Thank God for hipsters. When all else fails and the media is amok with already notorious reports (supported by dubious stats) that Japanese people apparently no longer have sex, you can always at least rely on the fashionista to still find ways to enjoy themselves.
Tweed Run Tokyo took place on October 14th, featuring some 150 tweed-dressed cyclists going for a ride around the city. No, they weren’t out on some stag hunt, nor was this a Sherlock Holmes fanatics’ event. It was actually part of Fashion Week and is a spin-off from the original Tweed Run in London. The British version started in 2009, while the Tokyo “run” happened first in 2012 and with the amount of publicity it generated, surely next year’s edition is a sure thing.
“It’s so Tokyo, I would say,” one of the participants told the media. “We are using this traditional fabric in many modern ways. It’s part of the diversity of fashion.”
“So Tokyo”? Well, I wouldn’t say that. Except for the odd bit of Aoyama backstreet tomfoolery, you’d be hard-pressed to find many regular folk dressing as dapper as this. Still it makes a change from the usual exquisitely, expensively decked-out runners and cyclists that can be glimpsed around the Imperial Palace.
Given that this is the nation that created the culture of cosplay, we shouldn’t be in the least surprised that 150 cyclists jumped at the chance to dress up for a group bike ride.
This year’s event saw the costumed bikers tour leisurely from Gaienmae to Ginza over a couple of hours, and the participants seemed like a reasonable mix of ages, though it was clearly male-dominated.
We wonder whether they could introduce some sort of Japanese flavor to the proceedings. How about cycling around in kimono? Oh, hang on…
Anyone who lives in Nagoya can check out the city’s own version of the Tweed Run — remember, it’s cycling, not jogging — on October 26th (barring another typhoon).
For some people, the best reward in life are sweets. Pleasure-seeking as we all are, marathon runners are no exception. Sponsored by International Sports Marketing, Sweets Marathon might sound like a contradiction in terms but it started in August, 2011 as a one-of-a-kind marathon that encourages runners to complete the race with a wide variety of “sweet” rewards.
Runners can taste more than 200 kinds of bite-size sweets at the aid station while completing either a 10 kilometer (solo) or 42.195 kilometer (relay) round race. There are some rules to follow (they can’t give sweets to non-participants, carry them around with them on the race, or take them home), but runners are free to try everything.
The basic concept is the same as regular hydration points where runners stop to supplement energy just enough to get to the next point, so they are advised to consume the sweets the same way. In other words, it’s not an all-you-can-eat buffet, though it may certainly look like one!
The entry fee varies a little at each venue, but is around 5,000 yen for anyone above high school age and 3,500 yen for kids. The best part of the sugary marathon is that runners can actually purchase their favorite sweets at retail booths, established near the race route. Admission is free, so both participants and non-participants alike can get a real taste of featured sweets at each marathon in merchandise forms.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, girls apparently make up over 50% of the participants in these saccharine sports, and overall 30% are first-time marathon runners.
Here’s the video clip from the 13th Sweets Marathon which took place in Osaka in December, 2012.
The next Sweets Marathon takes place in Chiba in November, followed by other events in Aichi and Osaka. The next Tokyo race is in January at Odaiba.
The ever growing popularity of Tokyo Marathon which will take place at the end of February, 2014, shows that marathons are now big public spectacles. The results of the lottery were announced just a few days ago, and applicants had approximately a 1-in-10 chance of winning!
Sweets Marathon might seem more like a fun and relaxing event as compared to a hardcore, full marathon race, but why not use this opportunity to promote business?
In general, most Japanese people are known as hard workers. While work, by definition, is something we do to make a living, the great majority of salarymen in Japan seem to consider their work to be the whole purpose of life itself. In a way, they have a rather complicated relationship with work which would probably make them all admit that they both love and hate their jobs.
Given that, perhaps it was this fear of losing oneself in work that urged two particular individuals, Sota Amaya and Shiina-neko (this is definitely a nickname but Sota Amaya could be a pseudonym too) to establish such a unique organization called Japan Extreme Going to Work Association.
