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Tokyo 2020: A Glimpse Inside the Olympic and Paralympic Village

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will open on July 23 and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games will open on August 24. During the Games, the world’s top athletes will reside in the Olympic and Paralympic Village. But you may be thinking, what sort of place is the Village, which will provide everyday necessities to athletes heading to their tournaments? Let us take you behind the scenes with commentary from Shinji Negi, a deputy head of the Paralympic Village and former member of the Japanese wheelchair basketball national team.

*This article was written from an exclusive viewing of the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the media on June 20.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Village is located in the Harumi waterfront district of Tokyo, which lies at the center of the Games’ venues.

Stepping into the Village!

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Village is surrounded by the sea on three fronts, so a nice breeze passes through. It covers an impressive area of around 44 hectares (about nine times the size of Tokyo Dome). The main facilities are as follows:

1) Residential zone The area where athletes live (residential buildings, main dining hall, fitness center, etc.).

2) Village Plaza A facility that offers various services to support the athletes’ day-to-day lives (general store, bank, repair center for sports wears and shoes, etc.).

3) Management zone The area where functions related to the management of the Village are gathered.

Let’s first take a walk around the residential zone.
One step into the Village and the surrounding scenery makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a town.

There are a total of 21 residential buildings, each with different and eye-catching designs. For example, one building has a wave-like exterior and another features bamboo-themed decorations.

(Shinji Negi, deputy head of the Paralympic Village; hereafter “Negi”): Olympic and Paralympic athletes have a culture of hanging their country’s flags on the balconies of their residential buildings. It seems to also have the added benefit of marking which buildings host which countries. So the exterior of these buildings will likely look a lot more colorful once the Tokyo 2020 athletes start coming in.

The dining hall to keep the athletes’ stomachs satisfied

The first facility we arrive at in the residential zone is the main dining hall. The two-storied building will have the capacity to seat 3,000 people during the Games. Athletes can check, in advance, how crowded the dining hall is on a monitor on the first floor of their residential building, at the entrance of the dining hall, or on a smartphone app.

The spacious dining hall. Once it opens, each seat will be surrounded by transparent acrylic boards on three sides to allow athletes to eat safely in their own space. The hall is also equipped with a ventilation system that changes out the air three to four times an hour.

Around 700 different kinds of foods will be available in the main hall, ranging from Japanese dishes to Halal meals, vegetarian menus and a gluten-free corner. The most popular dishes among the athletes are apparently (and a little surprisingly) pizza and pasta.

A sample meal: simple dishes are the basis of the menu, bringing out the taste of the ingredients, with a wide variety of seasonings available so that each athlete can flavor their meals to their liking.
photo by Tokyo 2020

The main dining hall cutlery

Negi: The cutlery being used in the Village’s main dining hall feature cherry blossom designs on their handles and were made in Tsubame City, Niigata Prefecture. Tsubame City is famous for its metal processing craft, and to think that these world-class cutlery pieces will be used by the world’s top athletes makes me very proud.

The fitness center allows athletes to maintain their best physical conditions

The fitness center in the Village caters more to physical conditioning than muscle building. As such, most of the machines, such as the treadmills and bikes, are for cardio exercises. Spacious areas are also available for stretching, yoga and other conditioning exercises.

Although the equipment will remain the same for both the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, the number of machines will be pared down prior to the Paralympic Games to ensure more space to accommodate wheelchair users.

These multi-functional training machines can also be used by wheelchair users, allowing athletes to perform circuits of various exercises.

A CYBER BOCCIA game system is installed inside the multi-purpose complex that houses the fitness center, allowing athletes to experience the Paralympic sport boccia.

Negi: The fitness center also offers hand cycle machines and a wide range of other equipment that can be used by wheelchair users. Athletes can also play CYBER BOCCIA, which is installed inside the multi-purpose complex, to take a break from training. I think it’ll be popular among Olympic and Paralympic athletes alike.

Watch for the futuristic shuttle buses inside the Village

Walking through the Village, you’ll notice bus stops. There are nine bus stops in the Village and shuttle buses will be operating 24 hours a day. The shuttle buses are large, autonomously driven electric vehicles that can seat up to 20 occupants including the operator, or four wheelchair users who can remain in their wheelchairs.

The buses are 5.2m long, 2m wide and 2.7m tall. The high ceiling ensures that even tall athletes will not have to duck their heads while inside.

The bus stops have slopes and a shade. Since the platforms are elevated to match the height of the bus’s door, the slopes allow wheelchair users to get on and off without help.

Negi: Shuttle buses are essential to moving around the spacious Village. It’s also good that the athletes can avoid the heat while on the move. The Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, which I participated in, had kneeling buses that automatically lowered the height of the bus so that we could get in and out easily.

A look inside the residential buildings where top athletes will be staying!

Last but not least in the residential zone, we took a look inside the buildings where athletes from each country will be staying.

