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.  

Tomorrow’s Past. A Travel in Time

This week was particularly full of creativity and interaction with human beings. Therefore, I gave priority to the present; and work on the past of the future. 

Some visual content shall be shown within soon. 

The language of flowers: a trilingual essay about communication


The following essay is a rather personal attempt that may come over as cumbersome. I tried to formulate it in a way that supporting programmes such as our dear best friend Google-sensei can be of support. Though, and as regularly experienced, it can only translate rough parts and may not transmit all formulations and particularities of each language, let alone emotions. Apologise for any inconvenience; please enjoy reading as you feel. 

In an era of globalisation, English language ability has, especially in so-called developed countries, become almost indispensable. Staying in Japan and researching about the quite international phenomenon the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I oftentimes get confronted to the fact that English though is to many of us a foreign language and that its maîtrise is not always evident. 

Parfois, quand je regarde le ciel, quand les premiers cerisiers commencent à fleurir ou quand une personne dans la rue m’adresse un doux sourire, c’est en français que je pense elle peut être belle, la vie

Par rapport à Paris, où j’ai appris d’avoir de la répartie, les conversations spontanées sont relativement rares à Tōkyō et l’interaction humaine, de manière générale, très subtile. Ainsi, quand mon en face fait signe de reconnaissance (cela, hélas, arrive à mon ravissement assez souvent), je réponds seulement d’un sourire muet. Dans certains cas, curieusement souvent à des moments d’admiration partagée de flore ou de faune, unきれいですね m’est adressé. 

D’un coup, ma pensée dérive en d’autres langues et un I wished life would always be like this, ou dies ist die beste, aller Welten, passa par ma tête.

Dann wende ich mich ab von meinem überschwänglichen Optimismus und meinem naiven Gedankengut und sage mir, daß ich mehr an meinen Sprachkenntnissen arbeiten sollte; dies sind doch keine Zustände, um seriös zu forschen. Naja, ich kehre dann erstmal zurück in mein kleines Paradies, setze Kaffee auf und schreibe das tägliche Kanji in mein Notizheft. Eine Lernmethode, welche zwar kurzfristig nicht viel an meinen Kompetenzen ändert, sich auf die Dauer jedoch als effizient und spaßig erwiesen hat. 

The kanji book I am currently using is rather old, and the fact that it has an uncommon order to teach ideograms makes it for me quite unique. Though, the translations are from Japanese into French. When at some point I had to look up a kanji’s French meaning in German, I cruelly got reminded that I still do not understand some (even basic) French words. 

En effet, alors que j’ai appris durant les 7 ans que j’ai habité à Paris à me sentir plutôt à l’aise en langue française ; à la parler, la lire, l’écrire ; non moins à la sentir et vivre, le quotidien me confronte bien souvent à des termes dont le sens m’échappe. Il y a quelques ans, un ami m’a donné le conseil d’apprendre le japonais à partir de ma langue maternelle ; un conseil que je n’ai, faute de cours et de manuels en allemand (et suisse-allemand), pas suivi.  

Weder Fisch noch Vogel, so in etwa fühl‘ ich mich manchmal. Irgendwo in einem Zwischenraum; in einem Zwischendrin. Von Sprachen und Kulturen, etwas überall, und dennoch nirgends. Immer wieder werde ich gefragt, wo denn mein zuHause sei; in der Schweiz, - Basel ? Paris, oder gar Tōkyō ? 

When I went to Europe last summer, not only the very different form of noise, but also all the information my brain had to absorb was overwhelming and overpassed my capacity. I realised at what point I was used in my Japanese daily life to constantly not understand parts of what is said or written. 

Quand je participai à des conférences et visites autour des Jeux Olympiques et Paralympiques de Paris 2024 en France, je me rendis compte à quel point il est agréable de comprendre pratiquement l’ensemble du contenu. Hélas, justement trop me semblai dit, partout, et tout le temps. Je m’imaginai comment il était de saisir le sens de tout ce qui m’est transmis en japonais. Un rêve ou bien un cauchemar, une abondance d’informations, de données, de savoir à comprendre, voire retenir. 

