Blue Skies Ahead at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympicsby Steve Gillick /
Probably the best view from on high in Tokyo is from the 47th floor Sky Stage, the open rooftop of the new Shibuya Scramble Square. It opened on Nov. 1, and affords an absolutely incredible 360-degree panorama of the city.
During a recent visit, I noted the words engraved on a clear window that showcased a vast blue, sunny sky filled with billowy white clouds, which described the Sky Stage Rooftop as: “A stage flung open to the sky. Shibuya at your feet, Tokyo all around you – both connected to the world beyond. At the centre of everything you stand, one with the sky.”
One floor below, in the Sky Gallery, the Datascape screens allow visitors to see the sky at the present moment in various cities around the world (Los Angeles, Stockholm, etc.) with the message that the sky unites all peoples and all countries. And near the Time River (“Touch the flow of time. Be aware of yourself in this moment.”), we were reminded that at the Sky Edge, you can sidle up to the windows as close as possible and look straight down 230 meters to street level to view the famous Shibuya Scramble.
The overall theme of unity (people, the sky, architecture, time) is a way of connecting Shibuya Scramble Square visitors with the city of Tokyo like they have never experienced before.
And I could not ignore the fact that the observation decks offer great views of the new Olympic Stadium that, by itself, carries the message of unity, connections, diversity, inclusiveness and sustainability. Both the Olympic Stadium and Shibuya Scramble Square were designed by the renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, whose other works in the frenetic city of Tokyo tend to emphasize space, nature, simplicity, reflection, and humanity.
It’s all about connections
The tie-in between the two architectural wonders lies in the concept of “connections.” When it comes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, sports tourists (reportedly a 7-billion-dollar industry), travelers, Olympics followers, and Japan aficionados, both domestic and international, are buzzing with enthusiasm. Two hundred thousand applications have been received so far for the 80,000 volunteer positions (and by the way, speaking Japanese is not an absolute requirement). Five hundred thousand people have applied to participate for one of the 10,000 spots in the Olympic Torch Relay, and 7.5 million people have signed up for the Olympic ticket lottery.
In a conversation with Meredith Thatcher, the manager of international communications for the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, she spoke about the incredible opportunity for Tokyo 2020 to leave a meaningful and lasting legacy not only for future Olympic games, not only for travelers to Japan, but also for the Japanese people and particularly the youth. She noted that the “hard legacy” consisted of the venues constructed for these Olympic Games, as well as the architecture that would contribute to the lifeblood of the city.
But Meredith also acknowledged the “soft legacy,” whereby the Games would demonstrate that a major event can be held in the middle of a major city and still be sustainable. And this idea has engaged ordinary Tokyoites through initiatives such as the “used plastic waste” program and the “used electronics” program (e.g., “My old cell phone helped to produce the Olympic medals”). She said, “It’s a matter of involvement.”
Focusing on youth, accessibility, and managing crowds
One of the key focus areas of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is on youth, especially with five new sports added to the roster: baseball and softball (both of which are hugely popular in Japan), karate (a sport that originated in Japan and is practiced internationally), skateboarding (the official media guide refers to this as “the most innovative addition to the games in history”), sport climbing (with the suggestion that the emphasis on “higher, faster and stronger” will bring a new vertical dimension to the Games), and surfing (described as a “blend of high-performance style and digital connectivity that holds great appeal to young people around the world”).
Another lasting legacy is the emphasis on accessibility. While Tokyo is currently not the most accessible city in the world, new regulations and renovation of facilities from the 1964 Olympics are setting precedents for future construction in the city.
And what about the crowds? We can harken back to the Shibuya Scramble that is featured in many movies (“Lost in Translation,” for example) in order to depict the huge crowds on the streets of Tokyo. In fact, the Scramble is a multi-sided street intersection. People wait when the traffic lights are red (and it can get very crowded at peak times) and then when the lights simultaneously turn green, pedestrians, en masse, cross horizontally and diagonally.
But Tokyo is aware of potential crowds during the Olympics and has developed management programs such as Traffic Demand and Traffic Systems that will mitigate road congestion and coordinate the public transportation systems with the game times.
Aside from the city’s many hotels (available in all categories from 5-star to capsule), Tokyo is promoting the use of alternatives such as Airbnb. Such private accommodations fall under the category of “minpaku” and Japan has very strict regulations regarding the operation of these type of facilities.
A living city
Unique to the Tokyo 2020 Games, there will be no formal Olympic Park, as the various competitions are integrated into the city. Meredith commented that visitors will feel they are in a living city and not just a bubble. There will be live viewing areas not only in Tokyo, but in other cities around the country. And with the emphasis on “connecting,” the Nippon Festival, which is part of the build-up to the games, will promote Japanese culture with dances, plays, participatory activities, and artistic displays. The theme is diversity and inclusion, and will involve members of the LGBT community as well as those with disabilities.
For overseas visitors, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020) and Paralympics (Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, 2020) will be real eye-openers. Tomoko Kikuchi, the manager of the Tokyo 2020 Projects Section of the Japan National Tourism Organization suggested that those who attended the 1964 Olympics or saw those Games on television, will marvel at how the city of Tokyo has matured into a major world center of art, fashion, gastronomy, entertainment, architecture, transportation, and more, with tons of things to do for visitors of all ages.
And for those who seek to explore other areas of the Japan, Tokyo is a great stepping off point to see surfing in Chiba, basketball in Saitama, baseball in Fukushima and Yokohama, football in Miyagi and Ibaraki, golf in Kasumigaseki, sailing in Enoshima, cycling in Izu, and the marathon in Sapporo … or for non-Olympic sightseeing, there are the 1,001 cities and towns throughout the country.
These days, travelers are seeking meaningful connections on their journeys and Tokyo is enthusiastically responding. It’s blue skies ahead in 2020. Something to mention to your clients for their next adventure.