In less than one year, the sporting world will descend on Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. An estimated 600,000 overseas visitors are expected to flock to the Japanese capital and surrounding regions, and the Games — as they are every four years — will be an endurance test of planning and logistics for organizers and attendees alike.
But there are ways for international guests to make the most of their stay in Tokyo and help ensure the smooth operation of the Games.
Have tickets? Or considering going? The following guide will help answer your burning questions about the 2020 Olympics and provide insider hints and tricks to have a memorable time in Japan.
Attending the Games
When are the Games? Where are the venues?
The 2020 Olympics will officially kick off with the opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 24, with preliminary softball and soccer matches starting on July 22, and run through August 9. Following a two-week breather, the Paralympics will begin August 25 and conclude September 6.
The Games will be held across nine prefectures, with the majority taking place in two areas of Tokyo: the Heritage Zone, using revamped buildings from the 1964 Olympics, and Tokyo Bay Zone, designed to serve as a “model for innovative urban development.”
Venues outside of Tokyo include the Sapporo Dome on the northern island of Hokkaido (hosting soccer) and the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima.
What are the new sports?
Five new sports will be added to the Olympic lineup, which now stands at 33: Skateboarding, “sports climbing,” surfing and, appropriately for Japan, baseball and softball, and karate. Existing sports, such as canoeing, kayaking, boxing and fencing, will also see a rebalancing with additional events added, primarily with an eye toward increased gender equality.
How can I get tickets to the Olympics? Is it too late?
The first round of Tokyo Olympics ticketing was limited by lottery system to residents of Japan and closed on May 28. A subsequent “relief measure” lottery was held in August. Paralympic tickets were also awarded on a lottery basis, and closed on September 9.
Thirty percent of an estimated 7.8 million have been set aside for overseas visitors, sold by “Authorized Ticket Resellers.” For those in the United States, ticket sales will be handled by CoSport and went on sale in July. As of this writing, all available tickets have been sold, although subsequent rounds of ticketing are expected to take place on an ongoing basis through 2020, before the start of the Games.
The Tokyo Olympics organizing committee will also host an online resale site beginning in the spring, with ticket prices capped at the original face value. Available for both foreign visitors and Japanese residents, the official resale service may provide relief for those shut out of the initial rounds of ticketing.
What happens if I can’t secure any tickets at all?
Lack of tickets does not necessarily mean a lack of Olympics fun in and around Tokyo. The organizing committee has approved 30 “Live Site” venues across Japan for non-ticketholders, including in areas affected by the Tohoku and Kumamoto earthquakes. These sites will feature live televised sports broadcasts, cultural events and among other programs, attendees will have the chance to try out various Olympic and Paralympic sports.
Is it true that I won’t be allowed to post photos of events to social media?
Shortly after the first round of tickets went on sale in Japan, controversy arose over certain aspects of the terms and conditions attached to the purchase of tickets, namely, the transfer of intellectual property rights of photos taken by attendees at Olympic events to the organizing committee. Would this mean then that the Committee — notorious for protecting its I.P. rights — would then crack down on social media photos?
Organizers have clarified that, while the Committee is in fact claiming copyright over photos taken by ticketholders, it will not prevent those photos from being posted to social media. Only commercial reproduction of photos will be disallowed. Controversially, however, audio and video clips taken by spectators are not permitted to be posted on social media. Organizers are expected to be vigilant in filing takedown notices with social media networks.
What is the best way to access the venues each day?
Unsurprisingly, Tokyo’s extensive public transit system will be key in shuttling attendees to and from venues each day. Even with companies embracing remote work during the Games, to help ease Tokyo’s famously packed trains, the influx of tourists is nonetheless expected to tax the system. Regardless, using Tokyo’s rail and subway networks is everyone’s best bet for reaching the venues.
For a cheery twist, JR East and Pasmo (Tokyo Metro) in September began offering special contactless fare cards featuring colorful designs and characters for overseas guests. These cards can also be used for quick, cashless payment at retailers and restaurants in and around rail stations.
Tokyo’s train and metro schedules look complicated. Help!
Fortunately, helpful tools are available to assist navigating the byzantine scheduling and routing of Tokyo’s trains. Hyperdia has long been the go-to website for expats in Japan for searching out train routes — simply enter the originating and destination stations, desired departure or arrival time and Hyperdia will provide up to 10 routes, which can be ranked by trip length, number of transfers required, or price.