Ich war schon immer eher realistischer Natur, und hatte früh gelehrt bekommen daß jede ihres Glückes Schmiedin ist. Seit dem Beginn meines Projektes in Japan war ich mir der potentiellen Sprachbarriere bewußt, und der Schwierigkeit, sie jemals zu überwinden. Dennoch war meine Devise stets 10% ist beßer als nichts - was zur sturen Teilnahme an Seminaren, Anlässen und Treffen auf Japanisch geführt hat.

Sometimes, I pick up most parts of what is said. Then suddenly, I do barely understand one single word. When recently, I was asked how many percent I was able to understand at the attended presentation, I half ashamed, half proud answered 三十四十パーセント。Laughed, and added step by step, 頑張ります!

The constant play with different languages may sometimes take time and energies. However, it teaches me about subtle differences in communication and cultures, yet not lessit helps me to develop imagination and skills in figuring what each individual intends to express. 

The other day, when I was strolling around my neighbourhood, sensing the city’s sounds and smells, a flower suddenly caught my attention. I picked it up, and discovered that I could see through, if I removed its middle part. When I then placed the lens of my camera behind it, using the flower as a natural filter, I was astonished: in German, the expression etwas durch die Blume sagen, means to say something in a roundabout way. Although the origin of the idiom has clearly emerged from an other approach, I could not help but be incredibly pleased by the material analogy. 

Au Japon, les confrontations directes sont rares, et les conversations entre les individus particulièrement codées. Similairement, ceci s’applique au rapport avec l’espace vécu ; arracher une feuille d’un buisson, ou jeter des ordures parterre ne serait, comme hurler à un inconnu, non seulement irrespectueux, mais paraîtrait même absurde. 

Letzte Woche war hier frühlingshaftes Wetter. Wenn auch etwas besorgt wegen des vergangenen, sehr milden und kurzen Winters, war ich entzückt über das Nahen der neuen Saison.

When I was looking at the blooming surroundings, an old lady passed by and smiled at me.  She said これは水仙です。The flower she pointed out reminded me of childhood, of my grandparents’ gardens, of spring, as well as of chocolate bunnies. Later, I looked up the direct translation and the corresponding kanjis. 

Durch die Blume wurde mir gesagt, Osterglocken seien’s gewesen.

The children of today are the adults of tomorrow

The ideology of Olympism has always been strongly connected with education and the concerns of the founder of the modern era Olympiad, Pierre de Coubertin, led him to identify the Games as a tool to overcome the problems of his time. 

In 1922, Coubertin referred in his book Pédagogie Sportive to the concept of teaching human values through sports. Although he didn’t use the term “Olympic Education”, he expressed his preoccupations and the need to include Olympic thoughts in educational systems. Hence, he wrote the essay L’Olympisme à l’école. Il faut l’encourager ! that was published in 1934. 

Although Olympic values had already been taught in prior contexts, the term “Olympic Education” officially appeared in research only in the 1970’s and the first actual programme was implemented in German elementary schools on the occasion of the 1972 Munich Games. This example was followed by the Organising Committee of Montreal 1976; during three consecutive years (1973—1976) the programme “Promoting Olympism in the school environment” was held across the province of Quebec. The objectives of this programme were to promote understanding of the Olympic Movement and its impact on modern society. It was considered as a norm-setting for the time and subsequently contributed to the development of Olympic education on an international scale. 

Today, in many countries around the world, Olympic education programmes are being implemented, particularly when staging the Games. The host country and city is responsible for the development of the nationwide Olympic and Paralympic Education (OPE) which’s execution period varies from a few weeks to more than ten years, with an average length of one to five years. Although “learning processes” include a broad range of educational opportunities, programmes are mostly carried out through kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, and schools for children with special needs. 

