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

Heavy weight, high hopes and long traditions

Wrestling counts amongst the oldest forms of human physical exercises and appears in various cultures under different forms. First figures of wrestlers date about 4000 years back, and are visible on ancient Egyptian frescoes. In Greek Antiquity, the activity was particularly popular and an important component of the Olympiad. Centuries later, at the first Games of the modern era in 1896, wrestling with unified rules belonged again to the programme.  

Sumō, Japan’s national sport, is a form of wrestling or, more accurate, grappling. It is said to have originated in contests of strength between gods recorded in the ancient history Kojiki and is similar to the Korean Ssireum and the Mongolian Boke. However, it is distinguished through two main elements: the dohyō, a ring with 4.55 metres in diameter and mawashi, a belt. The ring is not only a circle surrounding the participants, but also a boundary, which’s overstepping results in a loss. Furthermore, it is a symbolic barrier, and women are strictly prohibited to enter. The belt is a source of leverage for the opponent, allowing to apply different throwing techniques. Both of the elements exist in similar forms in other types of wrestling, yet their combination makes the Japanese activity distinctive. Sumō is both a performance and sport and counts many rituals like purification with salt, hand gestures, ring entering ceremonies, bows and feet stomping, most of which find their origins in Shintōism. 

The governing body of professional sumō is the Japan Sumō Association. Since 1958, six honbasho (Grand Sumō Tournament) are held each year. Three in Tōkyō (January, May & September), one respectively in Ōsaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). The tournaments run for 15 days, beginning and ending on a Sunday. The rules of sumō as a sport are rather simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any other part of his body than the soles of his feet loses. Rikishi (professional wrestlers) are often rather young and have chosen to dedicate their lives since an early age. Each wrestler has one match per day and tournaments start in the morning with the jonokuchi (lowest rank), gradually proceeding to jonidansandanmemakushita, jūryō and makuuchi, category that includes the ōzeki (highest rank) who precede the final bout of the yokozuna (Grand Champion) at around 6pm.

Female sumō is practiced, albeit only accepted as an amateur activity. Notably with the documentary, “Little Miss Sumō,” published in 2018 and since autumn 2019 available on Netflix, the female activity recently receives the more and more attention.

There exists an abundant amount of literature about sumō, and I have hardly even a small knowledge of the activity, its history and its significance in Japanese culture. Naively, I primarily related wrestlers to rather flabby, huge bodies and heavy weight. However, attending for the first time a tournament made me conscious not only about competitors’ dexterity and flexibility but also about their physical and especially their mental strength. Sitting on my zabuton (Japanese cushion) in a traditional 4-people masu seki (box seat in a small square of tatami mat), sipping some tasty beer while chatting and watching wrestlers competing was for sure a very pleasant, yet also a highly instructive experience. 

The fight in-between two wrestlers begins with the so-called niramiai, a prolonged war of nerves in which the combatants size each other up. During this time, they have to maintain their concentration and try to read the opponent’s intent. Many sumō wrestlers and experts believe that one can break the other simply by staring him down at this point. Niramiai lasts often longer than the physical battle that is carried out over few seconds.

The Sumō Association officially recognises 70 moves that fall into four categories: throws, trips, bending and twisting. Almost all moves apply yotsu-zumō and tsukioshi-zumō. Yotsu-zumō entails the use of the mawashi belt to lift and throw an opponent out of the ring whereas tsukioshi-zumō involves pushing and thrusting. The longer a match lasts, the more important yotsu-zumō becomes. There are no weight restrictions or classes, which implies that significant physical disproportions can appear. So, on the fourth day of the 2020’s first tournament, the audience had to witness how the 168cm small and 98kg light Japanese wrestler Enhō Akira got carried away by 191cm tall and 178kg heavy Georgian Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi, whilst kicking his legs like a helpless child. The way how each wrestler uses his body is very different and shows the subtle balance in-between weight and speed. Although starting off well with an adroit move, once Enhō’s adversary succeeded to grab him by his belt, there was strictly nothing he could do. 

Olympic martial arts include boxing, karate, taekwondo, wrestling, jūdō and fencing that will all be figuring in Tōkyō 2020. Karate, which originated in Okinawa during the Ryūkū Dynasty period spread out throughout Japan during the 1920s and over the globe after World War II. Karate’s application to be part of the Olympic programme dates back to the 1970s. Though, it was only in 2016, after the Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee’s proposal for inclusion that it was approved as part of the Games, but it is not foreseen to be on the list for Paris 2024. 

