacting, simultaneously. 

Although I considered myself generally quite independent, sleepless and forceless, I at some point gave in and wrote to my parents I don’t know how you can help me, but I need help. Any option was fine for them, in the end, they took one of the earliest trains the next morning to Paris. If ever before I should have had a slight doubt, I since then know that I may always rely on them; I will be thankful as long as I can. My surrounding was incredibly comprehensive, my friends supportive and my professors patient. I was given the time I needed. Between euphoria about being alive, questioning why I was still here yet not some others, and a languidness, conscious that it can hit each of us on any day, I could scarcely imagine to ever feel joy again.  

Few months later I was supposed to conduct my first field work in Japan. Whilst I was still struggling with going through a daily routine and regain trust, my advisor in France told me that this was probably a suitable timing Go to Japan, it will be good for you. He could hardly have been more right. I left and concentrated on my research. I experienced the magnificence of flourishing cherry blossoms, I felt safe and far away. At my return to Europe, I would not have considered myself healed, but I was ready to stop therapy and determined to move on. It took time, there were steps forward and backward. There were ups and downs, yet gradually, the more and more ups. Of course the Land of the Rising Sun is not a magic potion, though Japan, not only as a country but also as a project played for me an important role in processing the past, in seizing the present and envisaging the future. It brought me back to seeing the beauty of life, it gave me confidence and made me optimistic. I was taught a lesson about our fragility, so I realised that I should better appreciate the chance I got and make something out of it. It is not about forgetting, but about growing. 

Since 2015, I had in a bizarre way honoured November 13 of each year. In 2016 with my friend, then, after she moved back to the United States, on my own, travelling, and always ending up eating a pizza. Last year, to my surprise and with a feeling of shame, I had almost missed out on acknowledging the date.  

Today as often, my thoughts go to those who are not with us anymore. To those who were close to them and who had to endure their loss. To my dear friend and to all who have lived a similar experience. My profound gratitude goes to my amazingly supportive surrounding. To the luck I had. To Japan, for welcoming me, for giving me positive energy and for helping me overcome this challenging episode. It felt As if the sun would never shine for me again. 

There have been many sunny days since. 

Nouveau Soleil, November 13, 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner


I won’t return (home) now

Yesterday, September 30, 2020, my mission with the Japan Foundation officially came to an end, and so was my stay in Japan supposed to. In contrast to former journeys, which were rather of short nature yet sometimes extended through spontaneous decisions, this one was connected to a 12-months fellowship. When leaving Europe in September 2019, the term was set, though knowing that I would have a whole year ahead gave a long perspective. 

With a lot of imagination, a big portion of enthusiasm, and in order to have the full experience (and to benefit from a remarkably friendly service and tasty meals aboard), I was headed off with a Japanese airline. A wonderful decision, which allowed me to be surrounded by the people of the country from my take-off in Paris and to dive into the culture from the very beginning on. I remember well how I was impressed by the calmness of the staff as well as the serenity of the other passengers, when in the middle of the flight an old man suddenly fainted whilst waiting in front of the washrooms. He ended up gaining consciousness yet lost it several further times during the flight. I am not really sure how he got away with it, but I calmly observed that he was respected by all and being taken very well care of.

Anyway, from the day I arrived in beloved Tōkyō, things went extremely fast. Starting with an event the same night that I had landed, happenings were so frequent that I got used to being out almost permanently and as I tried to conduct my research as seriously and intensely as possible and followed the writing of these blogs with almost meticulous rigorousness I usually ended up realising on Sunday evenings that the week was already over. I was introduced to various people and got conscious about the importance of the over the years built-up friendships, an estimated personal, - and professional network. Slowly but steadily, and the longer I stayed in Japan, the more it became clear that going back to Europe would feel incredibly difficult. 

With the unusual sanitary situation, I was often asked if I would not return home, I myself however saw absolutely no reason to head anywhere else. After all, living in Japan at the time preceding, during and following the State of Emergency has so far been a rather smooth experience, but more to this maybe someday in future. The other part of not-going-home leads to a longer personal conflict – about what I consider as home. I remember when some while ago, I was asked at a group dinner with highly appreciated people “Louise, where is your home ? Is it Paris… ? Switzerland… ? Here…? …”. The group as well as myself laughed, and by the time I engaged a seemingly philosophical speech, I probably already lost most of my listeners. Home, repeatedly referred to in my photographical worksHome has for me always been rather a feeling than a place, respectively, a place that would change depending on my feeling. 

