From Island to Island

Anything and other than expected


Inside a Pond {1, 2, 3 & Hiatus}

On the Edge {1, 2, 3 & Hiatus}

Upon the Sea of Japan {1, 2, 3 & Hiatus}

Along Rice Fields {1, 2, 3 & Hiatus}

Turn Back {1, 2, 3 & Leave behind}

Succession_Big World outside {like your last day under the sun}

                                                                                                                                                                                             | Japan | June 2020 |

{Caption, June 2020}

When I close my eyes, I can feel the light.  

I can hear the sounds, gently fading. 

Softly falling, then entrusting. 

Whiteness behind. The sky, beyond.

What remains, is peaceful silence.

Unravel the Enigma

Frozen. Personal word about the thawing process

Tōkyō, Monday June 8, 2020, 4:24 a.m. Sunrise and birdsong. A smooth breeze. Light, softly entering the room. Awakening in my cherished Paradise.

Early morning hours during summer season have inspired me since the first time I visited Japan. The forthright sunshine, the glow in the air. The relatively decent temperatures prior to an intensely hot and humid day. The peaceful atmosphere when Tōkyō Metropolis slowly gets up. Like a child that impatiently awaits Christmas, I removed my curtains a while ago, enthusiastic to daily experience the sunrise. The plan was to smoothly be woken up by the natural light, whilst slumberously continue to vague in my dreams. However, my thoughts and preoccupations soon inhibited this idyllic picture.

Unpredictability does in general not make me feel particularly uncomfortable (in some curious way, Japan’s frequent earthquakes are for me an honest reminder that many phenomena are out of human control) and putting to sea without knowing the destination makes me rather inspired than worried. Nevertheless, just as assumingly for every individual, there is ebb and flow. There can be storms and waves, doubts and hesitations, and I can not deny that the postponement of the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games eventually made the boat sway. Since the announcement in the end of last March, I occasionally feel like one of the Tōkyō 2020 flags or posters that hang around the city. Then again, like one of the lonesome festival tents at the Ariake Urban Sports Park. Remaining here, calmly awaiting. For all the involved, the common mission and aimed peak in summer has been removed from this year’s agenda, and one’s tolerance of ambiguity seems to constantly be put to the proof. Contradictory to the rapidly increasing temperatures, it felt as if in spring everything was suddenly frozen.

When these days I observe myself continuing my work or sharing my writings, I unwittingly recall the situation of the (in one of my recent reports described) customer who purchased articles at the Tōkyō 2020 fan shop inside BicCamera Akasaka-Mitsuke. Opposing our two pictures makes me smile about myself and think has she not realised yet that the Olympics are postponed, is she stubbornly holding on a research plan that assuredly has to be modified, or is she expecting a wonder to happen ?

At the time that the postponement of Tōkyō 2020 was announced, the question whether or not, and in which form I may continue my reports did naturally occur. Rather than about the topics, I was though mainly concerned if the audience may lose interest in their reading, e’en find them intrusive or incongruous. I was conscious that general interest in the Games as well as in my work may decrease in the aftermath of the decision, and the fact that indeed only few days after the announcement of the postponement an editor working for a foreign journal asked to be withdrawn from my mailing list was not very reassuring. Notwithstanding, Tōkyō and its facilities remain ready and organisers continue their work. From the beginning, my main motivation and intention for these reports was to share my modest knowledge, my experience and perception of Tōkyō and Japan with those who may appreciate and, most importantly, enjoy them. Therefore, I decided to continue this activity, albeit I have to accept that it goes along with inner questions and possible adaptions. The past months involved long reflection and talks with various people in Japan, as well as around the world, all of which turned out to be very constructive. 

Last Monday at the awake of the day, I was once again caught up with thoughts and concerns. When I realised that I would not get any further sleep, I pulled myself together and left to the Japan National Stadium, where slightly delusional, I ended up running five rounds. Then, by curiosity, I walked one, measured and calculated the covered distance. 

With an average time of seven to eight minutes per round, (probably to the disappointment of some appreciated researcher colleagues), one thing seems certain: even if I continue my runs around the stadium, I will definitely not be accepted in any athletics team for Tōkyō 2020.

Dornröschenschlaf. Slowly Awaking, Tōkyō 10/06/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Tomorrow’s Past. A Travel in Time

Some months ago, I was introduced to 8X10 format photography and got proposed to join a darkroom in Tōkyō.

After all these years, I had almost forgotten about the smell of the chemicals, the feeling of being in a comfortable and very particular kind of shelter, where I lose track of time, and seem far away from what is happening in the world. 

The fascination of seeing an image, slowly appear…

I missed it.

From the sessions in my hometown to the ones in Japan; the smell has not changed, neither have the related feelings. 

This week, I wish to share some cyanotypes made following an 8X10 shooting along Tōkyō’s waterfront area. 

Without the received support, long ago as well as today, my artistic expression would surely not be the same. My sincere gratitude goes to the persons who hopefully recognise themselves in these lines.

