Beginnings and Endings

Apart and beyond the in-between

In only just two months, on Friday, July 24, 2020 from 20:00 – 23:00 Japan Standard Time (JST) the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad was supposed to take place at the Japan National Stadium. A long-term foreseen date and aspired moment since Tōkyō’s election on September 7, 2013. 

The Olympic and Paralympic Games’ Opening and Closing Ceremonies, often inspired by the different characteristics of host cities and countries, which in turn are showcased to the world audience through performances, have nowadays become the centrepiece of the event. As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expresses, they are an invitation to discover the culture of the country that welcomes the competition.

Although the modern Olympic Games were for the first time held in 1896, it was after the Fourth Olympic Congress in Paris in 1906 that the Olympic Games’ Opening and Closing Ceremonies were initiated. The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, considered not only athletes, but also philosophers, scholars, poets, musicians and sculptors as figures of Olympism. Furthermore, he explained that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies as well as art competitions, which started to be practiced through aesthetics, were inspired by the ancient Olympic Games. Indeed, aesthetics played an important role in the lives of the ancient Greeks. Through the Olympic Games, which included music, dance and art, they were expressed and projected as a form of ritual in the relationship between humans and Gods. Whereas art was part of an unofficial, on-going accompaniment to the Games, singing and dancing were practiced notably during the night of the conclusion of the competition, though it was not considered a proper Closing Ceremony. As a matter of fact, only the victory ceremonies are indicated in historical records and no clear evidence of official Opening and Closing Ceremonies has been found. 

At Tōkyō 1964, dance was first intentionally staged at the Olympic Ceremonies, making a link between the ancient and the modern Games. Japan attempted to reflect an authentic atmosphere, and seized the opportunity to raise the profile of the nation. It was notably Tōkyō 1964 that transformed the Opening and Closing Ceremonies into a communication tool, emphasising a new vision of the Games to the world. 

Today, Rule 55 of the Olympic Charter outlines a protocol that must be respected at the Opening Ceremony of the Games, including features such as 1. Entry and welcome 2. Playing the national anthem 3. The parade of the athletes 4. Official Speeches 5. Olympic Laurel 6. The symbolic release of doves (associated with peace, from 1936 to 1988, the release of doves used to take place before the arrival of the Olympic flame. However, following an unfortunate demise of several birds that perched on the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the 1988 Games in Seoul, the use of real birds has been replaced by symbolic figures) 7. The opening of the Games 8. Raising the Olympic flag and playing the Olympic anthem 9. The taking of the Olympic oath by an athlete 10. The Olympic flame and Torch Relay 11. The artistic programme.

As part of the preparations, the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) established a Basic Policy to deliver ceremonies that the audience would appreciate, whilst at the same time showing the appeal of Japan and Tōkyō to the world. The policy contains three sections: Section 1 - Positioning of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tōkyō 2020, including historical and social significance and the Games vision, Section 2 - Opening and Closing Ceremonies Overall Concept, subdivided into Peace, Coexistence, Reconstruction, Future, Japan and Tōkyō, Athletes, Involvement and Excitement, and Section 3 - The Positioning of The Four Ceremonies with Act One: Introduction - Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, Act Two: Development - Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games, Act Three: Diversification - Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games and Act Four: Conclusion - Closing Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. 

Nomura Mansai, an actor in traditional Japanese (kyogen) theatre, was designated Chief Creative Director for the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies on July 30, 2018. Movie director Yamazaki Takashi and Sasaki Hiroshi were appointed Executive Creative Directors for the ceremonies of the Olympics and the Paralympics, respectively. Sasaki Hiroshi was Creative Supervisor of the handover ceremony at the closure of Rio 2016, particularly known for the moment when Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō appeared dressed up as Nintendo’s Super Mario. Movie producer and writer Kawamura Genki, creative producer Kurisu Yoshie, singer-songwriter Ringo Sheena (stage name), creative technologist Sugano Kaoru and choreographer MIKIKO (Mizuno Mikiko) were chosen as additional Creative Directors. Tōkyō 2020 follows the tendency of its three Olympic Summer precursors in appointing individuals from the film industry as supervisors; for Beijing 2008 Zhāng Yìmóu directed 15,000 performers in the impressive opening ceremony at the Bird’s Nest stadium, at the London 2012 Games, film director Danny Boyle lead a show that featured inter alios Queen, the Spice Girls, Mr. Bean and David Beckham and at the opening of Rio 2016, Fernando Meirelles, together with Daniela Thomas and Andrucha Waddington, chose to express the Brazilian spirit of music and samba. Marco Balich (who was Executive Producer and Creative Director of the 2006 Torino Opening Ceremonies as well as Executive Producer of the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Paralympics of Sochi 2014), Balich Worldwide Shows and FiveCurrents, in association with the Japanese advertising company Dentsu are the producer of the Tōkyō 2020 opening and closing events. 

Rather short while ago, a dear (and much admired !) researcher acquaintance drew my attention to a sequence of rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony of the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic Games. The extract, though short, is not the less impressive and the part showing the individuals the very few seconds after their performance, made me realise the pressure that the artists probably feel (already at a training session, not to mention at the real ceremony, supposed to be held in front of tens of thousands spectators, television audience excluded), as well as how much time and effort must have been put into the preparation to achieve such precision. 

I am not quite sure, but I believe that like many (group) activities, practice of the performers has temporarily been suspended or maintained individually. The Tōkyō 2020 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony has been rescheduled to one year later, Friday, July 23, 2021. At least, 12 months have therefore been added to the training. Time will tell what we may ultimately get to see that day.



