AOYAMA VIEW 31.10.2019


“No two times without third.” Poor Chiba was last week hit for the third time in six weeks. With up to 300 mm rain in one day, the prefecture next to Tokyo saw bad floods again, more homes damaged in urban areas, more landslides in forest areas where terrain was softened up by earlier rain fall. So sad to look at the local people again cleaning up their homes and streets, schools and old people’s homes, from the mud they just had shoveled and washed away.

Once again, there were hundreds of volunteers, young and old, male and female, to help them up, but the reality is, as Nikkei noted, that there’s more shovels to dig and more roofs to fix than there are hands in today’s Japan. Same with all government’s money promised to help prefecture to pay for repairs: not enough construction companies to take on the uncountable tasks.


As expected, after so wide natural disasters this summer and before – now it was East Japan, last year West Japan and year before that Kyushu – government says it must completely revise its disaster prevention plans and policies “in view of even further expected increase in rainfall due to global warming”.

With evidence in front of our eyes, there’s few people here that don’t believe in climate change. It’s good that the word has made its way into official plans, too.

Torrential local rains with outpour over 50 mm in one hour have increased by half, so river leveles and dams must be strengthened, forest ridges prone for landslide cast in concrete and forecasting methods of rains’ approach improved. As importantly local officials must get people to leave their homes and evacuate to shelters in time. This time it was already half of the 10 people, who died, that were caught in their cars evacuating too late.

Huge piles of trenched furniture: big problem for waste disposal, but good news for furniture shops (松岡明芳 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (])

Building better homes that last nature’s trials is another solution.

When there’s demand, there’s supply says old business rule, yet can’t help feeling surprised when saw in TV one pre-fab builder already promoting his “flood proof” house. Not only were doors and windows holding back one meter high water outside, but even outwater system was equipped with a valve that prevented dirtwater flowing back to toilets and bath tub as often happens. Against electricity cuts the house had own solar power and big battery where power was stored. In case regional water pipes were broken, as often also happen in floods and quakes, the house had its own well with hand-pump.

It all looked fancy and well-thought out, but wonder how healthy and comfortable it is to live in such hermetically closed house?

Doha Marathon was competed during the night, for Olympics next year not the city nor the starting time of the race are yet clear. (Filip Bossuyt, flickr [CC BY 2.0 (])

That there are typhoons in Japan and that the summer is super hot and sticky, is nothing new for all of us. Finally last week it dawned to IOC, too.

Ever since 2012 when Tokyo was selected the host for the 2020 Olympics, all sensible people have been trying to say that timing the event to mid-summer is a bad choice, both for athletes and for spectators not used to extreme heat and moisture. Yet Lausanne has stuck to its selected schedule in July to fit its multi-billion TV-deals.

Last week we suddenly read here that the Olympic bosses had decided to shift the two marathon events to Sapporo, Hokkaido. The announcement from Switzerland came out of blue through news to local organizers and Tokyo mayor, even more so to Sapporo mayor. For the rest of us, it looked like climate concerns had suddenly reached the IOC ivory tower: the weather patterns here had not changed, so what did?

There was no information, but presumably IOC was so shocked by the criticism about the horrendous conditions at Doha IAAF games that it completely forgot all manners to inform its new idea to hosts, who pay the bill, but just rushed to tell the world it wasn’t as stupid. Not much unlike Donald Trump, who wants to surprise the world by sudden tweets.

In this case the idea itself was positive – finally concern for athletes’ health. The problem was the way it was presented: an insulting affront to Japanese organizers, who had worked hard to meet all IOC requirements. An old song says “Its’s not what you do, it’s the way how you do it” and that certainly applies in Japan. 

While old man Mori immediately capitulated, our tough lady mayor refused to take IOC walking over her just lying down. With her notoriously sharp tongue Koike-san lashed out IOC with sarcastic comments. “Why only to Sapporo? Why not to the islands held by Russia in name of world peace that Olympics stand for?”


Obviously, the strong-willed madame was – to put it straight – peed off by IOC not showing any respect for all city’s efforts to alleviate the expected heat — derived from IOC’s own timing – and for all work to plan great marathon route that would show all the famous sights of the city from Asakusa temple gate and the old Tower to Mt.Fuji in the background. Broadcasting that to the world was surely what Koike thought Tokyo tax payers have paid billions for. Scenes from inside stadium, new and fancy as it is, could easily come from anywhere in the world.

IOC tried to patch up its mistake by sending its organizing comissioner Coates to Tokyo, but Koike was not relenting. “Why not hold the marathon at night like in Doha? Then it’s cool here. And from 4 am, it’s even light already.” The hapless Australian’s reply got his organization even deeper in trouble: “Madame, it’s already decided. There’s nothing to discuss anymore.” What a great prime minister Down Under lost in this guy!

New National Stadium in Tokyo built for the games. Original plans for the new stadium were scrapped and the build-up of the new design began just three years ago in 2016. (Tokyo-Good [CC BY-SA 4.0 (])
As an experienced politician, Yuriko Koike won't give up that easily. (江戸村のとくぞう [CC BY-SA 4.0 (])

The scheduled meeting of the IOC-JOC joint committee – the place where IOC’s sudden change of heart should have been brought up before rushing to press – is being held right now here. As expected Madame Koike did not spare words yesterday attacking the “ojisan” brotherhood.

“All arrangements for Olympics and the marathon have been so fine until now, you have told me and the whole world, haven’t you? Do you know what it costs to shift marathon to Sapporo? Do you know that there is no difference between temperature of Tokyo at 5am and Sapporo at 7am in July?”

“30 million people in Tokyo demand your explanation!”

Can’t wait what the eventual outcome will be. Probably it’s a losing fight – the Big Bosses will stay firm and there’s even rumour that Mori-san has already got his old protege Abe backing the change – but all points to Ms. Koike for the brave challenge. 

Nobody has yet thought out how Sapporo can handle it? How will it work in practice? Who will pay the extra costs?


Timo Varhama

Tokyo, October 31, 2019