As of May 2018, Tōkyō counted 2,323 public schools and 978,549 kindergarten and school students. The Olympic Education Programme got continuously improved throughout a period of five years from the academic year 2016 to 2020 (starting in Japan in April). It is provided in all public schools of the capital and the following five key values are being aspired: volunteer spirit, understanding of people with impairments, healthiness through sports, self-awareness and pride as Japanese citizens, and rich international mindset.

Herewith, Tōkyō aims to lay a legacy in both, children’s minds and bodies. As globalisation is progressing in various fields such as academics, culture and economy, the Japanese capital is conscious about the need to develop towards the future, and the necessity to realise an inclusive society in which different cultures and values are socially accepted. Children shall therefore be encouraged to acquire international senses such as foreign language ability (notably English), to cooperate with people coming from various cultural horizons, learn about existing differences in values and have an open mentality.

As the gap between the desirable image of children living in the coming era and reality is considered being one of the major challenges for education in Japan, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Board of Education sees the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics as an opportunity for shaping the lives of the younger generations. 

Four action programmes have been developed in the run-up to the Games: Tōkyō Youth Volunteers, Smile Project, Dream and Future Project and Global Friendship Project. Though initiatives are in each institution of the capital somehow integrated, their execution depends on the Ward, the school, and especially the available budget. 

In April 2019, the Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen opened in Tōkyō’s Kōtō Ward. This school comprises elementary and middle school, which is rather uncommon, as the both of them are usually separated in Japan. Ariake Nishi Gakuen counted 802 students in 26 classes, from Grade 1 to 9 in September of Reiwa 1 (2019). Thereof, 700 students (21 classes) were in Grade 1 to 6, and 102 (5 classes) in Grade 7 to 9. Given that the school is surrounded by several Tōkyō 2020 Bay Zone Venues, specifically the new Ariake Arena, the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, the Ariake Urban Sports Park and the Ariake Tennis Park, its students may particularly sense the impact of the Games. 

When Friday, February 28, 2020, I visited Ariake Nishi Gakuen, I was surprised, not only about the modernity and the standard of the facility, but also about the vibrant atmosphere and the remarkable good English language ability of the students and their enthusiasm to prove skills by conversating with me. However, the context was exceptional, as the previous day the imminent closure of the school was announced.

In Japan, this year’s Spring Break was scheduled from the end of March to early April. However, due to the growing fear over the COVID-19 virus, most public schools nationwide close their doors from tomorrow, Monday, March 2, 2020. This decision caused confusion for parents, students and teachers and thwarted many people’s plans, including mine of regularly visiting the school this month. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that this first visit will not have been my last, and that I can soon continue to follow the Olympic Educational Programme close-by; find out about students’ feelings towards the Games and their perception of the city they live in. 


I am flattered for having frequently been asked about my opinion regarding a potential cancellation of the Tōkyō 2020 Games. However, clairvoyance does not count amongst my competences and I can therefore merely emphasise that, in history, only three, respectively five Olympiads have been cancelled: one in 1916 because of World War I, and as the summer and winter event was held the same year from 1924 to 1992, two in 1940 and two in 1944, due to World War II. 

Through a classroom’s window, Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen 28/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

1F, inside Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen 28/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Lunch plan (the month’s “Olympic & Paralympic meal” was Colombian “Arroz con pollo” & “Ajiaco”) 28/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

English Room, Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen 28/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Olympic & Paralympic Room, Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen 28/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

In the library, Olympic & Paralympic literature, Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen 28/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Last English class before Spring Break, Municipal Ariake Nishi Gakuen 28/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Look ahead, far and wide

Only 5 months and one day to go until the opening of the Tōkyō 2020 Olympics !

Living in a host city during the preparation of the Games can provoke curiosity and excitement about what the remaining months may bring and how the event period will be. However, it can also be frightening to feel how fast time passes and to imagine how soon it all will come to an end. 

The Tōkyō 2020 Olympics count 42 and the Paralympics 21 venues that are (mainly) located in the city and the surrounding prefectures, though for exceptional cases also in other regions of the archipelago. Given the capital’s geographical extension, the competitions will be held far from certain parts of the city and as their visibility is not evident, the Games could, theoretically, for some inhabitants pass almost unnoticed. 