Unravel the Enigma

Phase 1 Step 2

Backslide

On July 23, 2018, two years and one day before the foreseen opening of the Olympic Games, the first official licensed Tōkyō 2020 shop was launched 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. In pursuance of reaching 5,500 until the Games and generating an income of around ¥ 14 billion (USD 131 million) in total, the number of sold items has gradually been risen. 

Following BicCamera Shinjuku West, two further official retailers, one inside BicCamera Akasaka-Mitsuke and one at BicCamera Ikebukuro East opened in Tōkyō. Then, boutiques got progressively expanded not only in, but also beyond the capital’s area. As of April 2020, there were 89 Tōkyō 2020 stores as well as an online shop operating in Japan. Furthermore, other merchandisers sold nationwide official products. 

Since the announcement of the postponement of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 (release of the new dates as of July 23 to August 8, 2021 and August 24 to September 5, 2021 on Monday, March 30), official fan shops have seen the number of customers drastically decline. Short while after, on April 6, the State of Emergency in 7 out of the 47 Japanese Prefectures until May 6 was declared (Chiba, Fukuoka, Hyōgo, Kanagawa, Ōsaka, Saitama and Tōkyō), which got expanded to nationwide on April 16, and extended to May 31, on Monday, May 4 (though lifted prematurely on May 14 in 39 Prefectures, except Chiba, Hokkaidō, Hyōgo, Kanagawa, Kyōtō, Ōsaka, Saitama and Tōkyō). Consequently, diverse facilities and businesses, including Tōkyō 2020 shops closed temporarily or operate under reduced hours, though once the order lifted they are meant to be reopened. 

However, last week the definite closure of five, and the scale-down of one of the 89 Tōkyō 2020 official goods shops was announced. The Ginza Shop, the Shinjuku East Shop and the Ueno Shop in Tōkyō and the Shinsaibashi Shop and (partly) the Abeno Harukas Shop in Ōsaka are due to close on May 31, 2020, followed by the Yokohama East Shop on June 2, 2020. The decision resulted from discussions of the Organising Committee and shop owners. If or when they ever shall reopen remains at present unspecified and as a matter of fact, many contracts between Tōkyō 2020 and other licensed shop owners are due to expire at the end of the summer.

Although the Games will take place in 2021, they are kept being called Tōkyō 2020, and so, the logos, advertisement, medals and merchandise will not have to be remade. Sponsors as well favoured the 2020 branding, which has been seen all over Tōkyō for years; on posters, taxis, buses, and subways, as well as chocolate and other sweets packages, beverages, dairy products and even soy sauces that feature(d) the emblems and slowly but steadily rose the visibility of the Games in daily life.

Short while after the announcement of the postponement of the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, my curiosity guided me to one of the first opened official fan shops located inside BicCamera Akasaka-Mitsuke. I was surprised, not only about the rapid enlargement of offered items (besides rather common articles such as towels, pens, hats and wallets, chopsticks, slippers, ironware teapots, earrings, neckties, Japanese dolls and others were added) but also and especially about seeing some customers, one of them buying articles. 

Observing the scenery, I wondered about the reason for the acquisition: has the purchaser not heard yet that the Olympics are postponed ? Is he nostalgic about the event, already speculating that shops may close, or the Games not be held ? Indeed, a cancellation could stimulate souvenir sales, driving demand for memorabilia from a happening that didn’t take place. Regardless the general uncertainty, the situation at that moment just felt very bizarre. 

Considering the rather atrabilious atmosphere and the recommended distance that people had already started to take, I did back then by politeness not investigate what or why the customer purchased. Afterwards, I though highly regretted my reticence, as when I decided to make a small survey and therefore intentionally visited the same store sometimes again, I could barely find a salesperson, let alone any customer. 


Those to remain

{Reflection upon humanity}



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Fly (not so) high

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are often seen as an opportunity to not only build or refurbish (sporting) facilities, but also to develop various infrastructure such as transportation systems (implementation or extension of railway and bus lines, construction or renovation of train stations and airports, expansion of roads and parking…), to advance universal signage, promote the local culture, and change social behaviour (rise of awareness of physical activity and health, encouragement of language learning, introduction of Olympic and Paralympic education programmes, spread of volunteer spirit, adoption of new work styles…)

In 2019, official figures showed a record of 31.88 million foreign visitors who travelled to Japan. For 2020, the government wished to increase the number to 40 million, and to 60 million by 2030. Therefore, and with an eye towards the Olympic and Paralympic Games that were / are supposed to attract a high amount of people within a restrained period of time, several airports had planned to expand the number of flights prior to the event, and make arrangements in order to assure a smooth arrival and departure for visitors. 

Haneda Airport (officially known as Tōkyō International Airport), counts amongst one of the busiest airports in terms of passenger traffic in Asia, as well as in the world. With the aim to increase the number of international flights by 39,000 to 99,000 per year (60,000 at present), the decision to introduce two new flight routes for the airport was made in August 2019. The new flight routes, though only operating during peak hours and in case of a south wind, which is blowing approximatively in 40% annually, pass over Tōkyō’s centre, including wards such as Shinagawa (at an altitude of around 300 metres), Shibuya (at ⁓ 700 metres) and Shinjuku (at ⁓ 1000 metres). They were tested on seven days between February 2 and February 12, 2020, and officially launched on March 29, 2020.

As prior flights from the north and international flights from Europe needed to take a detour before making final approaches from Tōkyō Bay to Haneda Airport, the two new routes are meant not only to increase the number of aircraft but also to reduce “inefficiency”, notably in terms of time and fuel. Through the introduction of the new routes and the opening of 50 additional slots (all reserved for international flights), the number of departures and arrivals per hour shall increase from 80 to 90 and the overall capacity, including domestic flights, is meant to rise from about 450,000 currently to 490,000. According to projections made by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the increase of international flights at Haneda Airport’s four runways may generate an income of more than ¥ 650 billion (about USD 6.1 billion) per year.