For many years, home was Basel, where I was born, and where I lived my childhood. However, I did by then almost reject my Swiss nationality and would intentionally describe myself as a person from my hometown rather than from the country. Maybe, this is partly due to the fact that Switzerland, though small in terms of its geographical extension and inhabitants, counts four official languages and relatively distinctive parts, some of which I can probably less identify myself than with several foreign countries. For short, I thought home may be (or at least become) Canada. Then, home was Paris. France though only to several extents. So far in my life, and long-lasting namely the South-West. It was when I started to more frequently visit Japan, that my feeling about Paris changed, and it seemed like a very slow, sometimes painful separation between a city and me – to the benefit of a new, inspiring and sincere relation with an other city: Tōkyō. 

I have always been conscious that I will stay a foreigner in Japan, no matter how long I may remain here, and the fact that I live in a country which’s language I don’t even fluently maîtrise does not make things easier. Though, it has shown me that one doesn’t always need a great knowledge of a language to communicate; I have thus far felt incredibly welcomed and well surrounded, and I continue to daily get fascinated and inspired. 

Curiously, it was around the time I started to admit that I could not imagine leaving this place on earth, that the Tōkyō 2020 Games were postponed. From many people I have heard how negative the year 2020 is and how happy they are that it shall soon come to an end. Certainly, it was unexpected and rough and I count doubtlessly amongst the most privileged ones. So, for me, it has been full of changes, but not only unfavourable ones. Somehow, the sanitary situation and the postponement of the Tōkyō 2020 Games gave me clarification and I would be lying if I would say not also a good and eligible reason to remain for longer in the country I am so much dedicated to.   

Even though my mission with the Japan Foundation (to which I once again would like to express my deep gratitude) came to terms, it has been agreed that I can and shall for the time being continue my projects here in Japan. I am thankful for the many experiences, the fruitful research and the professional and personal elucidation this mission has brought me, and for the many human beings it has introduced me to. I am looking forward to a continuation, may it be under new linesFairly often, I was asked when I would (have to) leave Japan or when I would return home… 

There is hardly any other place I now wish to be, and currently, Japan feels like home to me. 

“Hello” - “Welcome to Japan”, Drawings for Tōkyō 2020 along Shinjuku-Dōri Avenue, Tōkyō, September 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

There shall be a legacy

Some words about the Paralympics

Sunday, September 6, 2020, 20:00 - 23:00 (JST), Japan National Stadium, Tōkyō, Japan. Closing Ceremony, the XVI Summer Paralympic Games. Having welcomed 378 athletes from 21 countries who competed in 9 sports in 1964, Tōkyō should at this moment be the first city that hosted the Summer Paralympic Games twice. 

Founded in 1948 by German neuro-scientist Sir Ludwig Guttmann at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Great Britain, the Paralympic Movement originally focused on the rehabilitation of injured World War II veterans. The day of the Opening Ceremony of the London 1948 Olympic Games, he organised the first competition for wheelchair athletes which he named the Stoke Mandeville Games. Though it was only in 1960 that the first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome, Italy. Since then, the Games have taken place every four years and are today recognised as the world’s third-largest sporting event. Alike the Olympics, the Paralympics have progressively been growing in size. For 2020, Tōkyō was expecting around 4,350 Paralympic athletes from over 165 countries; 22 sports should have been carried out at 21 venues.

The Paralympic Games are not only a sporting event but also nowadays seen as an important opportunity to help integrate people with impairments into society. In the run-up to the 2020 Games, the Tōkyō Organising Committee had issued its official, some 140 pages-long Accessibility Guidelines and a 46 pages-long Handbook to Accessibility Support. I must admit that although I received these documents in English, I still haven’t made my way through the entire reading. Nevertheless, its brief review quickly clarified that what I may have considered hazardous estimations or approximative indications, actually all had been meticulously thought-out. Thus, the documents cover topics such as Pathways and Circulation Areas, Surfaces, Paving and Finishes, Entrances and Exits and provide recommendations in regard of physical and mental assistance, depending on individuals’ conditions. 