During the 133rd International Olympic Committee session meeting held in Buenos Aires in October 2018, the International Sumō Federation (IFS) has been granted full recognition. The decision to be officially upgraded from provisional to full recognition was made as a result of significant progress made by IFS in its institutional development in addition to the promotion and progress of the sport of sumō. The Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF) lists sports that are recognised but not yet part of the Olympic programme. Although it is a first step in order to someday become part of the Games, numerous sports such as bandy, flying disc and netball have been recognised as Olympic sports without ever getting practiced at the event. Sumō had also been among the 26 sports to apply for inclusion on the Tōkyō 2020 programme, though without success. 

Regardless the non-inclusion at the home nation’s Games that may question sumō’s potential position within the Olympics, the sold out 11’098 capacity Ryōgoku Kokugikan arena last week left no doubt for me about the persistence of the archipelago’s long-lasting tradition in future.

I wish to express my deep gratitude for having been given the opportunity to make the above-mentioned experience. 

Sumō wrestlers forming a circle around the gyōji (referee) in the dohyō-iri (ring-entering ceremony) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Sumō wrestlers forming a circle around the gyōji (referee) in the dohyō-iri (ring-entering ceremony) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Sold out 11’098 capacity Ryōgoku Kokugikan arena 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Throwing salt, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (L) & Enhō Akira (R) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Getting prepared, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (L) & Enhō Akira (R) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Approaching each other, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (L) & Enhō Akira (R) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Grabbing the belt, Tochinoshin Tsuyoshi (R) & Enhō Akira (L) 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Carried away… 15/01/2020 © Louise Claire Wagner

Fly the flag to set sail

With the aim of bringing together competitors, team officials and other personnel in one place, the Bye-law to Rule 38 of the Olympic Charter prescribes that the Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (OCOG) shall provide an Olympic Village for a period determined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board. 

For the Tōkyō 1964 Games, it was Washington Heights, a United States Armed Forces housing complex located in Shibuya-ku next to Tange Kenzō’s famous Yoyogi National Gymnasium and annex that was chosen to house the Olympic athletes. Built in 1946, the complex accommodated families of the American military forces until 1964, by when all land had been returned to the Japanese government who also covered the full amount of relocation expenses for moving the former residents to Chōfu. The village counted 250 wooden country houses and 14 4-storey apartment buildings. With the exception of the Dutch Olympic team house, all houses of Washington Heights were demolished shortly after the Games, and a large park (Yoyogi Park) was created instead. 

In April 2016, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) started to work on a Type 1 Urban Redevelopment Project in the uninvested West Harumi 5-Chōme District in Chuō-ku. 

After serving as the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2020 Games, HARUMI FLAGdeveloped on a 44ha plot with a built area of approximately 18ha, is meant to become a new residential zone. The site is owned by the TMG though constructed by a group of private developers including Mitsui Fudosan Residential Co., Ltd., MITSUBISHI JISHO RESIDENCE CO., LTD., Nomura Real Estate Development Co., Ltd., Sumitomo Realty & Development Co., Ltd., SUMITOMO CORPORATION, Tokyu Land Corporation, Tokyo Tatemono Co., Ltd., NTT Urban Development Corporation, NIPPON STEEL KOWA REAL ESTATE CO., LTD., DAIWA HOUSE INDUSTRY CO., LTD. & Sumitomo Mitsui Construction Co., Ltd.

The Athletes Village will provide 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 beds during the Paralympics. Since the residences are built by the private sector, the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) will pay a rent during the reception of the competitors. 

In line with plans developed by the TMG, two 50-storey towers (of about 180m height) will be added to the condominium after 2020. 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. Furthermore, there will be one commercial building, nursing homes, day-care centres, schools and parks. The green area facing the sea should serve for various activities and help to encourage exchange in-between the about 12,000 new residents. HARUMI FLAG is divided into SUN VILLAGE, PARK VILLAGE, PORT VILLAGE and SEA VILLAGE and will include a central plaza, a public space with a diameter of about 100 metres created through a public-private partnership. There will be accessible, barrier-free routes on the site and the common hallways in the residential buildings will be approximatively 1.5 metres wide, which is more than typical Japanese condominium standards. 