Main reasons that since Haneda Airport started operations in 1931 and until short while ago, paths had relied on routes over Tōkyō Bay, were to avoid noise pollution within the city centre, the risk of falling objects, and the U.S. military-reserved so-called Yokota airspace. Indeed, before the new routes’ introduction, the U.S. military benefited from exclusive access to certain altitudes of airspace over the area west of Tōkyō, and any aircraft was not allowed to pass the zone without permission from the U.S. forces. The Yokota Radar Approach Control spans not only the Yokota Air Base, but reaches over 300 kilometres north to south, and 120 kilometres east to west, covering several prefectures, including Tōkyō. The airspace is divided into six altitude levels, and even though it lies within Japan, it is regulated by the U.S. military air traffic control. Therefore, U.S. military aircraft are given priority and general commercial aircraft are asked to fly at a higher altitude to maintain an adequate vertical distance. 

In 2019, after long consideration, the governments of Japan and the United States agreed that the U.S. military would accept flight paths for Haneda Airport-bound passenger airplanes routed through the eastern edge of the Yokota airspace, but only for three hours a day, - from 3pm to 7pm. 

The new routes quickly rose concerns, notably about noise pollution and aerodynamic safety at the arrival, both of which are directly related to each other. As a matter of fact, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism had initially planned that aircraft would approach the airstrips over Tōkyō at 3.0 degrees, which corresponds to the global standard angle. However, in order to reduce noise pollution and to ensure distance between commercial planes and the U.S. military aircraft that fly at lower altitudes, it subsequently decided to instruct pilots to come at 3.45 degrees, with 3 degrees permitted in case of rough weather. Aviation industry organisations such as the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations criticised the decision, declaring that few other airports had adopted such a steep approach and that pilots may see Haneda Airport as one of the most difficult to land at.

In Spring 2020, the number of visitors to Japan from Overseas dropped remarkably (about 93% in March from a year earlier). Various airlines around the world have (partially) grounded planes, leading to a large number of international flights being cancelled and with the extension of the suspension of visas held by foreign nationals until the end of May (they had initially been suspended until the end of April) and the recent addition of 14 nations to the list of countries and territories that are subject to entry bans (bringing the total thereby to 87), the amount of passengers coming to the archipelago was these months significantly reduced. Therefore, the two new routes for Haneda Airport, introduced as foreseen on March 29, 2020, are operating yet with only about half of the flights maintained. Finally, with the postponement of the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the hope to attract a high number of visitors this summer for the time definitely vanished. 

However, Tōkyō 2020 and increased tourism weren’t the only reasons for the introduction of the new flight routes for Haneda Airport: the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism believes more international flights will importantly help the capital bloom as a major international business hub in future. Thus, the Olympic and Paralympic Games seem to merely have served as a catalyst in the acceleration of the project and the new routes at Haneda Airport may be one (of many) examples of the event’s impact on the development of host cities’ infrastructures.


A Little piece of a big big universe

Thoughts about scales and dimensions

With more than 37 million inhabitants, Tōkyō is until present the biggest conurbation in the world. As of January 2020, the population of Tōkyō Metropolis (東京都, Tōkyō-to) was estimated at around 13.952 million out of which 9.653 million individuals lived in the 23 special wards (特別区, Tokubetsu-ku), 4.217 million in the western located Tama area (多摩地域, Tama-chiiki), 56,387 in the county (西多摩郡, Nishitama-gun) and 24,986 on its islands (東京都島嶼部, Tōkyō-to-tōshobu). Tōkyō Metropolis forms a long, thin stretch of land, reaching out some 100 kilometres from east to west, however barely 20 kilometres from north to south at the narrowest point. The range of its big-city functions and activities roughly corresponds to an area of 100 kilometres in diameter, circumscribed by the partially completed Ken-Ō (or Metropolitan Inter-City) Expressway. 

Born in a country which’s population is smaller than that of Tōkyō’s 23 special wards and raised in a city that has fewer inhabitants than the ward I currently live in, large urban areas, and in recent years particularly Tōkyō, have been intriguing and fascinating me. 

I remember well, when in winter 2018, I got the incredible chance to overfly Tōkyō megalopolis remarkably low in a 4-seater airplane. Unlike arriving or departing on a usual passenger aircraft, I could more closely relate to the scenery, and it was only then that I seemed to truly become conscious about the impressive urban expansion (housing as far as the eye could see !). I felt curiously connected to the city, yet not to humanity; as if I were the observer of my own reality. 

The correlation of anonymousness and village-like atmospheres has already fascinated me when I lived in Paris. Though, it was notably Tōkyō and its heterogeneous appearance, that awoke my curiosity for the in-between spaces, that leads me seek for the behind, and the beyond. Oftentimes, Tōkyō’s calmness even in central areas and its intimacy makes me forget the vastness of the city and I have to remind myself of the overfly pictures in order to believe the statistics.  

The Japan National Stadium (formerly known as New National Stadium) is part of the Tōkyō 2020 Heritage Zone, and reachable within a 20/25 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station and in a 35/40 minutes walk from Shibuya Station. Hosting, inter alia, the opening and the closing ceremonies of the Olympic and the Paralympic Games, this 68,000-seat venue is an emblem and an essential element of Tōkyō 2020. On May 16, 2019, the Olympic rings were launched in front of the newly built Japan Sport Olympic Square, next to the stadium and on September 14, 2019, Japan’s new Olympic Museum, housed on the first two floors of the Japan Sport Olympic Square, opened its doors to the public. On November 30, 2019, Kuma Kengo’s designed Japan National Stadium was handed over to its owner, the Japan Sport Council. 