Notably since the implementation of the Law for Promoting Easily Accessible Public Transportation Infrastructure for the Elderly and Disabled Persons (Transportation Barrier-Free Law) in 2000, a large number of Tōkyō’s train stations have been transformed. In 2003, 67,2% were wheelchair accessible, which signifies 312 out of the by then 464 existing stations. In 2016, the number was increased to 95,8%, meaning 458 out of 479 stations. At around the same period of time, other world cities such as Paris (3% !), New York (about 10%) or London (18%), showed remarkably lower rates. However, Tōkyō’s ambition was to reach a 100% mark until summer 2020. Schools, apartment buildings, stores, hotels and various facilities were also refurbished in view of the Games. In the Japanese capital, many guest rooms are small and narrow, and with the expected arrival of not only Paralympic athletes, supposed to be housed at the Athletes Village, but also an important number of visitors with impairments, organisers where aware of a possible shortage of adapted accommodations. 

I am not much of an expert, and I may preferably leave the details to some esteemed research acquaintances who have more knowledge about the Paralympics than me. Though from my experience, I can affirm that Tōkyō has not missed any chance to highlight its willingness to be prepared. At each venue I was shown around, the barrier-free standards were proudly presented, the taxis from the first mobility partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Movement Toyota were adapted in order to easily be accessible for people in wheelchairs and in any official speech Paralympics came obstinately together with Olympics, no matter how much it would extend its length.  

Integration of impairment – like any peculiarity which doesn’t correspond to the general norm – may related to the Japanese society though rather sound paradoxical. Well-known are the humoristic illustrations of non-fitting (oversized) foreigners, who hit their heads at entrance gates, who stick out of the crowd or whose feet overpass the mattress in guest rooms; who struggle to find any clothing or even sometimes seem too scary to be welcomed at restaurants. Difficult to imagine a change of people’s mindset and acceptance of any characteristic considered being anomalous. In world metropolises, individuals with impairments are generally a minority, however the nearly-absence in Tōkyō is striking. 

The years preceding the foreseen 2020 Games, TV shows and documentaries about the Olympics as well as the Paralympics started to gradually spread. Animation x Paralympic: Who Is Your Hero ? was launched on NHK in September 2018, training sessions of athletes and their visits at schools were filmed and diffused, Rising Phoenix was published on Netflix in summer 2020 and even the official song Tōkyō Gorin Ondo 2020 includes dance instructions for persons in wheelchairs. In order to mark the 200 days to go until the Tōkyō 2020 Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had in autumn 2019 announced the opening of its first Paralympic Museum in the Japanese capital. Located at Coredo Muromachi Terrace in Nihombashi, and in cooperation with Mitsui Fudosan, Tōkyō aimed to operate this museum from August 25, 2020 to late September 2020. The idea of it was to give a glance of the history and growth of the Paralympic Movement and their role in improving social inclusion. With a shrinking and aging society, Japan is particularly conscious about the need to forge an easily accessible environment and hopes through the aid of the Paralympic Games to leave a tangible and intangible long-lasting legacy. 

When some weeks ago, I saw a woman with a guide dog at a subway station, I got reminded that although I have seen many barrier-free facilities and received explanation about the anticipation of various needs, I besides very few people in wheelchairs, most of whom I got to know in the context of the Paralympic Games, can hardly remember having met a person with any impairments in Tōkyō.

Tōkyō 2020 Accessibility Guidelines, Sketch of Figure 2: Protruding items on the pathway (example)  © Louise Claire Wagner

Moderate heat, difficult to beat

Sunday, August 9, 2020, 20:00 - 23:00 (JST), Japan National Stadium, Tōkyō, Japan. Closing Ceremony, the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. As it is the tradition and mandated by the Olympic Charter, the handover of the Olympic Flag from the current to the next host of the respective Games. From Tōkyō to Paris; from Governor Koike Yuriko, through the hands of International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach to the Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Though, Tōkyō 2020’s opening was not celebrated this summer, ergo its closing. 

The evening on which the Opening Ceremony of Tōkyō 2020 should have taken place, I shortly after publishing my report had a walk around the Japan National Stadium. I wished to seize the particular moment, to observe the environment and to inhale the atmosphere. I aimed to capture a few photographs, needed to reflect upon happenings and somehow wanted to pay homage to Tōkyō on my own. 

