How are the Olympic Games received in Japan? How can Tokyo be described. And which things should we not forget to take with us? All questions I obviously cannot answer. After all, I have never been to Japan (..) That is why this blog focuses on Tokyo2020 from a Japanese perspective. Naoko, raised in Tokyo and now living in the Netherlands, tells me how she and her mother of 78, who still lives in Tokyo, are experiencing the run-up to the Games. Here again many practical tips & tricks!
Tokyo2020 for Naoko Yamamoto
Sometimes information about faraway places is closer than you think. So is the mother of a friend of my son a Japanese. Moreover; Naoko knows Tokyo well because she grew up, studied and worked there. So, it makes sense to have a talk with her about Tokyo2020!
Naoko was born near Osaka but soon went to Tokyo. After studying Chinese history in Tokyo, she also went to work in the capital. She then studied and worked in America, China, Malaysia, and Singapore. Finally, love brought her to the Netherlands. And she has been living here for the last 15 years.
“At first I was not in favour of the Tokyo Games”
Naoko is honest when I ask her what her reaction is about the Tokyo2020 Olympics; “I didn’t think it was such a good idea because there are many other things that require money, for example the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Also, many Japanese friends of mine who live in the Netherlands or in other European countries were not immediately enthusiastic. They think the government is trying to keep the attention away from the real problems in the country. My impression, however, is that people in Japan are much more enthusiastic! “ Naoko then says that she is now more positive and prouder of the fact that the Games are coming to “her” city. “My mother is also overjoyed because she is crazy about sports. She thinks it is an honour to be able to experience such a “once in a lifetime” event. Naoko’s mother is 78 and I see her occasionally in the school yard to pick up her 2 grandchildren. She shines when the Games are brought up. Naoko says: “We are so happy that we are really going to experience the Games, now that we have tickets for an event!”
Through the Olympic Ticket Tracker, I have managed to score 5 tickets for her (a semi-final football). That match takes place in Saitama near Tokyo. They go with the five of them (in addition to her mother, also her two sons and Naoko’s aunt will join).
“Tokyo? Busy Busy but not chaotic!”
With 35 million people, Tokyo is the city with the most inhabitants in the world. Must be very busy! But according to Naoko who lived, studied and worked there for years, it is indeed busy but with the typical Japanese order & discipline. “Everyone waits politely in rows for the Metro, for example.” Although Naoko thinks that maybe it will be different when masses of tourists will come over for the Games.
What she also immediately brings up is that Tokyo is very safe. You should not be surprised that if you lose your wallet or phone, it will be returned to you. A unique system has been developed that quickly enables the police stations (Koban) that are present everywhere to recover lost things to the rightful owner. “We are very honest in Japan!”
Traveling through Olympic Tokyo
As I mentioned in earlier blogs, most events are in two “Olympic Areas” Heritage & Bay zone. According to Naoko, traveling is very well organized via metro, train and bus. “Don’t run, because the next train or metro will be there within five minutes.” It is advisable to carefully study the map of the Metro. Some metro stations, just like in Paris, are huge underground mazes, which means that you sometimes must walk large distances. Naoko indicates that traveling from the Olympic Stadium (Heritage Zone) to the Bay zone can be done within the hour. “Often even faster”. It is important to consider the ticket & security checks. Count at least 1 hour on top of the travel time. Therefore, if you visit more events in one day, it is advisable to keep them in one zone or to plan enough time in between.
Traveling by public transport in Tokyo is easiest with a Japanese public transport card; you can buy this rechargeable card (SUICA) for 4 euros at each station. You can use this to travel by bus, train and metro in Tokyo and even in many other places in Japan, such as Osaka, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Niigata, Sendai etc. For long distance or Express trains, you must buy a separate ticket.
You can fly to Tokyo, see also previous blogs, at Narita or Haneda. The first is further away (east) but with a fast train connection you are still in the centre of Tokyo within the hour.
From Tokyo station there are “Shinkansen” (super-express trains) that go to every corner of Japan. Prices are reasonable; Tokyo-Osaka around 120 euros for a single ticket), but you get a lot of comfort and space for that price!
Creative sleeping place?