Most of the times that I stayed in the archipelago’s capital, I could reside at a place fairly close to the Japan National Stadium. As the Tōkyō Metropolitan Gymnasium, an adjacent sporting complex that served as a venue for gymnastics at the Tōkyō 1964 Games, and that shall host the table tennis competition at the Tōkyō 2020 Games, used to be open to public (and comprised a 50-metre indoor swimming pool), it became one of my favoured sports facilities. Thus, I could easily combine physical activity and site visits, and therefore not only see the stadium’s development, but also witness the attention the surroundings progressively gained. As a matter of fact, important parts of my former research were put on paper at a close-by café which got relocated when renovation works of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Gymnasium started in summer 2018. Henceforth, my visits of the area were periodic and part of an elaborated plan. 

Short while ago came the postponement of the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and soon after the declaration of the State of Emergency in Japan and the request (/demand) for individuals to reduce social contact and several facilities (including sport centres) to temporarily close. As to me exercising is fundamental for both, my physical and mental health, spring arrived, temperatures got decent, and nature bloomed marvelously, I started to undertake (almost) daily runs and walks, which half purposely, half instinctively brought me to the Japan National Stadium. Despite the fact that the freshly tarred path, the stadium’s diameter, and the various planted and impressively fast-growing trees which decorate the yet enclosed venue make it a convenient circuit, I realised that I had curiously missed the regular physical closeness to the venue and my runs and visits have almost become a personal need. 

Around 11,000 athletes, 7.8 million spectators and 25,000 media representatives were / are expected for the Tōkyō 2020 Olympics and 4,400 athletes, 2.3 million spectators and 9,500 media representatives for the Paralympics (both to be staged in 2021)

When these days, I frequently find myself practically alone with the stadium, a nostalgic, sometimes almost melancholic feeling overcomes me. Where some weeks ago road builders, gardeners, inspectors, security guards, tourists and visitors gathered, now only few people are around, most of them runners. Although I am pleased that we, - the stadium and me, are (still) here; together, ready and in intimacy, I am conscious that once the Olympic and Paralympic Games held I will myself fade into the background; I will be one of numerous persons, insignificant to the venue, disappearing in the crowd. 

I know, that what may feel like a personal story in-between a facility, a city and an individual, will be covered by the presence of many others, who have doubtlessly prepared much longer and worked much harder for the event than me. 

The stadium, a persistent inspiration and help to get back to basics, often makes me think about scales and dimensions, and repeatedly reminds me that like each of us, and regardless the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I am just a (tiny) little piece, of a big big universe.


Remote (to) control

The management of transport systems has proven to be essential for hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games with success. As they have over the years grown in size, logistical issues in the handling of crowds have urged host cities to find new strategies. Furthermore, the Games were progressively seen as an opportunity to change the way people travel in congested metropolises, not only during the event, but also beyond. Legacy can be physical transport infrastructure (development of railway systems and bus lines, construction or renovation of train stations and airports, expansion of roads and parking, harmonisation of local taxi networks…) as well as behavioural (increase in public transport usage, operation knowledge acquired through the Olympic / Paralympic experience or the introduction of new work styles). 

In the history of the modern Olympic Games, Atlanta 1996 was a turning point in the rethinking of Olympic transport operations; with an overloaded Rapid Transit System, newly recruited bus drivers who got lost and important congestion leading to athletes being late for their own competitions, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) needed to set new standards. Henceforth, it imposed clear prescriptions and today asks the Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (OCOG) to ensure a safe, reliable and efficient transport system free of charge for accredited persons. Thus, elements such as Olympic ring roads, Olympic lanes, fairly short distances in-between the Athletes Village and venues, as well as the handling of crowds in public transportation have to be planned ahead and integrated in host cities’ proposals.

Athletic facilities, many of which are still in use, doubtlessly count amongst the tangible legacy of the Tōkyō 1964 Games. However, the most significant was the development of the city’s (and the country’s) transport infrastructure. As authorities estimated that the number of cars circulating in Tōkyō would exceed one million in the Olympic year, more than 70 kilometres of roads were rehabilitated and freshly built, grade-separated highways, and expressways constructed. Two new metro lines were established and integrated into the already existing network and theshinkansen (= bullet train) was inaugurated on October 1, 1964, 9 days before the opening ceremony. In addition, 15 kilometres 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 archipelago, were undertaken.

Aware of an unusual high number of visitors, Japan some twenty years later successfully implemented the Universal Traffic Management System (UTMS) in the run-up to the Nagano 1998 Winter Games. On the occasion, the shinkansen got expanded to the host city, the local road network got enlarged, expressways extended and Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) investments were made in order to provide people with real-time traffic information. 

Unlike possible assumptions that the rise of the Internet may have reduced the movement of people, not only because of its general growth, but also and especially due to the construction of big office complexes (often housing also hotels, restaurants, stores and educational or cultural facilities), the number of commuters in Tōkyō megalopolis has increased in the beginning of the 21st century. Shinjuku Station, elected in 2011 by the Guinness World Records the busiest station in the world, counts daily in average around 3.5 million passengers and therewith tops Shibuya Station, second busiest in the world, which sees about 2.4 million passers-by per day. Over the years, Tōkyō has developed an extensive and user-friendly railway system, including station names written in both Japanese and Latin alphabet, systematic numeration of subway stops and announcements that are meanwhile often made in Japanese and English language. In March 2015, the Shuto Expressway Central Circular Route, which allows to reach Haneda Airport within a 20 minutes drive from Shinjuku, was completed and in March 2020, Takanawa Gateway Station (designed by Kuma Kengo, creator of the New National Stadium), located in-between Shinagawa and Tamachi Station, was opened. The new model of the Tōkaidō shinkansen shall be inaugurated on July 1, 2020, and the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit System) is being developed in the run-up to the Games and will subsequently be expanded. 

