July 24 marked exactly a year until the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the atmosphere around the city appeared festive.
It was hard to miss the references to the upcoming games. There was a countdown at the main square in front of Tokyo Station (Chiyoda ward) with a huge clock made by Swiss clockmaker Omega.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku Ward was lit up with the five Olympic colors (blue, yellow, black, green, red), the mascots of the Tokyo 2020 Games — Someity and Miraitowa — appeared as stickers on the outsides of the trains on the Yamanote line, and there was even an event at Tokyo’s Haneda airport where participants could try their hand at fencing.
The crown jewel of the day was the announcement of the design of the new Olympic medals. Designed by Junichi Kawanishi, who was selected among 421 contenders for the task, the new design was unveiled at a press conference on July 24.
The design aims to convey three things: Light and Brightness, The Energy of the Athletes, and Unity in Diversity.
The particularity of Kawanishi’s design was explained by Masaaki Komiya, a member of the committee that chose the winning design. He said Kawanishi brought attention to the “delicate manufacturing that makes sure it appears slightly different, depending on the angle from which you look at it.”
The material fits well into the global conversation of sustainability. Based on the concept “Everybody’s Medals. Let’s Make Medals from the City Mine!” the medals were made from metals recycled from the cell phones and electronic devices, for a total of 32 kilograms of gold, 3,500 kilograms of silver, and 2,200 kilograms of copper.
The weight was also noteworthy. With the gold medal weighing more than half a kilo at 556g, the silver 550g, and the bronze 450g, these are the heaviest medals in history.
Even the ribbon is worthy of note, as it presents the Japanese design motif ichimatsu moyo (harmonized chequered patterns) and used a traditional kimono layering technique called kasane no irome. An interesting feature is that it presents convex silicone lines to recognize what medal it is just by touch.
Still Tackling Issues of Heat, Traffic, Tickets
Although the mood was one of general celebration, some issues remain. The biggest three are how to deal with the heat, traffic jams, and high demand for tickets in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
On the heat front, test bicycle runs were carried out on July 21, a day the temperature reached 27 degrees Celsius. While it felt relatively cool by Japanese summer standards, the consensus among the coaches from overseas was, “If it’s hotter than this, then that’s a problem.”
Public transportation has been another concern which has been extensively discussed. Japan has become notorious abroad for white-gloved public transportation employees shoving people inside already choc-a-block full train carriages. The goal is to keep the city moving while visitors get to their intended venues in time to enjoy the games.
Tokyo and its partners addressing the issue aim to decrease the overall flow of regular commuters by 30% to allow for the inflow of people for the games. Options being tried include promoting telework and holidays. Toyota has announced that it plans to have 1,600 employees who live in the big city work from home, for example.
Finally, the sheer demand for tickets to see the actual games has been a cause of some frustration. In the first round lottery, demand was sky high that the websites were jammed for hours. The deadline was extended by 12 hours to accommodate the unexpected demand and, although there were more than 3,220,000 tickets sold, there were many people who were left disappointed.
For those left empty-handed, it was announced that there will be a second chance to bid for tickets in the beginning of August. To deal with expected demand, the sales which were originally meant to be on a first-come-first-served basis later in the autumn will also be held on a lottery basis.
Despite the remaining challenges, it certainly seems like the pieces are coming together for the Tokyo 2020 games. Make sure to watch this space for updates in the future.
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Author: Arielle Busetto