On May 16, 2019, the Olympic rings were launched in front of the newly built Japan Sport Olympic Square, next to the National Stadium in Tōkyō’s Shinjuku Ward. Shortly after, in summer 2019, a second exemplary of the rings was displayed on Nihonbashi Bridge in Chūō Ward. Some months later, 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. The museum, operated by the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC), features exhibitions about the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and includes an interactive section. Outside the edifice, visitors can see the Olympic cauldrons from Tōkyō 1964, Sapporo 1972 and Nagano 1998 as well as statues of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Games of the modern era, and Kanō Jigorō, educator and athlete, inventor of Judo (premier Japanese martial art to gain international recognition and to become an official Olympic sport at the Tōkyō 1964 Games) and first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

On January 17, 2020, giant Olympic rings were brought to Odaiba Marine Park (Minato-ku), and celebrated with an inauguration ceremony on January 24, 6 months before the opening of the Games. 

Official fan shops and flagship stores sell Olympic goodies, and diverse branded articles are findable in supermarkets and konbinis. Notably since the One Year To Go the range of items has permanently increased and sponsors especially in the food industry make sure to have Olympic and Paralympic signs on every imaginable product. Chocolate and other sweets packages, beverages, dairy products and even soy sauces feature the emblems and slowly but steadily raise the visibility of the Games in daily life. Japan has a particular proclivity to seasonal products and special editions. Thus, I oftentimes get amused to discover the latest Olympics’ versions. For example, the One Year To Go Asahi beer cans started to be sold from July 2019, before getting a new look for the 200 Days To Go, and recently being transformed into the GOLD LABEL GO for 2020. 

The labelled products are only one of many elements contributing to the outspread of the Games; step by step, public and private buildings are decorated with posters showing the emblems and the mascots. About three weeks ago, the Ward of Shinjuku started to exhibit kids’ Olympics and Paralympics drawings on columns along Shinjuku-Dori Ave, and since last week, TŌKYŌ 2020 flags have been suspended on street lights all over the city. 

Up to present, one may rather have had to seek for signs of the event. However, this has gradually changed, and evidence has become, to the pleasure of some, and to the regret of others, omnipresent. 

As much as the approach of the Games is undeniable and unstoppable, as much inevitable has their confrontation henceforth become to the capital’s inhabitants. 

The new mission of the mascots Miraitowa and Someity is to spread the Tōkyō 2020 spirit over the world. Therefore, a departure ceremony was hosted at Haneda Airport last Wednesday, February 19. Their journey will notably lead to Barcelona, Paris, Bonn, Athens, London and Lausanne…

A permanent race against the clock

I remember well, when some years ago, I discovered the big Omega watch showing the time to go until the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games at the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) building. The digits were somewhere above 800 and seemed to me quite irrelevant. Back then, I counted the years or months, rather than the days, minutes and seconds.

When shortly after, I asked in an interview with a member of the Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee about the main challenge faced in the preparation of the Games, the answer came fast, was short and sincere: there is no time, for anything. The Olympics is a permanent race against the clock. 

On 7 September 2013, after a bidding period of around two years, Tōkyō was chosen to host the XXXII Olympiad. The TMG established the 2020 Olympic Games Preparation Council, chaired by the Governor of Tōkyō on September 11, 2013 (at that moment and roughly two months before his resignation, Inose Naoki), in order to fully engage in efforts to host the Games. The Japanese capital had then about 5 months to create the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG), an organisation that is responsible for ensuring the successful delivery of the event. 

On January 1, 2014, the Bureau of Sports was reorganised into the Bureau of Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games Preparation in order to advance outlines for the Games and to promote Tōkyō’s sports policies. 