Compared to other cities, Tōkyō has a remarkably efficient and reliable transportation system. However, prevention of traffic congestion is seen as one of the most serious challenges on the occasion of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. With approximatively 11,000 expected athletes, 7.8 million spectators and 25,000 media representatives for the Olympics and 4,400 athletes, 2.3 million spectators and 9,500 media representatives for the Paralympics, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) projected an increase of 50,000 to 60,000 vehicles on the Tōkyō Metropolitan Expressway per day (double of the usual road traffic) and a rise of 10% of railway users (about 800,000 additional passengers per day) during the event. Under the title スムーズビズ (Smooth Biz), the TMG launched an initiative with a trinity undertaking, which includes the promotion of telework, flexible working / commuting and traffic demand management. In-between July and September 2019, large-scale trials were executed. Therefore, inter alia, government agencies as well as private firms used telework and staggered work hours, and train companies increased the number of services during peak hours. 

Until now, the uptake of telework has in Japan been rather slow. According to a survey of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the percentage of Japanese firms that have adopted telework rose from 11.5% to 19.1% between 2012 and 2018. Though only 8.5% of the consulted employees declared to have tried it out. Some reasons for the reluctant attempt to work remotely may be the strong loyalty of many employees to their company, expressed notably through extended working hours, the imagined duality of “real work” and physical presence at the office, the social importance of work-related gatherings (such as nomikai) and (non-digitalised) seal stamping (hanko), faxing and other tasks linked to paper documents that are in the accustomed way difficult to accomplish outside the office.

When Prime Minister Abe Shinzō declared the State of Emergency in at first 7 out of the 47 Japanese Prefectures on April 6 (it got extended to nationwide last Thursday, April 16), he explained that in anticipation of lifting it on May 6, individuals needed to reduce contact with each other by 70-80%. Some days later, he asked companies to promote teleworking in order to achieve a decrease of 70% in commuters. According to East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), the number of passengers on the circular Yamanote Line in Tōkyō during morning hours was 60% lower the first three days after the declaration of the State of Emergency than in early February 2020. The following weekend, the number was said to have dropped 85% from a year before. An online survey conducted by Persol Research and Consulting Co., showed that from April 10 to 13, 38.8% of permanent employees in the seven prefectures telecommuted, with the rate reaching 49.15% in Tōkyō, albeit only 13.8% teleworked outside those areas. Before the declaration of the State of Emergency, 71.7% of the consulted employees went to the office (April 6) and the rate for all-day teleworking in the seven prefectures was at 18.6% before rising to 28.6% on April 10. 

Although telework has in Japan not yet become a common and natural form to work, and the aimed 70% reduction in commuters have not been attained so far, the current sanitary situation seems to be a catalyst of what government campaigns had since a while tried to achieve. Indeed, the work style reform is currently getting an important push and more and more companies are encouraging their employees to telework. As many (social) habits, adaption may take time and it is uncertain if it will resonate on long term. 

Moving forward with the practice of remote work may not only be essential to control and overcome the current situation, but it could also be highly beneficial to important parts of the population. Not least of all, it would help prevent from traffic congestion during the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.


Unravel the Enigma

Phase 1

Journey extended, how to repack ?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020 the postponement of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad was announced. Less than a week later, on Monday, 30, the new dates, as of 23 July to August 8, 2021 and August 24 to September 5, 2021, were officially revealed. 

Although the Games will take place in 2021, they remain being called Tōkyō 2020, and so, the logos, advertisement, medals and merchandise will not have to be remade. On March 30, the Tōkyō Organising Committee declared as a general rule that the already sold tickets shall still be valid for the rescheduled events and that in case that ticket holders are not able to attend one year later or that the Games cannot secure a place (for example if a competition is moved to a smaller venue), refund is to be provided. Volunteers are asked to help at their already-assigned locations in 2021, and the torch relay runners have priority to take part in the rescheduled event. The flame, which arrived in Japan from Greece on March 20, will remain burning in the country and be visible at the J-Village in Fukushima Prefecture this April. Following, it shall be stored in Tōkyō, though the location and the question whether or not it will be on public display is still under discussion. Olympic officials have confirmed that the around 6,200 athletes who had already been qualified shall keep their spots. The decision, approved by all international sports organisations, resolves one of the key questions for all the competitors whose qualifying process came early in the 2020 sports calendar. 

In this period of global tension, where the focus is on the present and decisions are made day by day, hesitations about the postponement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games seem already part of the past and the issues that host city Tōkyō has to face recede into the background. 

Rescheduling the biggest sporting event in the world engenders important economic, political and logistical challenges. Due to the fast progression of happenings, the cruel reality is that at a certain point, a decision was urged and that there were merely three options for the organisers, none of which felt convenient. Despite long and persistent affirmations, it eventually became clear that holding the Games as scheduled would no longer be possible. Therefore, only two alternatives were left: postponement or cancellation. 

According to recent estimations, the general economic damage from the postponement of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics may be at ¥ 620 billion (about USD 5.7 billion), and the 12-months extension could add another ¥ 22.5 billion (USD 208 million) due to maintenance cost for venues and the retain of facilities. A financial package is probably needed by related groups to keep their organisations in place and post-Olympics effects could take a hit of ¥ 218 billion (USD 2 billion). However, relinquishment is estimated at a cost of ¥ 4.5 trillion (USD 41.5 billion) and would socially be a tragic scenario. From the start of the government’s promotional activities through 2019 (a span of about 18 years), related expenditures are said to be around ¥ 32 trillion (roughly USD 295 billion), ¥ 20 trillion (USD 185 billion) of which stand to be lost in the event of cancellation. Despite various factors that threatened the Games in the past, they have except for 1916 (World War I), 1940 and 1944 (World War II) always been held. 