For the purpose of creating an environmentally advanced city and leave a long-term legacy, hydrogen will be used as an energy source to generate electricity and as fuel for buses and cars. Water supply, sewerage and gas, but also electric wires (often placed above ground in Japan) are buried underground. Furthermore, heat-insulting pavement are used for roads as a measure against summer heat.  

One of the main issues in attracting people to this area is the difficulty of access by public transportation. The new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that should be opened before the Games is seen as a solution to connect HARUMI FLAG with downtown districts such as Shimbashi Station and Toranomon. The BRT operation will gradually be expanded according to the status of maintenance of Ring Road 2 and the Olympic Village area. The installation of new routes and bus stops are in consideration in accordance with the area’s development and demand. Community cycles will be available at major BRT stops in order to develop transit facilities for local traffic. 

Within these few years, the village could fly the flag, and shall soon be ready to set sail for the Olympic journey. 

2020: we are here, in the Olympic year

Nisennijū - how often have I heard this term in the past; have I figured its signification and imagined its repercussion. As far away it seemed, as fast it arrived: 2020, the year that Tōkyō will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games again. 

It was on 7 September 2013, after a bidding period of around two years, that the Japanese capital was chosen for the second time to host the Olympics. This was the fourth time that the city intended to hold the event: the Games of the XII Olympiad in 1940 were assigned to Tōkyō, though they had to be cancelled due to World War II. It was finally in 1964 that the Japanese capital became the first host city in Asia. The archipelago’s population, eager to demonstrate to the rest of the world its post-war recovery and modernisation, placed big importance on the event. The Tōkyō 1964 Games, often called the rebirth of Japan, had a noticeable impact on the city’s urban development and on the people all over the country. The event allowed to rewrite the national image and to prove that Tōkyō was henceforth able to compete with other world cities. In order to meet the needs of a growing number of visitors, large railway works were carried out and the Shinkansen (= bullet train) was inaugurated on 1 October 1964, 9 days before the beginning of the Games. As authorities estimated that the number of cars circulating in Tōkyō would exceed one million in the Olympic year, more than 70 km of roads were rehabilitated and freshly built, and 22 highways and 8 expressways constructed. Two new metro lines were established and integrated into the already existing network. In addition, 15 km 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 country, were undertaken.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Japanese capital prepared a bid for the 2016 Games. Its outline was different than for 2020 and did not sufficiently resonate with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Four years later, Tōkyō won against Istanbul and Madrid, the two other Candidate Cities. The Japanese capital had then 5 months to create the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG), a privately funded organisation and main interlocutor of the IOC. 

Tōkyō 2020 is divided into two main areas, the Heritage Zone and the Tōkyō Bay Zone. Over the years, the venue plan has been adapted. Now, the Olympic Games count 33 sports and 50 disciplines that will be carried out over 42 sites from 24 July to 9 August 2020. The Paralympic Games include 22 sports and 23 disciplines that are to be held in 21 venues from 25 August to 6 September 2020. The Olympic / Paralympic Village and the IBC / MPC Tōkyō International Exhibition Centre (Tōkyō Big Sight), which will house the International Broadcast Centre and the Main Press Centre, remain during both events. 

With the aim to vitalise the city’s waterfront, 14 out of the 42 venues are located in the Tōkyō Bay Zone, 10 thereof in Kōtō Ward. Although in the 1980s the Japanese capital already made attempts to develop the artificial islands in its bay, 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 temporary and permanent venues and the organisation of various event-related activities. The Athletes Village, developed on a 44-hectar plot located in the Harumi district in Chūō Ward, is meant to become a new residential zone after the Games. The site is owned by the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) though constructed by a group of private developers. The village will provide 18,000 beds during the Olympics and 8,000 beds during the Paralympics. Since the residences are built by the private sector, the TOCOG will pay a rent during the reception of the athletes. After the Games, the buildings will be renovated and sold or rent as apartments to the public. In line with plans developed by the TMG, two 50-story skyscrapers will be added to the condominium. By 2024, there should be a total of 23 buildings counting 5,632 residential units and 24 commercial facilities. For the purpose of creating an environmentally advanced city and leave a long-term legacy, hydrogen will be used as an energy source to generate electricity and as fuel for buses and cars. 