On July 24, 2020, the weather was decent, and so was it the week that followed. Certainly humid, with sporadic showers which became slightly exasperating. In return, temperatures were around 20 and 30 degrees Celsius and felt rather endurable, not to say almost comfortable. Substantial clouds pended in the sky and a fresh breeze blew along the city. By then, Tōkyō was in the ultimate state of an apparently long rainy season. After the rain, the sun will shine again, and only a week later, in the very beginning of August, the rainy season seemed to be finally over. Whereas air humidity decreased, temperatures rose, during daytime as well as at night. No longer they would fall below 20 degrees Celsius. However, they wouldn’t reach more than 34 degrees Celsius either. Oftentimes, a smooth blanked of haze covered the sky and prevented the sun to shine down on Tōkyō too intensely. Nothing like heat-waves I experienced heretofore. 

In the run-up to Tōkyō 2020, one of organiser’s major concerns was the meteorological condition. Indeed, many people, just as I, proclaimed the incongruity of holding the event in the middle of summer and called attention to the potentially unbearable heat and humidity.

Short while after the announcement in 2013 that Tōkyō would host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the fine-tuning of existing and the development of additional plans began, which included in-depth apprehension of the climate. Two years later, in 2015, a part of Aoyama-Dōri in Tōkyō was paved with a special coating that reflects infrared rays. The results showed that the temperature of the coated road surface was 10% lower than that of the uncoated surfaces and thus, it was decided that the entire marathon route shall be coated before the beginning of the Games. Furthermore, trees along the track were not trimmed back as usual and instead, the branches were kept as long as possible to provide shade. Selected buildings along the routes were to be asked to open their air-conditioned ground floors to spectators on event days. The marathons, scheduled for August 2, 2020 and August 9, 2020, were advanced of 90 minutes, in order to begin at 6 AM. Notably after the high temperatures during the IAAF World Athletics Championship held in Doha, Qatar from September 27, 2019 to October 6, 2019 that put numerous athletes in bad condition and caused the drop out of about 40% of the runners in the women’s marathon, the IOC expressed its concerns over potential risk to the athletes’ lives. Finally, in October / early November 2019, it was announced that the marathon and walking race of Tōkyō 2020 would be relocated to Sapporo on Japan’s northern main island Hokkaido.

In the preparation, host city Tōkyō was willing to contemplate various countermeasures and reviewed a wide range of likely scenarii and circumstances. Organisers considered that many tourists may not be aware that summer in Japan is marked not only by high temperatures but also by intense humidity. Thus, overseas visitors’ journeys from airports to hotels, movements between hotels and venues and the exposure to heat at outdoor venues were carefully anticipated. In 2016, leaflets written in English language were prepared, providing information regarding the features of summer in Japan, and explaining about heat-induced illnesses, symptoms of heat illness, and what to do when these symptoms occur. The leaflets were available at several public facilities. Guidebooks in seven languages on the use of ambulances were published and a list of approximately 1,600 hospitals and clinics where visitors from abroad can receive treatment in their native language was released. 

Concerns, not only about athlete’s health and the convenience of spectators but also about working conditions had been pronounced. Therefore, it was decided that all Olympic and Paralympic staff including volunteers would receive tablets for salt supplementation, wet wipes, instant coolants and ice cream. Tōkyō 2020 umbrella hats were invented and proudly presented as part of the staff’s uniform. In cooperation with the Japan National Tourism Organisation and the Ministry of the Environment, operating systems for weather forecasts, venues specific indications and direct alerts in multiple languages via its official website as well as a mobile application were developed. With the support of 13 partners, Tōkyō 2020 launched the Tōkyō 2020 COOLING Project on June 28, 2019. The number of participating companies had risen to 24 as of November 1 the same year. In September 2019, during a test event for the canoe sprints, around 300 kilograms of artificial snow were spread over stands at the new Sea Forest Waterway in Tōkyō’s Kōtō Ward. The aim of the attempt was to see if the heat and humidity level could be lowered, yet the temperature ended up being almost identical before and afterwards. The Japan National Stadium as well as diverse other venues got equipped with features such as mist-emitters and while recent hosts had banned beverages from outside, organisers were considering to allow spectators to bring one plastic bottle of beverage or water bottle per person.