Their mission is to promote the idea of finding the extraordinary out of the ordinary by encouraging people to commit themselves to the most unusual, extreme, and often tiring activities — all before going to work. They believe that such activities would distract people from harsh reality (i.e. that they have to go to work), help them relax and eventually boost morale – it’s two hours of summer vacation on a weekday morning, they say.
You might choose sightseeing, swimming in the sea or mountain climbing. A morning picnic in front of Tokyo Tower? An a.m. wander around backstreet shrines in Ginza? You’re free to do anything as long as it’s extreme enough to make you feel that you are out of touch with reality, but NOT to the point where you forget about work. At the end of the day (or maybe I should say, at the beginning of the day), you still have to get to work on time. This is ironically the most “unusual” part of this activity because no matter what you do and how you spend the couple of hours before going to work, the ultimate goal is to get to work as usual as if nothing unusual happened.
This group of people below decided to go mountain climbing before work. Their ultimate goal was not to reach the top of the mountain but to arrive at their office on time. In this kind of situation, mountain climbing is no longer a leisure activity but proof of their willingness to show just how “tough” they can be.
A few weeks ago, there was even a competition to decide the most extreme commuter in Japan. The winner of this competition boasted of his adventure to Japan’s longest stone stairway in Misato Town, Kumamoto, which consisted of 23 kilometers of bike riding from home to the site, climbing 3,333 stone steps and 30 kilometers of bike commuting to work. Sound extreme enough? Maybe.
The whole idea of extreme commuting reminds me of one TV commercial I saw a few months ago. The depiction of a working mother in this Ajinomoto’s food commercial shows yet another group of overlooked extreme commuters in Japan who never get to boast about their early morning “activities.”
Japan has got its knickers in a twist over a French newspaper’s satirical cartoon that shows two emaciated wrestlers facing up for a bout in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with the Fukushima reactors ominously in the background. A commentator is saying, “Thanks to Fukushima, sumo has become an Olympic sport.”
Le Canard Enchaine poked fun at the announcement that Tokyo would be hosting the 2020 Olympic Games. The sumo wrestlers have extra arms and legs.
The Japanese government is said to be very upset over the “regrettable” satire and plans to make a formal complaint via the Japanese embassy in Paris.
“This kind of cartoon hurts the feelings of those who suffered in the disaster and gives an incorrect impression of the problem of contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo.
During the final Olympic bid’s presentation on September 7th Prime Minister Abe claimed that the Fukushima leak in the sea was “under control”. The wording of his claim has since been contradicted even by TEPCO and it seems obvious to all that the leader’s bullish statements were disingenuous to say the least.
We would argue that, more than a French cartoon, Abe’s over-confidence — or bald-faced lie — is more upsetting to those who suffered in the disaster, not to mention the hypocrisy of the PM now claiming to take responsibility for the region’s problems only when it was crunch time for the Olympic bid.
France was one of the most vocal countries at the height of the Fukushima crisis and was accused by some of alarmism when it told its citizens to flee Japan. Though in the end Tokyo was never in danger, its strong reaction to the disaster seems in hindsight not to be so disproportionate given that, approaching three years after, we are still seeing massive radiation leaking out from the crippled plant.
One issue here is that satirical cartoons are not common in Japan so people are not used to such caricature in the media. Le Canard Enchaine is not anti-Japan but it is here exposing the farce of the authorities, and their failure to truly deal with the problems.
The Japanese government is overly sensitive to foreign jokes and pokes from overseas media. There was a similarly ridiculous and pompous response when British comedy quiz show QI used the example of double A-bomb survivor Tsutomu Yamaguchi (“the unluckiest man in the world”) in one brief section of an episode in early 2011. Although it was perhaps insensitive and dangerous to bring up the tricky subject of nuclear war in what is essentially a light-hearted show — but what is the job of comedy if not to be daring and break taboos? — the actual butt of the quips made by the show’s panelists was British rail service. It was a case of a joke lost in translation.
