Travelling by rail, Katarina stopped off in Osaka to put a tick on her bucket list
From the moment I stepped off the plane, Japan was an assault on the senses. Adjusting to the cultural differences I encountered as a non-Japanese speaker on her first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun certainly had its challenges.
The key purpose of my trip was to investigate how Japan was preparing for next year’s Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.
I was able to visit a number of venues in Tokyo, Yokohama, Beppu and Oita – many featuring world-leading state-of-the-art technology – aimed at delivering a world-class event for players, spectators and for those watching the tournament overseas.
One of the most common phrases spoken by Olympic and Paralympic officials in their dealings with me was the importance of ‘legacy’. Both the Tokyo 2020 organising committee and the International Olympic Committee are intensely focused on avoiding the fate of several venues from previous games that ended up becoming obsolete once the events finished.
To avoid this, the IOC wants to build venues from scratch that will have a purpose past the Games and are more willing to use temporary venues for sports that may not have longevity afterwards. Not only does this prevent empty eyesores in Games’ cities, but this shift also has another major benefit: financially, it makes hosting the Games a more attractive proposition.
Cranes dominate the skyline around the Olympic Village
After two full-on days in Tokyo, I headed south to Oita Prefecture, where I was hosted by the Oita Prefecture Government for three days.
The region, in the south of Japan, is set to become more familiar to New Zealand sports fans in the next year-and-a-half. The Oita city of Beppu is where the All Blacks are set to hold a pre-Rugby World Cup training camp, while the prefecture's capital, also called Oita, has been named as a host city for an All Blacks’ pool match against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.
Beppu has a sister city relationship with Rotorua. Like Rotorua, Beppu is renowned for its geothermal activity and strong tourism pedigree.
In Beppu, I was taken for lunch at a restaurant where the ingredients – including chicken, vegetables, pork buns and raw eggs – were, similar to a New Zealand hangi, put into a basket that was then placed in special hole where the items were steamed for 20 minutes before eating. Delicious!
On my travels north, I used my rail pass to catch the world-famous Shinkansen, or ‘bullet train’, to Osaka – ticking off an item on my bucket list in the process.
Returning to Tokyo, I still had work to do.
Katarina met with a number of high-level Olympic and RWC officials, including RWC 2019 chief executive Akira Shimazu
My penultimate day included an interview with Tokyo 2020 head of communications Masa Takaya, followed by a visit to the New Zealand Embassy where I met New Zealand Ambassador Stephen Payton. We talked about the business and trade opportunities opened up by the Rugby World Cup. I then attended an International Olympic Committee press conference fronted by IOC coordination commission chairman John Coates who reported back about the two-day Project Review.
On my last day in japan, I attended a wet but very moving Anzac Day service in Yokohama.
I wish to thank the foundation for giving me this opportunity. I learned a lot about Japanese culture and was very fortunate to have the services of interpreters and people always willing to assist me, including the Foreign Press Centre in Tokyo, which helped coordinate a number of my interviews for which I am grateful.
The memories I have from Japan will stay with me for the rest of my life. Now I am hoping my bosses will send me back to Japan for the Olympics in 2020 - fulfilling one of my lifelong dreams to cover a Games. Fingers crossed!