The initial 2020 Olympic budget was fixed at USD 6 billion. As of April 2018, it increased to around USD 13.5 billion and is now estimated at USD 12.6 billion. Roughly USD 6 billion are privately funded, mainly through sponsorship, ticket sale and marketing as well as a contribution from the IOC. Consequently, more than half of the Tōkyō 2020 budget is to be covered by the public sector. Moreover, the real cost of the Games is difficult to determine and may be much higher, as expenses related to various initiatives like building barrier-free facilities for Paralympic athletes, training programs for volunteers or heat prevention are commonly not included in calculations. Organisers justify the increase of the original budget by the fact that first estimates were intended to form a framework and that the two-year bid did not leave enough time to conduct detailed studies. Furthermore, it is argued that Olympic forecast is made between 7 and 9 years in advance and that therefore some flexibility and adaptation to economic fluctuations is required. In order to prevent the permanent rise of costs linked to the Games, Tōkyō reviewed its plan and decided to privilege the use of existing sites. Hence, certain locations outside the capital were added. Furthermore, Zaha Hadid’s expensive project of the National Olympic Stadium was scrapped in 2015 and replaced by Kuma Kengo’s design proposal the same year.

Shortly after rumours about the stadium started to spread around, the organisers of Tōkyō 2020 again encountered a period of tension. Following the accusation of plagiarism from Liège Theatre’s logo creator Olivier Debie, worried Japanese internet users launched an investigation on Sano Kenjirō, the designer of the official Games’ logo. Even though the lawsuit was dropped, concerns about a possible scandal grew and the design was quickly abandoned for reasons of credibility. In order to regain public’s trust, the TOCOG announced the foundation of a preliminary selection committee for new emblems in September 2015. In April 2016, after a long selection process, the new emblems of the Tōkyō 2020 Games were unveiled. 

Succeeding a public call for applications, elementary school students chose the two final Games mascots out of three proposed sets. Besides being a method to ascertain younger generations’ preference, the selection procedure was also an opportunity to integrate discussions about the Olympics creatively in the national education programme.Two years and one day before the opening of the sporting event, the first official licensed 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games shop opened. At that time, about 700 articles were for sale and in summer 2019, another 445 officially licensed items got released. The mascots are privileged characters that figure on numerous products. 

The 2020 version of Tōkyō Gorin Ondo is a new interpretation of the official song of the 1964 Games. The lyrics, originally written by Miyata Takashi were adapted to the 21st century and sung by Ishikawa Sayuri, Takehara Pistol and Kayama Yūzō on Koga Masao’s initial melody. The music video includes an educational part that teaches how the dance moves are to be performed. 

In the run-up to the Tōkyō 1964 Games, the Japanese population made all possible effort to provide the best setting for visitors. Concerned about the image foreigners may get of host city Tōkyō and the country as a whole, the Land of the Rising Sun is once again anticipating the arrival of international athletes and spectators. Initiatives range from the establishment of innovative constructions and the arrangement of a functional infrastructure to the implementation of a high-level security system and the meticulous play of each stage of the event beforehand. The 80,000 Games and 30,000 City Volunteers are expected to help out at competition venues, support Games operations and provide services and information for visitors at airports, train stations and sightseeing spots. In order to prepare a broader part of the society, classes about the Olympic and Paralympic Games, sports and health as well as different cultures are given to elementary-, middle- and high school students. In addition, English language programmes and courses about interaction with foreigners are proposed to adults. In order to prevent from overcrowded public transportation, Tōkyō now highly encourages the former rather depreciated practice of teleworking. 

Over the past years, the Japanese capital has expanded the use of simplified signage in public space, including station names written in both Japanese and Latin alphabet and the systematic numeration of subway stops. Furthermore, announcements are today often made in Japanese and English language. It is to mention that national TV channels have gradually increased the number of programmes about the Games, reaching from the diffusion of documentaries about the 1964 Olympiad to the introduction of future venues and more recently the attendance at training sessions of Olympic and Paralympic athletes. 

Media about the 2020 Games has long been relatively reticent. However, since the One Year To Go, discussions about Tōkyō’s preparation are multiplying. The transfer of the marathon and walking race to Sapporo, accumulated with the difficulty to access tickets for competitions, have lately caused frustration among Tōkyō’s population. Few manifestations from opponents of the Games have been recognised. Nevertheless, a No-Olympics movement has slowly grown in size and importance.  

Over the past years, I have frequently visited the Japanese capital. Therefore, I could not only witness the construction of venues and attend event-related activities, but also assess the detailed changes of the city and the increasing attention that is drawn to the Olympics. Again and again I am fascinated by the very subtle communication strategies, amused by labelled everyday goods, surprised by people’s conversations and intrigued by official’s speeches.