On January 24, 2014, the TMG and the Japanese Olympic and Paralympic Committee (JOC), entrusted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), established the TOCOG. With former Prime Minister of Japan Mori Yoshirō as its President, this Committee is composed of members from various organisations including the JOC, the TMG and the national government. Over the years, its number of employees has increased from roughly 30 to over 2.500 last summer and may rise to around 4.000 until July. Including temporary jobs that will be executed only over a short period (during the Games), the TOCOG is expected to count around 6.0008.000 people at its peak. Main parts of the office got shifted from Toranomon Hills and are now located in Harumi, next to the Athletes Village. Except the temporary jobs, many TOCOG positions run on one-year contracts that have up to present been renewed every year independently. In autumn 2020, after the Tōkyō Paralympic Games, most of them come to termination and will presumably not be extended.  

Whether it comes to employment, the development of facilities or societal matters, the Olympics and Paralympics stipulate a clear and restricted timeframe and are under no circumstance postponed. In history, only three, respectively five Olympiads have been cancelled: one in 1916 because of World War I, and as the summer and winter event was held the same year from 1924 to 1992, two in 1940 and two in 1944, due to World War II. 

Although its maintenance has repeatedly been doubted, and concerns or rumours have been expressed, the past has proved that it is very unlikely for the Games to be cancelled.

Up to now, Tōkyō showed its readiness with delivering venues on time, despite incidents such as the scrap of the initial design of the National Stadium or contaminated findings in the ground that delayed the construction of the Tōkyō Aquatics Centre. The venues are certainly the core and most symbolic element of host cities’ preparation for the Games. However, it includes various other aspects like providing enough accommodation for visitors, developing diverse infrastructure such as the implementation of a reliable transportation-, communication- and security system, and accessibility for people with impairments. Given that these initiatives require additional work force, labour costs in and around the Japanese capital have remarkably increased notably in the construction industry. Social initiatives such as the recruitment of volunteers, English trainings for adults and educational programmes in schools were meticulously elaborated and illustrate Tōkyō’s awareness and investment. However, reality so often shows that in the organisation of an event, not every situation is predictable, let alone avoidable. 

By living in Tōkyō over the past months, I did not only get to experience the large – and small-scale changes of the city, but also to observe the diverse obstacles that have been interfering with organiser’s intentions. In order to host a successful Games, the Japanese capital seems to repeatedly put all possible efforts (and means) into the adaption of plans. 

Summer heat or the possible occurrence of typhoons and earthquakes during the event were part of the risk when choosing Tōkyō to be a host, though other factors such as the recently appeared (and highly mediatised) COVID-19, so-called Coronavirus, could have hardly been presaged and put a supplementary burden on organisers’ shoulders. 

The closer the Games are, the more Olympic and Paralympic host cities get moved into the spotlight; the more rumours are spread, and the more concerns and critics expressed. Although the 2020 Olympics are less than 6 months ahead, I do believe that whether or not the sanitary situation will be stabilised, Tōkyō will find ways to carry out the Games as planned. Notwithstanding, it may be questioned what the sacrifices will be, and what cost measures will come at.

The paradox between the need to plan years ahead, yet to deal with abrupt, unexpectable (and uncontrollable) happenings is far from being proper to the Japanese context. Nonetheless, Tōkyō 2020 illustrates the diversity of reasons which can come across in the organisation of the Games and the coercion to solve problems within a specific timeframe.

The above-mentioned Omega watch is now displayed in various places of the city, with steadily and rapidly decreasing digits. Though mainly installed in the aim to stimulate the population’s enthusiasm for the Games, they curiously remind me of a moving pendulum or a ticking time bomb; showing the inevitable approach of the event and the permanent race against the clock. 

Slowly, I realise that although the end of the Games certainly will mark a closure, it is rather a beginning; - of a long journey for Tōkyō to start once the flame is blown out.

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


Last Sunday, February 2, a Tōkyō 2020 New Permanent Venue was inaugurated. Ariake Arena (有明アリーナ), located in Kōtō-ku’s Ariake 1-Chōme district, was built on a lot of approximatively 36,576m2. The facility counts five floors above ground, is 37 metres high and has with a total surface of about 47,200m2 a maximum seating capacity of 15’000, including temporary seating. 