The rooms are furnished with closets and cardboard beds, which are sturdier and lighter than regular steel beds. Athletes can freely change the layout of the rooms to their liking.
photo by Tokyo 2020

Small details across the rooms show consideration for the athletes. For example, to ensure that athletes arriving from overseas can adjust to the time difference without stress, the curtains are single panels and longer than usual so that they block out light as much as possible. The closets are also 110cm tall so that they are within easy reach for wheelchair users.
photo by Tokyo 2020

Some rooms are also equipped with accessible bathrooms that are flat, spaciously designed and have sliding doors, making them easy to use for wheelchair users.
photo by Tokyo 2020

The exterior corridors are spaciously designed, providing ample room not only for athletes of large build but also for two wheelchair users to pass by each other during the Games. When the buildings are converted to regular residences after the Games, the wide corridors will make it easier for people pushing baby strollers or carrying large luggage to pass by each other.
photo by Tokyo 2020

Negi: The bed mattresses are comprised of three sections, with the top and bottom sides offering a different hardness. Athletes can change the sides and positions of each section to customize the beds to fit their bodies. The residential buildings are important because that’s where athletes spend most of their time outside of training and competing. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the athletes’ performances are determined by how they spend their time in the residential buildings. That’s why the rooms are carefully designed with all sorts of considerations so that everyone can spend their time inside comfortably, whether they’re resting, concentrating or relaxing.

The Village Plaza that supports the athletes’ day-to-day lives

Next, let’s take a look at the Village Plaza, which is located next to the residential zone.

During the Games, the Village Plaza will provide various services, such as a general store, cafe, post office and ATM, to meet the needs of the athletes and support their day-to-day lives.

The Village Plaza is a temporary structure that was built using domestic lumber. The bamboos lining the roof help temper the strong summer sun. The Plaza will also be decorated with lanterns during the Games, creating a uniquely Japanese atmosphere.

The wooden structure of the Village Plaza offers a warm ambiance. The lumber was donated by municipalities across Japan through a project called “Japanese Lumber Relay: ‘A Village Plaza Built by All’.” The borrowed lumber, used in various parts of the structure, will be returned to their original municipalities after the Games and reused in keeping with the sustainable initiative.

A bank in the Village Plaza. The low counters ensure easy access for wheelchair users. The wheels on the chairs are also deliberately removed out of consideration for athletes with impairments who have difficulty with their balance so that they don’t fall over by accident.

A courier service to help athletes ship their luggage. Many people, including athlete teams, use such services during the Games.

Dry cleaning services and services to repair sportswear and shoes are also available.

The Plaza has a hair salon too. Some athletes like to touch up or dye their hair to fire themselves up before their tournaments.

A photography studio offers athletes a chance to take a commemorative photo of themselves in their best forms after training hard for Tokyo 2020.

The internet lounge has a display for the “Visible Phone to Cheer on Athletes” project, which allows athletes to listen to messages of support arriving from across Japan in writing or as an audio.

Negi: The Tokyo 2020 Official Shop will also be housed in the Village Plaza, where many athletes buy souvenirs. During the Paralympic Games, a repair shop for equipment will also be opened in the Plaza so athletes can repair the various tools they use during tournaments, such as prosthetics, orthotic devices and wheelchairs. This is an incredibly helpful and reassuring service for the athletes. I heard an athlete asked to get their glasses fixed in one of the previous Games.

The Truce Mural: praying for peace

The Olympic and Paralympic Games are based on the principle that sports can enhance the body and mind; transcend cultures, nationalities and various other differences; and cultivate deeper understanding through friendship, solidarity and fair play with the ultimate goal of promoting a better, peaceful world. The five rings that stand as the symbol of the Games represent the union of the five continents and carry the message that the world is one. (Photograph from the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games) photo by Getty Images

There’s one more place in the Village that should not be overlooked: the Truce Mural (wall).
The Truce Mural was first set up during the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games as part of the Olympic and Paralympic Truce movement that aims to promote a world without conflict through the power of sports. By signing the mural, athletes and others can show their support for the movement.
The Truce Mural will be set up in the Village for Tokyo 2020. As the Games go on, we believe the wall will be covered by the signatures of athletes from all over the world wishing for peace.

Negi: The Olympic and Paralympic Village will be home to people full of diversity, with different genders, ethnicities, religions, values and even culinary tastes. COVID-19 may make it difficult for athletes to interact like they usually do during the Games, but under normal circumstances, the Village is a place where people from all over the world can deepen their bonds and friendships. In a way, the Village is a miniature Earth and may be the most inclusive and peaceful community in the world.

The Harumi Port Park, in the residential zone, offers a view of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Bay.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are about to begin. Imagining what life is like for the athletes when they aren’t competing under the grand tournament spotlights is just one more way to enjoy the Games.

text by Parasapo
photo by Haruo Wanibe

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