At the current state it seems difficult to make reliable presumptions for the Tōkyō Olympics and Paralympics let alone to predict post-Games legacy. However, as I have the honour and privilege to stay in Tōkyō until after the event, I wish to continuously share small parts of my acquired knowledge in the most correct and neutral way. Anyhow the impact will be, one thing is certain: as time passes, the Games are undeniably approaching. 

2020: we are here, in the Olympic year !

A thousand words in one same language

As the Olympic and Paralympic Games are an international event that attract various people among the world, difficulty in communication and language barriers are a recurrent phenomenon. Sports illustrations and graphic images for providing general information have been used in early modern Games such as 1912 in Stockholm, 1924 in Paris and 1948 in London. However, they were quite complex, kept on a small scale and not universally recognised. 

Careful about the sense of hospitality and anticipating the influx of non-Japanese speaking visitors, it was in the run-up to Tōkyō 1964 that the Olympic pictograms officially made their debut. In the arise from a need to communicate visually to an increasingly international group of athletes and spectators, designer Yamashita Yoshiro and art critic Katsumi Masaru led a team of specialists who worked together on the development of icons reduced in shape and size to the minimum needed for understanding each message. The set included 20 figures for the different sports, as well as 39 additional icons for various kinds of information. They were used on venue maps and programmes, but also on building walls and inside airports and train stations. As the pictograms have proved successful at the Tōkyō 1964 Games, subsequent hosts followed the Japanese example. Furthermore, design critics have stated that these Olympic pictograms have permanently changed the idea of graphic design and consider it as one of the earliest steps on the way to replace words with images on the global stage. Indeed, the concept of using icons in the communication around everyday facilities and services spread widely, and so, for example, the now well-known toilet signage emerged in the context of 1964.

Olympic pictograms from the 1960s to the 1980s looked similar and were primarily supposed to be informative. Progressively, they then received an individual design. Thus, Lillehammer 1994 marked a turning point by developing a very unique type of icon, inspired by Norwegian rock paintings that are estimated several thousand years old. Creators wished thereby to incorporate the country’s history, and additionally made a commercial campaign out of it, leading to the production of t-shirts and various objects for sale. 

With almost all of the 128 million existing native Japanese speakers living on the archipelago, the ninth most practiced language in the world stands out with its strong geographical concentration. Although reaching a record of more than 31 million tourists who visited the Land of the Rising Sun last year, the country’s language remains rather isolated. Compared to 1964, much information in English and other foreign languages is available today. Nevertheless, communication is still seen as a difficulty in the context of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the use of symbols seems to remain an efficient solution in the orientation of international visitors. 

Designed by a team led by Hiromura Masaaki over an almost 2-year period, the Tōkyō 2020 official sport pictograms of the Olympic Games got introduced on 12 March 2019. There are two sets (unframed and framed) of 50 designs representing the 33 sports that will feature next summer (some sports count individual pictograms per discipline). The unframed version will be used on posters, tickets and licensed products whereas the framed type will be figuring on maps, signage at competition venues, guidebooks and websites. The Paralympic pictograms were unveiled one month later, on 13 April 2019. They count a total of 23 designs for the 22 Paralympic sports (two different ones are used to express each of the cycling disciplines). 

The Tōkyō 2020 sport figures were created with the idea to combine the heritage of the past Games with innovation. The 1964 pictograms consisted of straight lines and precise circles. The 2020 version aims to add the vibrancy and athlete’s movements as a new dimension. The design has been developed in dialogue with various specialists and athletes who shared their perception and knowledge. However, when looking at the frozen images, this intention seems hard to discern and the mentioned vibrancy and motion are difficult to seize.

In the preparation of this report, I traced the 20 corresponding pictograms of the 1964 and 2020 Games on translucent paper. The immediate comparison of the pencil’s flow in my hand made me experience the motion in the figures. It showed me the refinement of each pictogram and made me understand the subtility of the new design. 

The following photograph shows the 20 pictograms used in both, the 1964 (left) and the 2020 (right) Games. Please note that the Olympic and Paralympic Games have not only grown in size but today also embrace a wider range of sports. Tōkyō 2020 therefore includes an additional 30 Olympic pictograms that I did not draw. As there were no Paralympic pictograms developed for 1964, the ones of 2020 do not figure in the following image.