Tōkyō 2020’s journey has been extended for a year, but as the situation is unprecedented, there is no guidebook, reference or list suggesting how to repack. 

An important part of the Tōkyō Organising Committee staff had been seconded from corporate sponsors and is meant to return to work at those companies after next autumn. Hotels will need to rebook thousands of visitors; various facilities have to get reserved despite an already set agenda and the Athletes Village now has to adjourn its renovation schedule and potentially redo large numbers of agreements with buyers.

The IBC / MPC Tōkyō International Exhibition Centre (Tōkyō Big Sight), shall serve as the main press and broadcast centre for the Games. Tōkyō Big Sight, located in Kōtō Ward and operated by Tōkyō Prefecture, was reserved from May to September 2020. In order to make up for the loss of income during this time, the post-Games’ agenda has fully been booked with events. Many of them will have to be cancelled due to the postponement, which signifies not only a lack of revenue, but also implies paying penalties to contracted users. 

After serving as the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2020 Games, HARUMI FLAG shall become a new residential zone. In line with plans developed by the Tōkyō metropolitan Government (TMG), two 50-storey towers (of about 180m height) will subsequently be added to the condominium. 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. Some first sales of the apartments were launched from July 26 to August 4, 2019, and 893 out of 940 units already found purchasers. The second round of sales was supposed to start in the end of March 2020, though it got rescheduled until after June this year. According to a notice published on March 30, 2020 on the website of HARUMI FLAG, due to the announcement of the postponement of the Games, pavilion tours have been suspended and there may be the possibility that the content of guidance will be changed.

When last week Prime Minister Abe Shinzō declared the State of Emergency in 7 out of the 47 Japanese Prefectures (Tōkyō, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ōsaka, Hyōgo and Fukuoka) until May 6, 2020, he mentioned the option to use Olympic and Paralympic facilities in order to house COVID-19 patients. 

As a matter of fact, Tōkyō has been considering to resort to an accommodation in the waterfront area that was supposed to house security staff and others during the Games. Currently under construction, its completion was scheduled for early summer. By virtue of the postponement, the facility could be converted in sight of an interim use. Furthermore, the city has already reached an agreement with some private hotel operators to eventually secure rooms for around 1,000 people. By the TMG’s plan to rent buildings entirely, the measure aims to not only prevent the exhaustion of medical institutions, but also help support the hotel industry, which is feared to fall into financial difficulty due to the postponement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Tōkyō’s governor Koike Yuriko has also emphasised the possibility of using the Athletes Village as a temporary hospital. Indeed, the housing complex, supposed to provide 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 beds during the Paralympics could accommodate an important number of individuals. The facility, almost completed, would though first have to be finalised and adapted to medical standards. That way, the postponement may curiously help enhance the phenomenon which was its cause. 

With the aim to prevent from overcrowded public transportation, Tōkyō started in the preparation for the Games to highly encourage the former rather depreciated practice of teleworking. Given that since the past weeks, the more and more people started to execute their tasks from home, amidst many cancelled test events, the capital’s population currently is in these regards experiencing a test run. 

To unravel the enigma of the postponement of the Games may be highly complex and obscure, though for me the journey is the reward. 

Yet to see whither it will lead… Pandora’s box has only just been opened.


Whiteness, the World and Somewhere, the Sky

{Reflection upon humanity}


Questioning the concrete, as well as the precise

Saihaku-gun, Tottori-ken, Japan, March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Saihaku-gun, Tottori-ken, Japan, March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Saihaku-gun, Tottori-ken, Japan, March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner


Sometimes near, the horizon

Tottori-sakyū, Tottori-ken, Japan, March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tottori-sakyū, Tottori-ken, Japan, March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tottori-sakyū, Tottori-ken, Japan, March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Tottori-sakyū, Tottori-ken, Japan, March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner


In the end, all the same

Iwakuni-shi, Yamaguchi-ken, Japan, April 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Iwakuni-shi, Yamaguchi-ken, Japan, April 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner


Stranded here, looking at universe

From an unknown place, viewed in Tottori-ken, Japan in March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

From an unknown place, viewed in Tottori-ken, Japan in March 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner


Put on hold, yet to hold on

In 1936, the Games of the XII Olympiad, scheduled for 1940, was assigned to Tōkyō. An important step and symbol, as the event had hitherto only been hosted by European countries and the United States. The candidatures were prepared since 1932, and 12 cities proposed themselves: Alexandria, Barcelona, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Helsinki, Milan, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Tōkyō and Toronto. 

Tōkyō 1940, which would have correlated with the 2,600th anniversary of the legendary establishment of the Japanese Empire by Emperor Jimmu 660 BC and the planned but finally not held Grand International Exhibition of Japan, was seen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as an opportunity to bring the Games more east. For Tōkyō, its Olympic campaign was an occasion to stimulate the economic development through international tourism, notably after the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake that struck the city and levelled major parts to the ground. Though the 1940 bid aroused controversy, and so, the foreseen selection at the 1935 IOC Session in Oslo got postponed and it was only in 1936, after long discussions, that Tōkyō was chosen over Helsinki. Debates about the planning of the 1940 Games gradually expanded, and with the Second Sino-Japanese War, the international community began to threaten to boycott the 1940 Olympics if they were held in Tōkyō. Shortly before the IOC Session was to open in Cairo in March 1938, the British Olympic Committee voted to withdraw from the Games in case that the China Incident continued, followed by the Chinese and the United States Olympic Committees asking for a transfer. 

