Japan has a long history of enjoying the Olympics and sending world-class athletes to its games. In 1964 Tokyo hosted its first Olympic and Paralympic, and the event provided Japan the chance to enter the modern world as a technological and societal giant. Since then, Japan has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, in 1972 in Sapporo, then 1998 in Nagano. In 2020, Japan will have the opportunity to once again host the Summer Olympic and Paralympic, except this time with five one-time events: surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, karate, and baseball/softball. For fans of these events, Tokyo 2020 is the perfect opportunity to get out and support your teams, and becoming involved in Tokyo’s fantastic sporting scene.
BY Richard Milner
In 1964 Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics for the first time. 93 nations and over 5000 athletes took part in 19 different events over the course of two weeks. Tokyo was due to host the Olympics in 1940, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ultimately cancelled the games due to military conflict. Japan’s participation in 1964 was viewed as a promise of peace and progress. In the twenty four years after the end of World War II the country completely overhauled its infrastructure. It completed the bullet train project, added countless hotels, streets and trains to Tokyo, and removed hundreds of thousands of stray animals from the city’s streets. As a result, Japan emerged as a technological and economic world leader. Japan won 16 gold medals that year, the third highest in the world.
Since then, the Olympic games have been highly anticipated in Japan, and receive heavy media coverage. Some of the more popular sports include swimming, gymnastics, and marathon running. Japanese athletes have gained fame around the world, including seven-time medalist Kohei Uchimura, considered by many to be the greatest gymnast of all time, figure skater Midori Ito, who won a silver medal in 1992, and Ai Fukuhara, the first Japanese player to win a medal in table tennis in 2012.
Tokyo in 2020 is quite a bit different from Tokyo of 1964. It’s denser, more highly populated, has a lot more train lines, and its urban development has spread far from the city center. Japan’s challenge in 2020 is not a technological one, but a cultural one. Japan has been taking steps, little by little, to develop an international mindset. The Olympics is the perfect opportunity for the country to demonstrate its openness to the rest of the world and desire to welcome individuals from other countries.
The 2020 Olympics is expected to host 205 countries, over 11,000 athletes, and include 33 events total. These numbers are roughly double the amount of the 1964 Olympics. Tokyo has been preparing not only for a flood of visitors. Retail businesses and restaurants are hiring more English-speaking staff, increasing accessibility for disabled persons, and adding multilingual signage around the city. On top of this, five one-time only Olympic sports will take place in 2020.
Five sports in total have been added to the roster of events: surfing, skateboarding, climbing, karate, and baseball/softball. Four of them are appearing for the first time in the Olympics (surfing, skateboarding, climbing, karate), and baseball/softball is returning for 2020 for the first time since 2008.
Amatuer atheletes in each of these events finally have the chance to show their talent and hard work to the world. This is the one guaranteed chance for fans of these events to see the competitions they love, support their favorite country or athlete, and join in the spirit of Olympic and Paralympic Games the 2020 Tokyo.
Tokyo has a rich skateboarding culture full of youthful energy. Skate parks with ramps, rails, and curbs can be found all around the city, in natural surroundings like Komazawa Park, or even on top of rooftops, like H.L.N.A Skate Park at Diver City. Typically, all skill levels practice along the same courses. So, simply bring a skateboard, proper protective equipment, and head to a location that’s most convenient for you.
Skateboarding at Tokyo 2020 is split into Street and Park events. Street skateboarding involves performing tricks along a contained course resembling city streets that allows athletes to wow the crowd with their creativity and choreography. Park skateboarding is full of high, scooping bowls that give athletes the chance to rocket in the air and perform complex mid-air moves. Skateboarding is currently set to take place at the Ariake Urban Sports Park Venue near Odaiba.
Surfing debuts as an Olympic sport in 2020. World-class athletes, dressed in wetsuits and surfboards in hand, will compete on the basis of technical difficulty, with an emphasis on power, speed, and the ability to catch and use large waves. Depending on wind and wave conditions, competitors may have about 30 minutes to compete in groups to demonstrate their talent and athleticism. It is this spontaneity and interaction with the elements that makes surfing exciting and unique as a sport.
There are a number of gorgeous locations to surf around Tokyo, such as Kamakura or Enoshima, but 2020 Olympic Surfing will take place on the open ocean at Tsurigasaki Beach along the Pacific coast of Chiba. Hundreds of thousands of travelers visit this area of Japan every year to enjoy the surf and sand.
Indoor climbing gyms are surprisingly common in Tokyo, and cater to all levels of skill and ages. Climbing courses challenge strength, endurance, and planning. Participants must choose the correct route up a set of colorful handholds and pull their way to the top of a wall.
Speed involves scaling a 15-meter wall as fast as possible, while in Lead athletes must climb as high as they can within a given time limit. Bouldering is a strategic event where climbers have to climb as many fixed routes as possible up a 4-meter wall within a given time limit. Sport Climbing is set to take place in the Ariake Urban Sports Pak near Odaiba.
Karate originated in Japan in the Ryuku Kingdom (modern day Okinawa) and has become a world-famous martial art. Translated as “empty hand,” karate is known for power and balance, blends of punching and kicking strikes, and sequences of intricate blocks and movements. There are numerous, exceptional dojo around Tokyo that offer karate classes for those wishing to commit to a life-changing experience.
Tokyo 2020 will separate competitors into one of three weight classes (light, medium, and heavy). Athletes will compete in kata (demonstrating forms) and kumite (sparring) events. In the kata event points will be awarded based on factors such as strength, precision, and speed, and tempo. Kumite, on the other hand, awards points based on the location of the body where a strike lands, and how cleanly the strike makes contact. All karate events will take place in the Nippon Budokan, an historically significant location for practicing the martial arts.
Japan’s long-standing love of baseball and softball is well-documented. Renowned Japanese baseball players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui and Shohei Ohtani gained world acclaim through the MLB (Major League Baseball in the United States). The most competitive of Japanese high school baseball tournaments are the subject of intense media coverage. Japan is also home to the Japan Softball League, a professional women’s softball league currently in its 52nd season. In 2020, both baseball and softball will return to the Olympics for the first time since 2008 for a one-time set of events.
There are a number of prominent stadiums in and around Tokyo, such as Tokyo Dome and MetLife Dome, but baseball and softball in 2020 will take place in Yokohama Stadium.
I am a writer, teacher, and speaker currently working and living in Tokyo. I have an MA in Digital Creative Media and a BA in Psychology, and I have worked as a narrative designer in the video game industry and also as a mental health care professional in New York. In my spare time I love to travel, read, and practice yoga.