Spread out, be around

It was at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble that a mascot made its debut. Schuss was a little man on skis, painted in the colours of the French flag, created by Aline Lafargue. However, it was not called a mascot by then and an official one was used four years later at the Munich 1972 Summer Games. Waldi, a dachshund dog was designed by Elena Winschermann three years before the event. The Paralympic Games didn’t have an own mascot materialised until 1980 as they were not officially branded. The following years, each Games had different mascots and only from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games on, they have been represented together. 

Olympic mascots are fictional characters, usually resembling an animal typical for the host city or region or human figures who represent the local culture. They are particularly important in the promotion of the Games and meant to please a wide range of people, including the younger generations. 

The Tōkyō 2020 Organising Committee began the selection of the mascots roughly three years prior to the Games. From 1 to 14 August 2017, design proposals could be made by principally everyone who was at least 18 years old as of 1 April 2017 and who either has Japanese nationality or is holder of a Japanese residence card. All in all, 2,042 applications were received; 1,753 of which answered the format criteria. In September 2017, specialists from different involved companies decided if the proposed designs and profiles would be suitable for elementary school children. 98 entries made it to the next stage. Then, members of the Mascot Selection Panel examined whether the remaining designs reflected the spirit of the Tōkyō 2020 Games Vision and the values of the Olympic and Paralympic movements. 16 proposals made it through. On 13 October 2017, the Mascot Selection Panel began the selection of the final three candidates. From 11 December 2017 to 22 February 2018, 205,755 classes from 16,769 elementary schools in Japan and Japanese schools abroad were asked to vote for their favourite set. The winning design, chosen by 109,041 classes was announced on 28 February 2018. It is to mention that the votes decreased proportionally to the order of the presentation: 109,041 for Pair A, 61,423 for Pair B and 35,291 for Pair C.

From the end of April to the end of May 2018, the mascot naming was developed based on questionnaires given to the children who had participated in the voting and an interview with the winning design creator Taniguchi Ryo. For each character, 30 proposals were made. Finally, the names Miraitowa (Olympics) and Someity (Paralympics) were unveiled on 22 July 2018. A special naming ceremony was held on the occasion. Although written in katakana, Miraitowa is based on the Japanese word mirai (future) and towa (eternity), whereas Someity comes from someiyoshino, a popular cherry blossom variety and echoes with the English “so mighty”.

One day after the announcement of the names, and two years and one day before the opening of the sporting event, the first official licensed 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games shop opened inside major consumer electronics retailer BicCamera Shinjuku West. At that time, about 700 articles, such as pins, t-shirts, mugs, booklets, and stuffed toys were for sale. In summer 2019, another 445 officially licensed items got released, including products featuring the “1 Year to Go!” logo and sports pictograms.

At present, the Organising Committee of the 2020 Tōkyō Olympic and Paralympic Games has two further official retailers, one inside BicCamera Akasaka-Mitsuke and one at BicCamera Ikebukuro East, as well as an online shop. In addition, other merchandisers sell official licensed products. 

The recently launched Olympic and Paralympic Licca-chan has particularly been hailed. The Japanese version of Barbie made its debut eight years after her American counterpart and therefore missed the 1964 Games by three years. The Tōkyō 2020 doll comes in two types, one is a blond girl wearing a blue yukata kimono (Olympics) whereas the other is brunette with a pink yukata (Paralympics). Licca-chan has marked different generations and is popular among children and adults. Being particularly favoured articles, the two dolls may help the mascots generate the expected ¥14 billion from licensing and merchandising.

Work together, help one another

Last Thursday, 5 December, the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, commonly known as International Volunteer Day (IVD) was celebrated. Mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1985, its aim is to promote volunteerism, encourage governments to support volunteer efforts and recognise volunteer contributions at local, national and international levels. 

The term volunteer finds its origins in Latin voluntārius, meaning “of one’s free will” from voluntās “will”. Supposedly, it was first used in 1755 when it got derived from Middle French voluntaire, related to military service in the early 17th century. However, organised forms of volunteering occurred only in the 19th century. Gradually, it became an international concept, notably hailed by Western countries, where around 20-25% of the population yearly offer services for free. In the context of globalisation, those with disposable incomes frequently take advantage to visit new destinations with the motive of experiencing a place or event as a volunteer and so, the fusion of volunteering and tourism has led to the recently popular concept of “volunteer tourism” / “voluntourism”.

