Remote (to) control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surveillance monitor on the platform of Yamanote Line, 07:37am, Ebisu, Tōkyō 2020/04/17 © Louise Claire Wagner

Unravel the Enigma

Phase 1

Journey extended, how to repack ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After serving as the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2020 Games, HARUMI FLAG shall become a new residential zone. In line with plans developed by the Tōkyō metropolitan Government (TMG), two 50-storey towers (of about 180m height) will subsequently be added to the condominium. By 2024, HARUMI FLAG should count 21 residential 14-18 floors block-type buildings and two residential 50-storey towers proposing all together 5,632 units. 4,145 thereof shall be for sale (with prices starting from about 54 million yen, USD 500,000) and 1,487, including senior housing and shared housing, for rent. Some first sales of the apartments were launched from July 26 to August 4, 2019, and 893 out of 940 units already found purchasers. The second round of sales was supposed to start in the end of March 2020, though it got rescheduled until after June this year. According to a notice published on March 30, 2020 on the website of HARUMI FLAG, due to the announcement of the postponement of the Games, pavilion tours have been suspended and there may be the possibility that the content of guidance will be changed.

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing, Tōkyō 12/04/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

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

Omega Watch at Tōkyō Station, 122 days 0 hours, 30 minutes and 32 seconds until the opening ceremony. 24/03/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

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.  

Instead of buying the double, I decided to split it in half. My last roll of toilet paper. 22/03/2020  © Louise Claire Wagner

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.

À travers une fleur 01/03/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

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.

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