Tomorrow’s Past.  A Travel in Time, 8X10 to cyanotype © Louise Claire Wagner

Tomorrow’s Past.  A Travel in Time, 8X10 to cyanotype © Louise Claire Wagner

Tomorrow’s Past.  A Travel in Time, 8X10 to cyanotype © Louise Claire Wagner

Tomorrow’s Past.  A Travel in Time, 8X10 to cyanotype © Louise Claire Wagner

Turn back to the past, face the future: Kōtō-ku and the development of the coastal area


Located at 7, 1-Chōme in Kōtō-ku’s Ariake district, the Ariake Urban Sports Park is one of the Tōkyō 2020 temporary venues. During the Games, it shall host the Skateboarding as well as the Cycling BMX Freestyle and the Cycling BMX Racing competitions. The venue counts three stands, with seating capacities of 7,000 (Skateboarding), 6,600 (BMX Freestyle) and 5,000 (BMX Racing). Whereas BMX Racing is on the Olympic Programme since Beijing 2008, Skateboarding and BMX Freestyle will make their debut at Tōkyō 2020. The three have been provisionally approved for Paris 2024, though it was declared that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will make a final decision in December 2020 (/ some time after the initially expected closure of the Tōkyō Games).

Along with Baseball/Softball, Karate, Surfing and Sport Climbing, Skateboarding got in September 2015 on the shortlist of sports to potentially be included at Tōkyō 2020. In June 2016, the Executive Board of the IOC announced that it would support the proposal to add the shortlisted sports and finally, on August 3, 2016, all of them (including BMX Freestyle joint to BMX Racing) were approved for inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Programme. Skateboarding is divided into two disciplines, street and park, with both men’s and women’s competitions. BMX Freestyle, carried out in the park discipline, counts with presumably nine men and nine women riders (one of them being from host nation Japan) amongst Tōkyō 2020’s smallest competitions in terms of participating athletes. 

The Ariake Urban Sports Park is part of the Tōkyō 2020 named Tōkyō Waterfront City area, which shall during the Olympics offer a festive environment to a wide range of people. Tōkyō Waterfront City comprises seven Games venues, the Olympic Promenade where will be installed the cauldron, and two areas where Tōkyō 2020 partners can showcase their products and services. A Tōkyō 2020 megastore selling Tōkyō 2020 Official Licensed Products will also be located in the area. 

With the aim to go beyond the viewing of competitions and to involve spectators more actively at the same spot as the athletes, an Urban Festival shall take place at the Ariake Urban Sports Park and the close-by Ariake Gymnastics Centre, where gymnastics events (Olympics) and boccia competitions (Paralympics) will take place. Through this festival, visitors will get to experience urban sports and watch exhibition performances. Furthermore, adjacent to the Bay Zone Aomi Urban Sports Park, the so-called Playground will propose outdoor warm-up areas where individuals also without tickets can watch 3x3 Basketball players and Sport Climbing athletes getting ready and try themselves in climbing and other sports.

Under the label READY STEADYKYŌ, several test events were conducted since last year, including BMX Racing at Ariake Urban Sports Park. The originally scheduled date had been changed to Friday, October 11, due to typhoon Hagibis that hit the archipelago on October 12, 2019. 

This week, I went on a bicycle tour around some of the Tōkyō 2020 Bay Zone Venues, amongst others Ariake Urban Sports Park, which I had visited for the last time in the end of February. To my surprise, besides the prior accomplished tracks for the competitions, the three stands, as well as some containers and white festival tents had in the meantime been erected. When stopping at the fence in front of the ready, but empty venue, and old Sir in uniform approached. When I asked him about its progression and maintain, he disappeared and came back with a map of Tōkyō Waterfront City. He explained that these days there were not many people around, and said (in Japanese) well, we will see what happens with the Olympics. He didn’t seem particularly troubled by the postponement of the Games or concerned whether or not they would finally be held, but rather feeling responsible to pursue his mission and survey the area. When I thanked him and left, he waved at me, and returned to his position.

Somehow equanimous, serenely awaiting… It felt like the calm before the storm, which’s landfall may remain uncertain. 

The calm before the storm, Ariake Urban Sports Park, May 2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

{An extensive anthropological study about skateboarding and skateboarders in Tōkyō can be read (in French) in Julien Glauser’s very informative and captivating Tokyo-skate. Les paysages urbains du skateboard about which I wrote a recension that was published in Lectures anthropologiques about a year ago : http://lecturesanthropologiques.fr/lodel/lecturesanthropologiques/index.php?id=619}

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.

Lit a flame in the honour of the day. Tōkyō, May 23, 2020, 14 months before the foreseen Opening Ceremony of the XXXII Olympiad © Louise Claire Wagner

Unravel the Enigma

Phase 1 Step 2


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. 

Backslided a pin I was given years ago. Personal memorabilia  © Louise Claire Wagner

Those to remain

{Reflection upon humanity}

Pieces of Universe © Louise Claire Wagner

Brushstroke © Louise Claire Wagner

Link in the Chain © Louise Claire Wagner

Up, the Sky © Louise Claire Wagner

~~~~            ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~              ~~~~             ~~~~            ~~~~             ~~~~            ~~~~                                                                                                                       

Sometimes fading © Louise Claire Wagner

Then returning © Louise Claire Wagner

Questions about right turns © Louise Claire Wagner

Not always clear © Louise Claire Wagner

~~~~            ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~             ~~~~              ~~~~             ~~~~            ~~~~             ~~~~            ~~~~          

Still here © Louise Claire Wagner

Now there © Louise Claire Wagner

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.

From my balcony, JAL aircraft, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō 2020/04/29 © Louise Claire Wagner

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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