Over the past decades, the events industry has rapidly expanded and in the sport sector competitions have been growing in size. Given that mega-events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games are time-bound and take place within a short period, they generate few permanent long-term employment. Considered to be economically and socially beneficial, volunteers have therefore become essential to the delivery of the Games. 

The Tōkyō 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are expected to count 80,000 Games and 30,000 City Volunteers. On 12 September 2018 the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) announced the opening for the Games Volunteer application programme scheduled from 26 September to 21 December 2018, with an extended deadline for people with visual impairment. Candidates were to be born before 1 April 2002 and had to be Japanese nationals or persons with a valid (short- or long-term) visa. They were asked to assure devoting eight hours a day for a period of over ten days consecutively. The so-called Field Cast is supposed to mainly help at competition venues, the Olympic and Paralympic Village, support Games operations and provide services to spectators, media and others. As common, the volunteers are in charge of their accommodation and transportation to the host city. In return, they are to get meals, uniforms and ¥1,000 support for transportation per working day. 

In the beginning of the recruitment process, rather few applications were received. Therefore, conditions were lowered: the requested period of ten days got possibly adapted and the guidelines for consecutive volunteering were changed to five days. Also, Japanese companies were asked to encourage their employees to apply for the programme. In the end, the efforts were fruitful, as 204,680 people from Japan and overseas have applied. Interviews and orientation sessions for applicants who reside in Japan started in February 2019 and the general training commenced in October 2019, with a first one for English speakers the month after. Role-specific trainings are scheduled for April 2020, and from May 2020, uniforms will be handed out. Interviews and orientation for overseas applicants were held between March and September 2019 via video calls, and trainings will take place in June 2020. Twelve percent of the accepted volunteers are non-Japanese, coming from 120 countries.

In parallel, the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government (TMG) outlined a recruitment process of another 30,000 volunteers on 18 September 2018. The period for applications correlated with the one for the Tōkyō 2020 Games Volunteers. The City Cast is supposed to provide tourism and transport information for visitors at airports, train terminals and sightseeing spots. Their conditions differ from the Field Cast’s, demanding only five hours of activity per day for a period of at least five days, non-consecutively. However, candidates need to have conversational Japanese skills, and most of the recruitment and orientation is undertaken in Japanese language. Interviews and information sessions took place from February to May 2019. The selected candidates got notified in September the same year. Group trainings started on 4 October 2019 and are to be continued until late February 2020. From April 2020, role-specific trainings will take place, followed by location-specific trainings and the distribution of uniforms in June 2020 .

With all in all 110,000 event-related volunteers, Tōkyō 2020 reaches for slightly more than its Olympic and Paralympic predecessors Rio de Janeiro 2016 (56,000 Games and 1,700 City Volunteers) and London 2012 (70,000 Games and 8,000 City Volunteers). 

In anticipation of Tōkyō’s summer heat, the marathon and walking race have been relocated to Sapporo on Japan’s northern main island Hokkaido in October / early November this year. Now, concerns not only about athlete’s health and the convenience of spectators, but also about working conditions have been pronounced. Therefore, it was decided that all Olympic and Paralympic staff including volunteers will receive tablets for salt supplementation, wet wipes, instant coolants and… ice cream. A sweet surprise for the enthusiastic helpers.

A house is a home

When homes fall apart 

Initially, my field trip to Nagano was scheduled for mid-late October 2019. However, Hagibis thwarted this plan by strongly hitting central and eastern Japan. The heavy rainfall which came with the typhoon caused severe inundation in several prefectures of the archipelago, including my destination: the Hokuriku Shinkansen depot was flooded, leading to the destruction of ten out of thirty trains that serve the region. Houses, bridges and roads were devastated, and some parts of the landscape ravaged. 

When about one month and a half after, I finally undertook my journey, I was shown around the disaster area. The atmosphere was calm, sincere, snivelling. Seeing the still standing train cars, the damaged houses, empty restaurants and stores, the trees covered with mud, and the garbage spread on the ground, I was overcome with emotion. At some spots, poles had a 5-metre mark, illustrating the water level that was attended during the flood.