From what I heard and read, summer of 2019 in Tōkyō was tough, and this year was expected to be similar. To my embarrassment, I have to admit that I based my concerns on other people’s words and predictions and as a matter of fact, the only period of time I had never remained in Japan was precisely from the end of July to mid / late September. If I can not compare this years’ conditions to any prior, I can though say that I certainly count amongst the individuals who get particularly uncomfortable under high temperatures and intense sunshine. Having resided few times during summer in Paris (only few, because oh no, I would preferably not repeat the experience !), I know that July as well as August can be almost insupportable, especially in the central streets, not to mention the apartments, of the French capital. 

The past weeks, mornings, evenings, even days felt relatively convenient and if the Games of the XXXII Olympiad were held this summer, the weather would have been absolutely accurate. 

Tōkyō 2020 to me has become an allegory of a very vast phenomenon… Regardless the scale and the context. Often, it all comes down to be anything and other than expected.

Along the marathon route, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō 2020/08/09  © Louise Claire Wagner

Everyone knows something and no one knows anything

Friday July 24, 2020, 20:00 - 23:00 (JST), Japan National Stadium, Tōkyō, Japan. Opening Ceremony, the Games of the XXXII Olympiad. Athletes, organisers, media… Tens of thousands of spectators. Hundreds of millions of television viewers; Tōkyō in the spotlight. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Announcement of a postponement. Less than a week later, the release of new dates, and the reset of the countdown clocks

Ever since, a bizarre confrontation. A mute dialogue between a city and an event. Question marks and curious situations. Daily reminders, ubiquitous in Tōkyō and all over Japan. Sometimes an almost ashamed lowering of the head when glances meet in front of an Olympic or Paralympic advertisement. Changing opinions, annotation and debates. Conversations, inspiration, creation, then again suspension and pondering silence. People who think to know, people who wish to know and those who may know acknowledge that they don’t know. 

When beginning to study the impact of the Olympic and Paralympic Games on host city Tōkyō, I rapidly realised how vast the phenomenon is and how many individuals are somehow concerned by it. Relatively soon, I also became conscious about the mega-event’s opacity and complexity, and it often recalls me the picture of a Rubik’s Cube. Hindsight, that it may be unattainable to catch up on all the specialised knowledge which has been acquired over years and decades.  

For the time that preparations were going on more or less as foreseen (with several incidents that I would qualify as relatively recurrent in the run-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games), and notably since the One Year To Go, I could feel the rhythm accelerate and see the scale gradually grow. Tōkyō 2020 was following the general tendency of the modern Olympic Games by expanding in every way: include more sports, aim for more spectators, welcome more athletes who compete for higher records. Citius, Altius, Fortius. As the Games of prior Olympiads, those of Tōkyō 2020 may allegedly be the greatest ever

In the resumption of the Olympic Games of Antiquity in the modern form, founder Pierre de Coubertin saw the possibility for humanity to benefit from the fruits of various cultures while waiting to be united in a world civilisation. He believed that sports were a way to join national pride with international understanding and considered that the Games could help to strengthen peace. In order to highlight that accepting and respecting differences in race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, level of ability or other status allows peace to be maintained and society to continue to develop and flourish, one of the three core concepts of Tōkyō 2020 is Unity in Diversity

During times that countries around the globe close their boarders and people are requested to refrain from gathering together, it however seems that quite much goes against these ideals. Japan aimed to attract 40 million visitors in the Olympic year, yet since April, the number of foreign travelers has consecutively fallen below 3,000 per month, which signifies a drop of about 99,9% compared to the same period in 2019. Entry bans were established, for tourists as well as for long-term residents, and when I started to (more frequently than habitually) identify myself as one of few foreigners, I recognised the restrictions’ repercussion.  