Above all, it is important to trust the information provided. Hopping on an earlier local train can add significant time to one’s commute, while taking a rapid train may mean passing through your desired station without stopping.
For those looking to keep things simple, Tokyo’s famed Yamanote Line with its famous green livery is a circular commuter line that hits all of the major stations in Tokyo. Whether one has Shibuya dreams or a craving for crepes in Harajuku, the Yamanote Line is an easy — though not necessarily the fastest — option to travel between major stations in the city.
Getting Some Rest
Again, I can’t get over the price of the hotels! Good thing I can cram 10 people into a room, right?
Yes and no, but mostly no. Unsurprisingly, hotels in and around Tokyo will feature some eye-popping prices. Already, “capsule” hotels that normally run around $20 per night are advertising prices exceeding $100.
There is certainly temptation to split the cost of a single room across multiple guests, but it may not work. First, Japan’s notoriously small (by Western standards) hotel rooms would be extremely cramped quarters for three or four people.
The real problem, however, comes with Japanese law and hotel practices. Unlike many destinations, Japanese hotels charge on a per-person, per-night rate, not simply by the room. If you reserve a double room for one adult, but show up to check-in with a travel companion, be prepared to pay up for the additional guest. Further, to comply with safety regulations, hotel rooms are limited by type in the number of guests they may have — a room rated as “single” occupancy can only have a single adult, and so on.
Hotels — particularly those three-stars and below, and especially spartan “business” hotels — are sticklers for these rules and practice strict access control — some chains require guests to leave their key at the front desk when leaving the property, and most have their front desks facing the entrance and elevators to monitor those entering. While high-end Western hotel properties are less fastidious about access control, visitors to Japan should be aware of occupancy restrictions at most hotels in the country.
What are my other options?
To combat the anticipated hotel room shortfall, cruise ships are also expected to be pressed into service to serve as floating hotels.
Plans fell through? Couldn’t find a hotel room for some nights?
There are some last-ditch options available for visitors to Japan. There are 24-hour internet cafes, which offer cheap, comfortable — if cramped — overnight packages on a walk-in basis. These are popular choices for locals who missed the last train home.
Owing to often paper-thin walls and multigenerational households, “love hotels” are also common in big cities, and can double as last-minute walk-in accommodations in a pinch. While more expensive than an internet cafe, love hotels provide a safe, comfortable place to stay if one’s regular hotel reservation falls through.
Getting More than Simply Subsistence
What are some meals that I absolutely must try without breaking the bank?
Whether it be a stand-up izakaya, mom-and-pop restaurant or $300-a-course sushi, it is almost impossible to go wrong when it comes to dining out in Japan.
And, despite Tokyo’s reputation as a notoriously expensive city, great meals do not necessarily need to cost an arm and a leg. Indeed, thanks to strict food safety and marketing laws, as well as high standards of Japanese consumers, even fast-service restaurants such as the ubiquitous chains Gusto, Saizeriya and Royal Host, offer fare of surprisingly high quality.
For the best bang for the buck, head to Shinjukukappo Nakajima, or for ramen lovers, Nakiryu in Tokyo’s Toshima district — Michelin- starred restaurants where lunch sets start at under $10.
Besides the Games
I wasn’t able to get tickets on a few days. What else should I do?
Luckily, the Games are occurring during the high season for Japanese festivals and other sporting events, leaving no shortage of alternatives for visitors to the capital.
For those looking for an authentic taste of Japan, a summer “matsuri” festival is a great bet. Tokyo’s famed Sumida fireworks display at the end of July is normally a crowded affair, but for a roomier experience, head to Takasaki Fireworks Matsuri in nearby Gunma prefecture. Held on the first Saturday in August, the festival features elaborate dashi floats, live music and is capped off with an hour-long fireworks display, one of the largest in the region.
As an added benefit, the festival has wide open fields from which the fireworks display can be viewed. Simply put down a tarp to reserve a viewing spot, walk back to the city center for the festivities and return later to enjoy the show.
For the sports-minded, the famed national high school Koushien baseball tournament also runs from early to late August. With a ticket costing $8 to $20 and granting access to three to four games daily, fans can enjoy high-quality baseball in a packed stadium with the energy of a professional game.
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