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.

Reflection, Japan National Stadium, Sendagaya, Tōkyō 2020/04/25 © Louise Claire Wagner

Reflection, Japan National Stadium, Sendagaya, Tōkyō 2020/04/25 © Louise Claire Wagner

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