Naoko of course will stay with her own mother in the north of Tokyo. She therefore does not have much experience with hotels. She does know a creative way to spend the night in a cheap fashion. There are so-called Manga / internet cafés, which rent out private rooms with connection to the internet with a PC. But apparently these cabins are regularly rented for the night (22.00 – 06.00). Usually by businesspeople who have missed the last train or must work overtime. You can often take a shower there and that’s when Naoko laughs; “You can also buy a toothbrush and clean underwear there!” Naoko does not know if it is legal to spend the night in this way, but in practice it is done all the time. “Some people live there too!” Normal prices are then a few euros per hour, which would result in around 30 euro for the night. She does not know if this is also permitted during the Games, but it might be a solution in extreme cases.
An important question also for most fans traveling to Tokyo is how you stay connected with your phone. Wi-Fi is not particularly good and often even absent. Naoko recommends a so-called “pocket Wi-Fi” solution. A small router that you carry with you and that makes a Bluetooth connection to your phone. You rent this for a certain period with a certain internet speed / capacity. Costs are 4 to 5 euros per day or 50/100 euros per month depending on the bundle. There are different types / brands; such as DoCoMo / Softbank. You can also order this online and even have it delivered to your local Japanese Hotel address. They can also be picked up at the airport and at larger stations. At the end you return it for your deposit. If you have ordered it online, you can even send it back by mail.
As reported in previous blogs and to be read in almost all Tokyo2020 articles, the biggest issue will be the heat. The Games take place in the summer and it can be extremely hot, especially in Tokyo. Cities like Tokyo have a lot of asphalt and concrete buildings that retain heat. So, the temperature does not drop much during the nights. The organizing Japanese committee will take several measures (more on that in one of the following blogs), but Naoko also has a good tip. “You can buy so-called heat breakers in every store” (every 200 meters there is a “Konbini”, convenient store 24/7); Hiyaron. You can break this; it gets cold right away so that you can use it to cool your head / neck. Good for the Dutch to know; they don’t cost much (1 euro)” It remains advisable to seek refuge with indoor events or activities, especially during the hot afternoons. Some extreme endurance sports such as the marathon and open water swimming start very early due to the heat (06.00 / 07.00).
Getting a good diner or lunch is easy. The Japanese love good food and in a metropole such as Tokyo you’ll find something delicious on every corner of the street. Is it possible to eat in restaurants until late in the evening (read; deep into the night)? (in both Athens’04 and Rio’16 it was ideal to enjoy a delicious meal in the city after a strenuous evening of athletics; at 2 AM!) That appears to be not always possible in Tokyo. “Often you can go until 10 p.m. but not much later”. Naoko mentions that there is always something to eat, since those “Konbini” stores (24/7) have enjoyable meals that you can heat up on the spot. And in the many “department stores”, so-called Depachika’s (Chika means underground) you can also buy delicious food! Please note; there are usually no seats and often they are open until 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
Furthermore, the question of what to eat receives an immediate answer; Sushi and Noodles with soup. The first one was of course known to me, but the so-called “Ramen restaurants” were not. Naoko highly recommends this. For some Ramen restaurants there is a long queue outside and that is not because they still have Olympic Tickets😉
It is important to note that Japan is still very “cash-driven”. Moreover, it is difficult to find ATMs. So, advice to take some cash (Japanese Yen) with you.
Any further advice Naoko?
What should we, for example, take with us? Naoko has already thought about it and she comes up with something surprising; “Paracetamol! painkillers are very expensive in Japan and only available in very small doses. That doesn’t work with you tall Dutchmen“
It is also “of vital importance” to take the right electrical plugs with you for charging all the devices that you bring along. And, if there is still some room in your suitcase, you must not forget to bring stroopwafels (a Dutch cookie treat) “That works very well; all Japanese will like them and will be happy with you! “
To conclude; Tokyo2020 & Naoko; a good match?
When I ask Naoko if she is going to see the Games, she is clear. With a big smile on her face she nods “Yes!! Although everything will be very expensive during the Games. Perhaps that’s why Japanese families abroad aren’t that enthusiastic; they often go back to Tokyo during the summer holidays and now all prices will be doubled! “ Naoko also thinks it is good that sport is now more and more seen as “fun”. When he was young and did gymnastics, the training sessions were very hard. “It was about winning and not about having fun” Times have changed, and her mother is a good example. She has convinced Naoko to come. After all, it is a “Once in a lifetime experience”. I can’t agree more!
So much for the input from Naoko. A big thanks to her. Naoko also told us a lot about the must-see tourist spots, and about Japanese customs and habits. She can also help us with some Japanese words and phrases. But I will address these topics in following blogs.