France’s media has been particularly bold in criticizing the Olympic decision. A program on TV channel France 2 showed a doctored photo of Eiji Kawashima, the goalkeeper of the Japanese national football squad, with four arms. The joke was that a “Fukushima effect” had allowed him to be such a good goalkeeper in Japan’s shock defeat of France.
With tens of thousands still living in temporary housing in Tohoku, there is a bitter irony in Tokyo spending millions on developing its bay area for an Olympic Village and other facilities for its citizens to revel in the festive euphoria of the Games.
Here are some examples of temporary housing.
Here is what the Olympic Village will look like.
Which would you rather live in?
While the weekend was all about the announcement that Tokyo would host the Olympic Games in 2020 — the city’s second bid and ultimately its second time to host — some netizens and keen-eyed manga fans have been noting an interesting parallel to the situation today and one that was predicted in the Eighties.
Okay, so we were hardly jumping with joy over the prospects of the Olympics — and not least for the government’s hypocrisy (Abe flies off to South America and promises to clean up Fukushima — now finally taking responsibility for a disaster 2.5 years ago and only because it might affect Tokyo’s prospects?!).
This is the Reuters photo that everyone has been posting.
But it’s happened so we need to move on. We’ll be interested to see how much the municipal government tries to “clean up” the city — there are rumors that the days of convenience store pornography magazines may be limited — or how much talent goes into the design side of things. And then there’s the whole opening ceremony to think about. Will mascots like Funayssi be making an appearance? Or just AKB48? With this kind of boondoggle, the actual sports runs a not-so close second.
Regardless, it has now come to people’s attention, belatedly, that the manga AKIRA was already ahead of the curve.
In the Katsuhiro Otomo comic series (1982-1990) and the subsequent film in 1988 — the film which basically launched Japanese anime on the international circuit — the setting is Tokyo in 2019 on the verge of an Olympic Games.
Of course, the Tokyo in the film is very much not Abe’s Utsukushii Kuni Nippon (Japan, the Beautiful Country). It is a dystopia of motorcycle gangs and is suffering from the fallout of radiation from another war, leading to monstrous mutations (an ironic reference to the “glorious” 1964 Games when Hiroshima had been banished from the memory but was actually less than twenty years old). What has usually been seen as a very Eighties cyberpunk vision might not be too far from the truth.
With Fukushima still pumping out radiated water into the oceans and the authorities talking about building an ice wall (WTF?!) to contain the fiasco, AKIRA is starting to sound very prophetic — and the new Olympics’ optimistic slogan “Discover Tomorrow” might just be a very bittersweet ideal indeed…
In less than two weeks, we will find out the host city for the 2020 Olympics. Will Tokyo make it?
With each city holding its own strength and weakness, I still don’t think that we have come up with a good, solid answer to the question of “Why Tokyo?” While it might be true that Tokyo is the easiest choice in terms of its finance and public safety, I don’t see much excitement in the actual people who run the city.
As a Tokyo resident myself, I can’t help questioning the city’s boast of 4.5 billion dollars as a ready-to-use fund for the event. Money is important, of course, but is the Olympics just about spending billions of dollars to bring people from around the world and providing places to compete in sports?
Plus there is the question of the millions spent on advertising the campaign… to Tokyo’s own citizens. This is a bit bizarre, since Tokyoites don’t get to decide, so why spend so much money expensively filling entire commuter trains with posters, and blanketing major train stations with billboards? Sure it raises awareness but for a city with a lack of facilities like nursery schools, there needs to be some realism in who tax is spent. (The campaign also made use of geinojin and other celebrities, all of whom were no doubt paid handsomely for their contributions.)
The tone of the advertising was all very nationalist too (“This emotion — next time in Japan!”, “now in Japan the power of this dream is necessary”), which might well please Prime Minister Abe but is counter to the concept of the Olympic Games.