It comprises a Main Arena and a Sub Arena and will host the Olympic Volleyball tournaments over a period of 16 days with the women’s final on August 9, the last day of the 2020 Olympics, followed by the Paralympic Wheelchair Basketball tournaments from August 27 to September 6, day of the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games. 

The building structure and the Main Arena’s surface are made by concrete. Large parts of the ceiling and walls, covering about 800m2 are made of timber and a temporary wooden floor will be set up during the Games. The Sub Arena, reaching over two storeys (Japanese 1F & 2F) has a permanent wooden floor and will serve as a preparation- and training space for the athletes. 

Ariake Arena, owned by the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG), was built from March 3, 2016 to December 9, 2019 with a budget of around 37 billion yen, or USD 336 million (as of January 2019). The design and construction were realised by Takenaka Corporation (main operator), Toko Electrical Construction Co. Ltd., Asahi Kogyosha Co. Ltd. and Takasago Thermal Engineering Co. Ltd. 

The arena has particular characteristics such as a concave roof and an exterior that slopes at a 12-degree angle to allow progressively larger surface on the upper floors while offering more deck space outside, and around 30 species of plants that green the south side wall. The venue follows the so-called barrier-free standards, easily accessible to all, including the elderly, people with impairments and parents with young children. It has universally-designed toilets and wheelchair-accessible seats with enough height difference between the rows of seating to ensure that everyone should, theoretically, see clearly. To the contrary, it is striking that most of the regular permanent seats are rather adapted to bodies restrained in both height and volume, and do not leave much space for storage.  

Considered being one of Tōkyō 2020’s potential lasting legacy, Ariake Arena shall after the Games become a new centre for sports and culture, hosting national and international tournaments as well as concerts and various cultural events. As a matter of fact, it will be the first arena in Japan to be operated as a concession. Under the Act on Promotion of Private Finance Initiative (PFI), this scheme allows the public body to grant concession rights to private agents who operate facilities and collect service fees from users. In this purpose, the TŌKYŌ ARIAKE ARENA INC., a Special Purpose Company (SPC) was established through the investments of Dentsu Inc. (representative firm), NTT Docomo, Nippon Kanzai Co. Ltd., Amuse Inc., Live Nation Japan, Dentsu Live Inc., Asics Japan and the cooperative firms (that do not involve any investments towards the SPC), NTT Facilities, XROSS SPORTS MARKETING INC., and Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc. The compensation for the right to operate public facilities is approximatively yen 9.4 billion (USD 86 million) including tax. 50% of the profit after this compensation and before income tax will be paid to the TMG.

Within a period of three months after the Games, several temporary equipment installed by Tōkyō 2020 will be removed and parking lots will be developed. The following five months, parks will be created, and the outside of the arena will get reshaped. In June 2021, the venue shall be handed over to the facility operator, who will then launch additional (interior) construction investments such as setting up restaurants, cafés and large screens. Ariake Arena shall finally be opened to the public in August 2021. The concession period is scheduled from Reiwa 3 (2021) to Reiwa 28 (2046) and will therefore run on a 25-year contract. Subsequently, the concession may either be extended, or a new contract with another operator may be established. 

On the occasion of the Ariake Arena’s opening, officials, media and some 3’000 prior registered spectators gathered together. Entering this brand-new facility may for many (whether or not they are architecture interested, sports fan or Games supporting) have provoked an unusual feeling of excitement. Indeed, there is something about setting foot in a vast new space, about smelling fresh wood, (concrete and paint). There is also a feeling of being part of the first who get to see what has been hidden behind construction walls and fences, as only a fifth of the Olympics expected audience number.

