What will be my experience this summer during Tokyo2020? I can’t stop dreaming about it, especially since we have entered the magical Olympic year of 2020!
Time to meet a real Japan expert. And he happens to be a sports journalist too! 61-year-old Hans Vos shares his experiences of both the Games and Japan. The land where his wife was born and raised.
Hans Vos: a passionate sports fan/journalist
I meet Hans in Utrecht (Netherlands) after I met him on Twitter. Hans posts interesting tweets on Japan & the Olympics (@voshans). The unique combination of his knowledge about Japan and a lifelong passion for sport were enough to keep us talking for a few hours.
Hans met his wife in 1979. She originates from Osaka but lives in the Netherlands since 1982. They regularly return to her Japanese roots. He then takes the opportunity to meet up with his father-in-law (91 in march!) to share their mutual love of sports.
Hans is a real sports fan and has made a career out of his passion. He has been a sports journalist for over 40 years as a specialist in swimming and football. He is in the Netherlands thé specialist in the field of Japanese football. When a Japanese player moves clubs (like Ritsu Doan from FC Groningen to PSV (NL)), he is the man that clubs turn to for background information.
The Olympics: "If you see those rings, everything is in a different light!"
Hans became the swimming specialist in the 90’s in the Netherlands. Jobwise he could travel around the world, leading up to his first Olympic Games. Sydney 2000! “Fabulous Games for the Netherlands; 35 medals and 8th position in the medal table”. You could say that he timed perfectly with regards to Dutch swimming! He saw a young Pieter van de Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn in their teens in the 50-meter pool in Amersfoort but was now allowed to experience their moments of fame in Sydney.
Being a sports journalist during the Games is a real challenge. Sydney meant a few very hectic weeks for Hans as his articles were in great demand thanks to the Dutch golden success in the pool. Hans remembers well the sentiment of attending these Games; overwhelming! “I just had to ‘detox’ after the Games”.
Returning home, his manager thinks that after this event Hans would want a twist in his career to pursue other areas of the news. But nothing like that! “No! I want to stick with Sports and can’t wait for my next event!”.
Hans was, like many first time Olympic travellers caught by the Olympic virus. Hans recalls the Australian couple who had driven from Perth to Sydney (took them a week by car). They attended the opening ceremony. Only to get back in the car the next day for their return trip. That was their summer holidays!
After the Games the parades of volunteers and Australian athletes impressed Hans deeply. More than 1 million Aussies were cheering alongside the road. “Sydney2000 were the Games for the whole continent of Australia!” Hans points out. “This will be similar in Japan. Great enthusiasm is shared across the whole country and not just in Tokyo”
Tokyo2020: "A huge vibe throughout Japan!"
The keyword is mentioned: Tokyo! The fact that the Summer Games are back in Japan (56 after Tokyo’64*) must mean a lot to Hans. This is clear. Hans mentions that his father-in-law is looking forward since the moment Tokyo got assigned the Olympics (in 2014). From then on, he is dedicated to experience those Games in his home country.
Back in 1964, Japan was in full recovery after the Second World War. For the Games the International airport Haneda developed, next to motorways & the first highspeed train (Shinkansen). In the following decades, Tokyo became the largest city in the world (about 35 million!).
Hans’ wife recalls one of her first memories (at the age of 5); seeing the Games in full colour with a new TV that suddenly appeared in their living room especially for the Games. Innovation like this that would give Japan a leading role in the period after WWII. Hans expects that this years’ Games will strengthen the solidarity within Japan and will aim to market Japan as a peaceful and beautiful country.
Sports in Japan: "The reputation of the school is at stake!"
How would Hans describe the sports culture in Japan? And which sports are most popular?
Hans replies that in Japan sport is very important. In particular through the school system where sports are omnipresent. Football is an example of this. The biggest national school football tournament is a tradition that goes back more then 100 years! And is taken very seriously: “The reputation of the school is at stake!”. This school-based structure is highly focusing on the team performance. The individual is performing for the higher good of the school, organisation or country. The pressure on Japanese athletes will be very high during Tokyo2020. The whole country will closely watch their performances.
The most popular sports in Japan are baseball, volleyball, gymnastics and soccer. All Olympic disciplines. But the most important Japanese sport is a non-Olympic one, sumo wrestling. This is still very popular although the fans are often over 40 years of age. But, as Hans points out, “There are a lot of elderly people in Japan!”
Football is further gaining in popularity, especially among the younger generations. The J-League has gone through major developments and is now comparable to certain leagues in Europe when it comes to investments, spectators & fans. Expectations are therefore very high when it comes to the Japanese football teams this summer.
The most important Olympic Heroes for Japan are at this moment: Yuzuru Hanyu, the double Olympic champion figure skating and Kōhei Uchimura, the multiple gymnastics world champion. But as mentioned, the football and volleyball teams will also attract huge crowds. In 1964, Japan won 16 gold medals and became 3rd in the medal rankings! During the last (summer) Games in Rio’16, Japan became 6th collecting 12 gold (with badminton, gymnastics, judo, wrestling and swimming). Japan is now 13th on the eternal Olympic ranking with 156x golden medals.
"Sports photos capture emotions so beautifully!"
My advice is to definitely follow Hans Vos on Twitter. Many tweets about Tokyo2020 but he also shares many beautiful sports photos. His motto: Sport Photography Is Art. With a clear mentioning of the photographer. “This was totally different 20 years ago!” says Hans.
Being a sports journalist is a challenge during the Games. It’s an enormous hassle to get a quote among hundreds of colleagues in the Mixed Zone (elbows are very functional). Then you quickly have to type out your article to be in time for the deadline of the newspaper!”
Photographers often have to literally fight to take their pictures. Hans continues: “I have a deep respect for that profession” and “Photos capture emotions so beautifully!”. And so, he shares the best sports photos online in the run-up to Tokyo2020 😊. A personal note from me (Steven): You can also find on this sitee my own Olympic sport photos on this website www.fanofthegames.com/images.
I can’t agree more with Hans that photos capture that unique feeling!
What is Hans looking specifically forward to?
His trip to Tokyo is planned, the 1st week of the Games. But before attending Tokyo2020 Hans will visits his father-in-law and family in Osaka. Tickets have also been ordered (with help of the Tickettracker!) Tickets for swimming of course, but also for judo (“in the historic ‘64 judo stadium“), Gymnastics, volleyball and hockey.
He is also curious about the torchlight procession and the opening and closing ceremony. 2020 is a special year; 75 years ago, the second world war ended with the surrendering of Japan. More specifically, 6 and 9 August (during the Games!) are the crucial dates when in 1945 the atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1964, the last torchbearer and lighter of the Olympic fire was Yoshinori Sakai, born on August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima. On the day of the atomic bomb! It was a gesture from Japan to symbolize their peacefulness and reconstruction after WWII.
So, the big question is if and how Japan will pay attention to this, especially during the closing ceremony that takes place exactly on August 9 (Remembrance Day of the atomic attack on Nagasaki). The script is probably already there together with a lot of speculations. All part of our joint Olympic anticipation.
“The Games cannot be compared to any other event” is a nice conclusion after more than 2 hours. It is another confirmation that it will be a great adventure this summer. An adventure that both Hans and I will try to capture in images, but that will gain a place in our hearts forever!
Thanks to Hans Vos.