The situation was quickly deteriorating and on July 15, 1938, the Japanese Minister of Welfare, Cabinet Minister responsible for the Games, Kido Kōichi, informed the National Diet that the government had decided to cancel the 1940 Olympiad. One day later, the Tōkyō Organising Committee agreed on the decision and sent a telegram to the IOC. Although there had been earlier international calls to boycott, the IOC president at the time, Henri de Baillet-Latour, insisted until the last moment that the Games should be held as scheduled and the cancellation was made by Japan itself. As Helsinki had previously agreed to be a host, the Games were assigned to the Finnish capital, which then had roughly two years to get set for the event. Preparations started, though when Great Britain declared war against Germany, the IOC Executive Committee was forced to consider whether the Games should be held allowing only neutral countries to participate or whether they should completely be cancelled. After the scrap of the Winter Games, earlier relocated from Sapporo, Japan, to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (the summer and winter event was held the same year from 1924 to 1992), and the launched attacks from Russia against Finland, the Helsinki Organising Committee voluntarily forfeited. On April 29, 1940, a final decision was made and on May 6, 1940, the IOC announced that the Games of the XII Olympiad, scheduled for September 21 to October 6, 1940, in Tōkyō, and rescheduled for July 20 to August 4, 1940, in Helsinki, would not be held.

Japan’s Minister of Finance Asō Tarō explained that with the cancelled 1940 Games, the mass boycott in Moscow 1980 and now the outbreak of a pandemic threatening Tōkyō 2020, the cursed Olympics was a problem that recurred every 40 years. 

Cursed or not, what first started with vague rumours and presumptions, then continued with sincere discussions, and resulted in actual decisions. As fear over the outbreak of COVID-19 grew, measures around the world were progressively taken, and events widely cancelled or held without audience, rethinking the XXXII Olympiad became unavoidable. For a while, the IOC along with the Tōkyō Organising Committee and the Japanese government affirmed that it was not considering a cancellation or postponement and explained that the situation was to be closely observed until taking any decision in May 2020. Though, when last Monday, March 23, first Canada, followed by Australia declared that they would not participate if the Games were going ahead as planned, and other nations’ sports federations started to share the statement, actions were undertaken within shortly: the same day, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzō gave a first hint saying that there may be the possibility to reschedule the Games. One day later, on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, inter alios, Thomas Bach, current president of the IOC, Abe Shinzō, Tōkyō Governor Koike Yuriko, Olympic Minister Hashimoto Seiko and president of the Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee Mori Yoshirō agreed to postpone the Games, beyond 2020 but no later than summer 2021. Hence, the delay was officially announced without any specific date, yet with the confirmation that the event was to keep being called Tōkyō 2020.

The postponement certainly entails a turn in athletes’ and various individuals’ path of life. Likewise, it urges a wide range of questions for diverse involved parties, all above host city Tōkyō. Rescheduling means delay in post-Games developments and crucial uncertainty for those who have already signed contracts. Facilities such as the recently inaugurated Ariake Arena are meant to shortly after the Games be refurbished, before being given over to private investors. The Athletes Village shall be reconverted into housing that has (partly) already been put on the market… 

Then what with all the booked hotel rooms, the test events, the sold tickets, the volunteers training, the Olympic and Paralympic Education Programme; with the newly hoisted Tōkyō 2020 flags, the posters and panels that decorate the city; the planned logistics, the rescheduled national holidays, the in autumn ending labour contracts… 

The Olympic flame made it to Japan, just in time and without having to quarantine. However, the Torch relay, meant to begin from Fukushima on Thursday, March 26, has, as many other events, been put on hold. The Olympic rings are up, and the mascots Miraitowa and Someity had (despite the outbreak of COVID-19) already bravely started their journey around the world in February 2020. 

Developed over seven years, Tōkyō 2020 is by far more than only a sporting event. 

When on Tuesday evening, after the announcement of the postponement of the Tōkyō Olympiad, emails and cell phone messages started to multiply, I did not only get reminded of the rapidity that news spread with, but also of the high risk of miscommunication, rumours and erroneous information. It took me about a (rather sleepless) night to absorb the energies, process the news and slowly start to realise what is actually happening. Whilst various sporting events have, some for the first time in history (as media like to highlight) been cancelled, Japan has unwittingly made a debut with the Tōkyō 2020 Games the first ever to be postponed. I have repeatedly been asked what this implied for me as a researcher and individual, though I myself have rather been reflecting upon what it entailed for Tōkyō. As both the summer and winter Games are held every four years respectively, host cities tend to get inspiration from their predecessors. Given that there has not been such a postponement before, Tōkyō can hardly get advice for the re-organisation and is facing a new and unprecedented challenge. 

The Japanese capital showed its readiness by impeccable delivering venues in time and carefully undertaking all possible preventive measures. Security and safety scenarios have been prepared and acted out, though the 2020 Games once again show that no matter how well planned and executed, not everything in the organisation of an event is predictably, let alone inevitable, and it seems that COVID-19 found a way to enter Troy. 

Tuesday’s decision was made 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at the newly built National Stadium. Coincidentally, I found myself next to one of the Omega Watches that had been displaying the number of days TO GO until the Games the same evening of March 24, 2020. When seeing the countdown going on, I naively wondered what would happen in case the Games were postponed or cancelled: would the watches just be reset, put on hold, shut down, or moved away ? 

Digits can easily be changed, and the Omega Watches got reverted one day later, on Wednesday, March 25, now showing the day’s date and time, just like any other clock in the city. However, an enormous project like the Olympic and Paralympic Games cannot just be frozen over a longer period. The postponement surely gave some additional time which though is disproportionate to all the new tasks that organisers will have to deal with. 