If we look at the Olympics as a way to promote the host city, though, Tokyo’s campaign might make more sense (at least to those public officials who would do whatever it takes to win this race). This year marks the tenth anniversary of Visit Japan Project, a long-term promotional campaign of Japan Tourism Agency, an organization that serves as a national travel agent on behalf of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
They aim to bring 18 million visitors to Japan annually by 2016, 20 million before 2020 and 30 million by 2030. Ten years ago, in 2003, the number of visitors was a little over 5 million. While facing the fact that Japan as a nation is still living in the aftermath of the 3/11 earthquake, we will definitely need a big catalyst to help the country become the ultimate tourist destination.
Still, they probably could have made a better promotional video. Going back to my first point, most viewers are probably left with the key question — so, why Tokyo?
What do you think?
The host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics is announced on September 7th. Will it be Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul?
Today the FIFA Club World Cup will be kicking off here in Tokyo and Yokohama.
One of the sponsors, Sony, has a cool smartphone app that allows fans to show their support for their team in an intuitive and fun way.
With Vamos Viewing you can show and share your enthusiasm for your team while watching them live. By shaking your smartphone the app visualizes and quantifies your passion and then shares it on a network with fellow fans, creating a kind of digital stadium whether you are watching the match at home, in the bar or in the venue itself.
You can also choose your own special sounds for cheering on your team.
It actually was available last year but has now been upgraded from only being only Android to also offering iOS support, and is also available in Brazil too.
Sony has re-launched its Vamos Viewing content on the occasion of the FIFA tournament being held in Japan this year. There will be live-streamed content of former football pros watching the games and giving their personalized commentary. Plus there will be “ambassadors” for each of the countries and teams represented, who will be tweeting and encouraging ordinary users to support their team.
The FIFA Club World Cup Japan features six teams from different countries and continents, including top South American team Corinthians and Chelsea from the UK. Host Japan is represented by Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The tournament runs till December 16.
The Japan Sport Council has selcted the winning architect for building the new National Stadium Japan.
There were 46 entries from architects around the world in the first stage, of which 11 were then put forward for the final slection. The jury chair was Tadao Ando, the Japanese architect famed for his use of concrete.
The winner has been announced as Iraq-born and British-based studio, Zaha Hadid Architects. Zaha Hadid beat out other short-listed candidates such as locals Toyo Ito and Pritzker-winners Kazuyo Sejima, and other entries from Germany, Britain, Australia and elswhere.
Hadid has previously won the Pritzker and Stirling prizes, and her sporting facilities include the London Aquatics Centre that was a large part of the recent Summer Olympics in the UK.
As Ando put it, the new stadium has “to establish a dialogue with its physical context, which includes sites such as the Meiji Shrine”.
Will the Hadid stadium be up to the challenge? The concept images as any rate look awesome.
The original stadium of course featured in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, although it is not nearly as well known as the nearby Yoyogi National Gymnasium, designed by Kenzo Tange, and which still graces north Harajuku with its curving roof and featured in background shots of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.
It is to be built by 2018, in time for hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup (and perhaps another Tokyo Olympics in 2020 if Shintaro Ishihara et al has his way).
There has been a lot of this flag-waving based on Sixties nostalgia recently, from Ishihara’s new party name and logo to now the distinct tone of the stadium competition outline, which claims without a hint of irony that “the construction of the stadium is being undertaken as a national project on a scale unprecedented in this century”.
You could argue that a “national” stadium cannot avoid sounding, well, nationalist, though somehow these words chill: “We want to change Japan. We want to make it new again — a nation that lives each day with its head held hight. But we need a symbol — a symbol the entire nation can take pride in, and enthusiastically support.”
Funny, I thought that was the job of the Emperor, a veritable good ol’ egg if ever there was one and certainly a symbol of sorts for the people.
To our cynical eyes, this project smacks less of sport and design, but, like most similarly large-scale projects at times of national crisis, it feels more like bread and circuses: Distracting the population from all the bad things, namely Fukushima, TEPCO and the ineptitude of the government.