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

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