Let’s recall what may always remain: the Olympics is a permanent race against the clock

About the question of the postponements’ impact on my work

I can merely say anything certain at this point, except that there will be new challenges to face, and many unforeseen topics to research on. As before, I see it as my duty and honour to analyse happenings and share my modest knowledge. It stays my deep and sincere wish to closely accompany Tōkyō on this (unexpectedly extended) journey until the end, and beyond.


Shortage, cultures, and the curious behaviour of human beings

In order to welcome tourists from all over the world, initiatives to replace Japanese squat toilets have been undertaken in the run-up to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This action is though dwarfed by that faced by preparations for Tōkyō 1964. As a matter of fact, before the past Games, only 20% of the Japanese capital had a sewerage system, pit toilets were widely spread and trucks circulated in neighbourhoods to collect human waste…

Hard to imagine, in today’s meticulous clean Tōkyō.

No dust bins around, yet any trash on the streets, in every restaurant or izakaya the famous oshibori is given with self-evidence, and public washrooms are not only omnipresent, but also remarkably neat. These hygiene standards emerged in the 1960’s, when the Land of the Rising Sun wished to become a leading country in the eyes of visitors and be an “advanced nation”, considering besides new infrastructure and a strong economy sanitation as crucial. Therefore, great effort was put into cleaning up Tōkyō ahead of the 1964 Games. 

In 2016, a government survey showed that about 40% of public restrooms hosted squat stalls and started a campaign to help municipalities (especially at popular travel destinations) fund conversion to sit-down toilets. According to statistics from the Japan Tourism Agency, a total of 332 restrooms were refurbished between fiscal 2017 and 2019. 

In the archipelago’s urban areas, toilets are nowadays highly modern and convenient: heated seats, lids that open and close automatically, air-fresheners, and bidet functions for both front and rear washing — features that have become standard not only in public facilities, but also in many private homes since TOTO sold its first buttock-cleansing WASHLET toilet seat in the early 1980’s. 

In the awake of COVID-19, besides face masks, hand sanitiser and tissues, toilet paper was soon short in supply. When the shortage started here some weeks ago, it did not only surprise, but also amuse me: hearing about toilet paper shortage in Japan… I could not help but smile, think of the bidet function and about the paradox between real need and human reaction, of discrepancy in mass reaction. Compared to many countries that I have lived in or that I have visited, I can hardly come up with any other place in the world, where bathrooms are as present and sanitary supply is provided so well. Therefore, toilet paper just wouldn’t appeal one of the most important articles to stock. 

Some said face masks, sold out quickly, are made from the same materials used to manufacture toilet paper, while others explained that there were difficulties in importing toilet paper from China. Though, officials noted that only 2.5% of the 1.06 million tons delivered to retailers in Japan came from China in 2019. 

The Japanese society is by far not the only to react alike. Panic buying in crises periods is a well-known and global phenomenon and the white rolls have recently become a rare article in many parts of the world. The process is simple: individuals who hear about (possible) shortage often buy twice as many given items, actually stimulating the shortage, and merchandise starts to disappear from shops. Then other individuals observe the happening and buy unproportional amounts of the same product… The spiral goes on… ending up in the rise of prices and possible informal niche business. 

Sociologists have widely explained humans’ seeking for articles economically easy affordable and linked to hygiene and comfort. Indeed, the hoarding of toilet paper is nowadays not based on any realistic need and may rather be influenced by people’s collective memory, notably marked by shortage of household goods following the “oil shock” that occurred after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. 

In November 1973, several news agencies reported a tissue shortage in Japan. Initially, the release went unnoticed and nobody seemed to draw much attention until Harold Vernon Froelich, a 41-year-old Republican congressman who chaired a heavily-forested district in Wisconsin and who had been receiving complaints about a reduced stream of pulp paper, released on November 16, 1973 his own press statement declaring that the Government Printing Office was facing a serious shortage of paper. A few weeks later, Froelich uncovered a document that indicated the government’s National Buying Centre had fallen short of providing toilet paper for its troops and bureaucrats. In the climate of oil scares and economic duress, Froelich’s claim was absorbed without any questioning, and the media picked up on it. When only about one month later, on December 19, comedian Johnny Carson told the audience in his Tonight Show that there was a shortage of toilet paper, it firstly met insecure laughter. Then media sensationalised the story and it was reported as a doomed truth. Millions of Americans swarmed grocery stores and bought all the toilet paper they could carry. For four long months, the white roll then was a rare and precious commodity. It was traded, and a black market emerged before the whole misery stopped in February 1974. Slowly but surely, the American public realised that there had never been a shortage to begin with, but that it had rather been artificially created. 

One morning, just about two weeks ago, I saw the long line in front of one of Tōkyō’s many drug stores, realising what people hoped to buy, and becoming conscious about the dimension the situation had taken. Although I knew that I would soon be short on stock too, I walked along, and thought of all these nice and multi-functional TOTO toilets…

Later the same day, I went to a café that I like to work from. When I then went to the washroom, I was astonished and moved by what presented itself to my eyes: about ten rolls of nice, fresh, untouched toilet paper. 

In many cities I have been before, and all ahead Paris, I witnessed that most public facilities lock toilet paper in boxes, in order to prevent stealing, and this in times without panic buying.

Since the shortage, I have observed the amount of the white treasure in various places across Tōkyō metropolis, and can say that in every facility, there was at least one (unlocked) and untouched roll in stock. 

Frequently, I oppose the picture of the waiting line in front of the drug store to the paper stock at public facilities in my head; it makes me strangely happy, and incredibly grateful.

Only for this, I will gladly stand in line.  

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