For rather long, I was convinced that the Tōkyō Games would be held as foreseen, with their beginning in summer 2020. After all, I esteemed that I had some modest knowledge of the event’s past and was conscious about the significance of a postponement or a cancellation, - logistically, politically, economically, symbolically…. After all, Tōkyō has been preparing for seven years, and if one adds the bidding period, even much longer. How should within merely several months everything suddenly be questioned ? As huge it seemed, as fragile it turned out to be. In history, there were several scandals around the Games, threats, boycotts and withdrawn bids. However, only three, respectively five Olympiads have been cancelled: one in 1916 because of World War I, and as the summer and winter event was held the same year from 1924 to 1992, two in 1940 and two in 1944, due to World War II. Although I could hardly imagine that Tōkyō 2020 would not go on as scheduled, at the time officials from several countries started to use forceful vocabulary and draw analogies, I slowly realised towards what we may be headed.

When last autumn I left for my mission which should have allowed me to accompany close-by host city Tōkyō from roughly one year before, until a month after the Paralympic event, I had vague ideas what all may happen until, and especially during summer 2020. I expected to observe the city and country getting progressively prepared, to feel energies accumulate and experience attention grow. I imagined to see people from all over the world gradually arrive. With some form of proudness, I was looking forward to welcoming dear international (research) acquaintances, most of whom I got to know thanks to Tōkyō. With some form of fear, I pictured myself in the middle of nowhere or take a back seat, elsewhere. With some form of naivety, I genuinely hoped to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Tōkyō 2020 Games at the Japan National Stadium.

To my interest, my pleasure as well as my honour, and deeply grateful to the persons who have been supporting me, I could progressively participate at event-related activities and live myself the inauguration of Olympic and Paralympic sites. Almost ironically, it was only about one month after the last New Permanent Venue was accomplished and the Tōkyō 2020 flags were hoisted, that the postponement was announced. 

Since the beginning, not only of my mission but also broadly of my project, I have been going through various scenarii though, one specific had for a long time simply not crossed my mind… The one of Tōkyō 2020 not taking place in 2020. 

To July 24, 2020, composition Sparks in the Sky  © Louise Claire Wagner

Places called home & Letters for someone

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tōkyō, Japan,  2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

From Island to Island

Anything and other than expected

To some parts of Sadogashima

When years ago, I took notice of Sadogashima’s existence, I was instantly intrigued by the idea to visit there one day on my own. Though, I could not really tell why. For sure, pictures of the landscapes and the curiosity to discover the local culture played a part, howbeit Japan counts numerous astonishing places, and ultimately, I have to admit that it was above all the idea to break away which allured me as much. Indeed, I associated physical and mental distance with Sadogashima; disconnection, not with Japan, but somehow with the world. Before undertaking my journey, I had only briefly read some background information and not made any particular travel plan, as I wished to leave freedom to my own perception. However, and despite the aim to head out without any expectations, I quickly got confronted with fact that I had unconsciously and unwillingly pictured this place as well as my stay. 

Seemingly small, Sadogashima, located off Niigata, is the largest island in the Sea of Japan. Its area is approximately 855 square kilometres and its coastline stretches around 280 kilometres. The population was at about 56,000 in the end of March 2018. Although I knew about this, I still couldn’t get rid of the idea that Sadogashima had to be compact and it was only through several walking and bicycle tours, which’s distances together with the (hilly) relief put my physical capacities to the proof, that I finally started to agnise the island’s vastness. 

Excavations from ruins indicate that Sadogashima has been inhabited for about 10,000 years. It was one of Japan’s independent provinces in the Nara Period, and early designated an island of exile. Beginning in AD 722 with Hozumi Asomioyu, further exiles included figures such as the former Emperor Juntoku in 1221, the Buddhist monk Nichiren in 1271, and Zeami Motokiyo in 1434, a Noh actor and writer, all of whom expressed critical opinions about the respective then-ruler. Today, many people ascribe the miscellaneous population and the cultural richness of the island to the prior exiles. Sadogashima is also known for its gold production, and back in the days, it was notably the shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu who promoted the development of gold and silver mines by placing them under the direct control of the Tokugawa Shōgunate. The prosperity attracted diverse workers and resulted in a rapid rise of the island’s population, which reached a peak of 125,597 in 1950. The mines were operated from 1601 until 1974 and definitely closed in 1989. With a remarkably rich, diverse and well-preserved environment, Sadogashima was the last natural habitat of the internationally protected wild Japanese Crested Ibis (Toki) which became endangered and went extinct in 2003. However, artificial insemination started in 1999 and after 2000, baby birds were raised with increasing success and released back into nature. Today, the main industries on the island are agriculture and fishing, and although for me everywhere on the archipelago fish and seafood has so far been delicious, the incredible freshness and quality of Sadogashima’s catch (combined with a glass of local sake) was so tasty that I had to enjoy it for every single dinner.