The inauguration was held in a rather small format yet was not lacking solemnity. Tōkyō Governor Koike Yuriko’s and Kōtō-ku mayor Yamazaki Takaaki’s speeches were followed by a time-lapse video of the arena’s construction, the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, and performances of the Japan’s female national volleyball team and the male wheelchair basketball team. The traditional shishi-mai lion dance, the ostentatious background music and the final mini-concert of J-Pop band AKB48, not only served to test the arena’s sound system (and the security’s communication), but also reminded of the permanently highlighted correlation of Japan’s tradition and modernity in the promotion of the Games. The careful explanations about the stadium and the quietly held tour proved once again the country’s awareness and sense of hospitality. 

It is to mention that this may have been one of the only times before the Games that general public got the opportunity to access the venue, as Tōkyō 2020 will conduct construction works of temporary infrastructure and hold several test events in the upcoming months. 

Together with other facilities, Ariake Arena is seen as an important element contributing to the urban development of the surrounding area. The nearby Tōkyō Aquatics Centre, last 2020 New Permanent Venue under construction, shall be delivered this month and inaugurated in March 2020.

The outside of Ariake Arena 02/02/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Ariake Arena, Main Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Wood meets concrete, Ariake Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Ariake Arena, Main Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Ariake Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Ariake Arena, Sub Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Barrier-free washrooms, Ariake Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Ariake Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

Ariake Arena, sketch of location

The outside of Ariake Arena 02/02/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

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


Out of the 14 Tōkyō 2020 Bay Zone Venues, 10 are located in Kōtō Ward:                                                                                              Ariake Arena, Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Ariake Urban Sports Park, Ariake Tennis Park, Sea Forest Cross-Country Course, Sea Forest Waterway, Yumenoshima Park Archery Field, Tōkyō Aquatics Centre, Tatsumi Water Polo Centre and Aomi Urban Sports Park. Whilst 12 disciplines will be carried out in the above 10 venues during the Olympic Games, 7 of them will host 8 disciplines at the Paralympics. 

江東区 (Kōtō-ku) is one of Tōkyō Metropolis’ 23 special wards, founded on March 15, 1947 by the fusion of Fukagawa and Jōtō.  江東区, a composite of 江 (river / gulf), 東 (east) and 区 (ward) can be translated by “East River Ward”. Located in the capital’s south-east, Kōtō-ku is surrounded by Sumida River and Arakawa River. It comprises a traditional northern - and a relatively new and modern southern part in the coastal area. The ward counts 518’479 residents and its surface is around 40.16 km2. Its elevation is very low, attending 3-5 metres to below sea level in some areas. From Showa year 50 (1975) to Heisei 31 (2019), its population has raised from 350’437 inhabitants to 518’479 as of January each year; respectively from 346’841 to 518’479, as until July 9, 2012, non-Japanese residents were not included in the same calculations. Indeed, in February 2009, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced the revision of the Basic Resident Register Law and abolished the Alien Registration. As from entering into force, the new law prescribed that both, residents with Japanese and non-Japanese citizenship are to be recorded in one unified system.

The ward’s demographic evolution correlates not only with Tōkyō’s global tendency, but also with the ambition to extend the city to its waterfront. In the 1980s there were already attempts to develop the artificial islands in the bay, though the result was rather inefficient, leading to the under-utilisation of facilities and emptiness of urban space. 

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are seen as an opportunity to animate street life through the implementation of facilities and the organisation of various event-related activities.Thus, four of the Tōkyō 2020 sites in Kōtō-ku are New Permanent Venues: The Ariake Arena, with a seating capacity of 15’000 spectators, will after the Games’ Volleyball and Wheelchair Basketball competitions be used for hosting national and international sports tournaments as well as cultural events. The Tōkyō Aquatics Centre, in construction since 2017, will give seat to 15’000 people. It will subsequently hold major domestic and international water sports competitions. The Yumenoshima Park Archery Field, also called Dream Island Archery Field shall be used for a wide range of activities after the Games. The Sea Forest Waterway may welcome around 12’800 to 16’000 spectators at the Olympics and is meant to become one of the premier locations in Asia for water sports, hosting international rowing and canoe competitions. The four venues are under the responsibility of the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG). Two of them, the Yumenoshima Park Archery Field and the Sea Forest Waterway have been delivered in spring 2019. The Ariake Arena has been completed in December 2019 and is being inaugurated today, February 2, 2020. The Tōkyō Aquatics Centre should be finished this month, with an official opening date scheduled in March 2020. 