Since rescheduling, the programme for my stay was adapted and should not only comprise the visit of Nagano 1998 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games’ legacy, but also include one day of volunteering in the disaster area. The day after my arrival, we therefore headed out early to the Prefecture’s Northern Disaster Volunteer Centre. Dressed warmly, wearing gloves and rubber boots, equipped with a hat, goggles, a breathing mask, onigiri and tea, we arrived shortly before 9am at the centre. Together with about 30 other newcomers, we were kindly welcomed and briefed about safety precautions and the progression of the day. Also, the volunteers were asked were they came from. Most were from the region, yet some from various parts of Japan. The last ones were particularly acknowledged. Then, we registered, and wrote date, name and the assigned working sector on a sticker that was to be stuck on our jacket. 

Following, we got systematically divided into groups of five people. A volunteer staff member explained some organisational elements and a group leader (リーダーさん / leader san) was designated. リーダーさん was in charge to fill in and keep a paper with the names and phone numbers of the members. We introduced ourselves and got together on board of a shuttle bus that brought us to a Satellite Volunteer Centre. Our centre was settled in a former Nagano Prefecture Branch Office which had endured strong damage during the typhoon. Again, our group got some information, this time about the lot of land that we would be working at. We took five shovels and two wheelbarrows, without really knowing what we were going to use them for. About four groups of five people gathered around the same lot. The nearby small, empty and partly damaged house served as a storage room and shelter. The task was quickly explained and fairly easy to understand: pick up all the garbage you find, and dig if it is buried under the ground. Then, shift it to a pile. 

As far as I could see, there was definitely enough work for us… 

Enthusiastic, I reached for the first item I saw. It was a blue cloth that was half buried under the ground. After some minutes of digging, I pulled, and found myself with a big pair of trousers. { I knew that fortunately relatively few people had died in the district and therefore I could get rid of the thought that the owner of the clothing may not be alive anymore } However, the pants in my hands, I imaged where their possessor may be. I questioned if he (deducing from their shape and size) was with his family or friends, if he could rest in someone else’s house, and if he would come back to live here in some weeks or months. Also, I wondered if ever he would miss his blue pants or think about how his belongings got removed. { He may currently have other concerns though } Then, I found a blanket, and several small espresso cans. The blue pants owner must like coffee. Or were the cans someone else’s ? I felt disrespectful for my thoughts. So, I decided to henceforth focus on my physical activity. The mission turned out to be like a treasure hunt: the more items I found, the more satisfied I started to feel. 

As it was advised, every half an hour, we took a 10-minute break. After the first two shifts, when in-between mud, dust and delusional digging I slowly started to lose my sense of orientation, I realised how important these breaks were. Sometimes, I felt almost offended, when within only few minutes of absence, someone had dug out and removed my garbage. Of course, I was conscious about the absurdity of this thought, and did very much appreciate the cooperation. As a matter of fact, we frequently complimented one other’s exploit. 

At half past noon, we had a lunch break. At our Satellite Centre, there was everything one could need: mobile toilets, basins to clean the boots, soap, mouthwash, hand sanitiser, towels, spare goggles, gloves, food and drinks. 

The second half of the day, men should continue to remove garbage at the morning’s lot, whereas women were asked to “clean” houses. The house I was assigned to stood on a bare, wooden structure. Impressively, its first floor seemed to be in good condition. I wondered if the owner would rather live in a place with a half-damaged base, or if the house would soon be demolished. Therefore, I was concerned about the utility of my task. However, I did my best to remove the dust. 

At around 3pm, the mission was to be ended. Exhausted but satisfied, I joined the other members of my group. As they were all male, they had continued the morning’s task. リーダーさん handed in our group’s sheet, confirming that everyone got back safely. We went through the same cleaning procedure as at lunch time and headed off to the shuttle bus. Many volunteers stood in line, so we had to wait for about 20 minutes. When we arrived at the Northern Disaster Volunteer Centre, we found again basins to wash our boots, soap and mouthwash. Then, we were offered hot (delicious) tea, apples and onigiris as well as big smiles, warm お疲れ様でした / otsukaresamadeshita (meaning “thank you for your hard work”) and バイバイ / bye bye’s. 

That Saturday, all in all, an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 people volunteered in Nagano Prefecture; a mass that is certainly not easy to manage. Nevertheless, everything went very smoothly, and the centres were incredibly well organised. 

One day of volunteering is for sure not enough to reconstruct the house of blue pants’ owner, let alone to sincerely help the region. Though, more than I had imagined could be done within only few hours of cooperation. From my perspective, volunteering in a disaster area is an educational and essential experience for a researcher in urban studies, as it may be for any human being.

In the respect of all those who lost their home, I do not publish any photograph of inside the disaster area. 

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