When some weeks ago, I boarded the ferry that brings one within two and a half hours from Niigata Terminal to Sadogashima Ryōtsu Port, I immediately was captivated by the particular atmosphere and intrigued by some other passengers. There were few people; a group carrying music instruments, some families, a young couple with camping equipment; a couple with numerous stuffed manga characters (that got carefully installed along one of the ferry’s windows), as well as several dispatched individuals whose actions did occur rather incomprehensible to me… But this was only the beginning of my reflection upon the island’s curious population.

The accommodation I stayed at disposed a very small number of rooms, some shared facilities including a charming and neat salon and kitchen, and (just as I had pictured !) a large terrace with ocean view. There I was, the sea in front of my eyes, fairly disconnected, and incredibly happy. 

At my arrival, most of the other rooms were occupied by a Japanese three-generation family who enjoyed dinner at the first floor-situated gourmet restaurant. Besides some words and friendly gestures, we did not further communicate though. 

The following day, after returning from a long trip to the very south of the island, I met two young women who had planned to eat downstairs the accommodation and stay overnight. When they told me that they both lived on Sadogashima, and one of them only few minutes away from the accommodation, I was rather surprised and wondered why they would book a room although they could practically walk home. Anyway, I didn’t want to be unpolite or intrusive and therefore just imagined possible reasons. As they proposed, I joined them later for some delicious fish, seafood and sake at a nearby izakaya. We shared very pleasant moments, and I ended up being kindly invited to have lunch with them the next day. 

No sooner said than done, we were headed to a local restaurant. When in the end of the lunch, one of the staff pulled down her mask, smiled, and asked me if I remembered her, I was rather perplex: it was the middle-generation mother who stayed at the same accommodation as me two nights before. The girls explained that her family owned the restaurant we had lunch at and that she lived nearby. 

The same evening, I crossed paths with three older women, who were calmly sharing some citrus fruits in the common living room. Although already tired, I could not decline their invitation to join for a little talk. When they told me that they just finished dinner at the restaurant downstairs, that they would stay for a night at the accommodation, yet that they all lived on the island, I started to really wonder about Sadogashima’s curious inhabitants, their tendency to eat out during the week and their way to treat themselves by combining gastronomic pleasure with an overnight stay. 

The last day before heading back to Tōkyō, I had a pleasant conversation with the proprietor of the accommodation, who generously gave me a voucher for a future stay. When I told him about my amazing yet peculiar experience with all the locals, he mentioned that this may not happen a next time and finally unveiled the secret: because of COVID-19, Sadogashima had launched a campaign upon its inhabitants, in order to stimulate the tourist industry and local economy. 

As mysterious it seemed, as simple it was. I had to smile. About the situation and about myself. About how we imagine things if we don’t know and don’t ask. About the curiosity of life, and the beauty of the unpredictable… Had I maybe imagined myself alone on a deserted island or amidst some stranded tourists, but hardly surrounded by these nice new acquaintances. 

I would be lying if I said that it was love at first sight, and Sadogashima probably counts amongst the places which require not only time but also an open mindset in order to be enjoyed. Nevertheless, its particular atmosphere, the pureness of nature and honesty of people caught me, and it was with a nostalgic feeling that I left the island behind. When on the way back I found myself all alone on the large deck of the ferry towards Niigata, I had surprising sensations, feelings of energy and enthusiasm, and finally understood why I had been intrigued by Sadogashima for so long. Very differently than expected, it seemed that I precisely found what I had hoped for.


Certainly, there are many more aspects of the island that I could and should discover, but this shall remain for the future. Now I know some locals I sincerely wish to meet one day again, and not to forget, I still have my voucher.

{Quarter past four, twilight clouds penetrate the lace fabric}

Reportage Chocolat!

Urbanisme olympique /  interview in French about urban transformation in the context of the Olympic and Paralympic Games 


Merci à Chocolat! de m’avoir accordée une place au sein de l’émission de ce mois-ci !                                                                         Thank you Chocolat! for letting me be part of this month’s programme !


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