Whereas two of the other six venues located in Kōtō-ku, Ariake Tennis Park and Tatsumi Water Polo Centre have been preexisting, the remaining four are so-called temporary venues that only serve during the Games. Nevertheless, the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, although being a temporary site, has a scheduled 10 years post-Games lifespan. Due to high expected maintenance costs, the venue shall following be reconverted into a multi-purpose arena. 

Various initiatives are undertaken in the run-up to the Games and so, the Kōtō Ward Olympic and Paralympic Games Preparation Plan and the Kōtō Ward Olympic and Paralympic Community Development Basic Plan have been established in cooperation with the TMG. Furthermore, the ward has launched an Olympic and Paralympic Education Promotion Project targeting municipal kindergartens, elementary schools and junior high schools; Cultural Basic Guidelines have been formulated and a Ward PR strategy has been developed. Events such as elementary school flag relays, sports festivals for disabled and art exhibitions have taken place and many more are scheduled for the upcoming months. The ambition to ban utility poles around venues and to reduce the number of “Traditional Japanese Toilets” (a form of squat toilet that is a big contrast to the nowadays internationally known hyper-modern Japanese toilets) has furthermore been pronounced. 

Alike other parts of the capital, one of Kōtō-ku’s main preoccupation is currently the influx of people and probable traffic congestion, added by concerns about summer heat and the difficulty to access the Bay Zone’s outlying venues. 

In order to handle an expected unusual high number of people, a Revised Special Measures Act has been passed in order to reschedule some national holidays in year 2020. Therefore, Marine Day has been moved from July 20 to July 23, the day before the Olympics opening ceremony, Health and Sports Day (former memorial day that was until year 2000 on October 10 – day of the Tōkyō 1964 opening ceremony) has been shifted from October to July 24, the day of the this years’ opening ceremony, and Mountain Day will be a day early, on August 10, the day after the Olympics closing ceremony. Together with the TMG, the Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee has formulated a Transportation Operation Plan that assigns routes and train stops in involved wards to people depending on roles and positions. 

In addition to the 80’000 Games and 30’000 City Volunteers, Kōtō-ku has launched a Ward Volunteer Programme on April 22, 2019 and counts currently about 1’000 registered individuals. These volunteers are to give directions at major stations, sightseeing spots, help with cleaning activities, assure safety and security and give operational support for tournament-related events. 

On July 22, the Olympic torch will arrive in Kōtō Ward, before moving to Ōta Ward and Shinagawa Ward, then being handled to Meguro Ward, Shibuya Ward and Minato Ward on July 23 and reach its final destination, Shinjuku Ward on July 24. On the occasion of the torch relay, various festivities are foreseen and school children will accompany the ceremony with concerts in situ. Except the day of the opening and the closing ceremony, the Olympic torch will not be figuring at the National Stadium, but will be placed in the Tōkyō Bay Zone, on the Olympic Promenade near the Tōkyō Big Sight. Amongst many decisions that are to be taken until this summer, counts the precise location of the torch that will depend on its (for the ward still uncertain) size and shape. Although it may be placed just next to Minato-ku, at the boarder of two wards, it is for sure that the flame will be burning on Kōtō-ku’s territory. 

This report, a rather brief introduction, shall be followed by several detailed chapters about changes and challenges that the ward progressively faces in future. 

Sketch: Kōtō-ku’s location within Tōkyō Metropolis

Sketch: Kōtō-ku’s location within Tōkyō Metropolis

Sketch: Olympic and Paralympic Venues in Kōtō-ku

Tōkyō Bay Area 1919, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 1947, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 1978, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 1999, scan of copy, NDL

Tōkyō Bay Area 2019, scan of copy, NDL

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