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20 Reasons The City Of Tokyo And The 2020 Olympic Games Are So Unique

By Todd Kortemeier | July 23, 2019, 12:01 a.m. (ET)


The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 run July 24-Aug. 9, 2020, and while they are still a year away there’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Each Tuesday leading up to the Games, TeamUSA.org will present a nugget you should read about – from athletes to watch to storylines to follow to Japanese culture and landmarks – as part of “Tokyo 2020 Tuesday.” Follow along on social media with the hashtag #Tokyo2020Tuesday.


Tokyo is a mix of ancient traditions, modern living and future possibilities. The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, too, will represent the past while also putting on a modern show for the rest of the world.

Why are these Games and its host city so unique? Here are 20 reasons.

From the get-go, the Tokyo organizing committee has emphasized environmental responsibility. From the medal stands to the medals themselves, organizers never stopped looking for ways to do things just a little bit greener. 

Depending on how you measure it, Japan is one of the oldest if not the oldest country on the planet. Visitors can take a walk through history by visiting places such as the Imperial Palace, in temples such as Senso-ji and the Tokyo National Museum, which contains artifacts that date back to 10,000 B.C.

New sports 
The Tokyo Games will play host to four new and exciting sports in 2020 (karate, skateboarding, climbing and surfing) some that are returning to the Olympic program (baseball and softball, see below) and even more new events within existing sports (3x3 basketball and BMX freestyle). There also will be new mixed-gender events in seven different sports.

Baseball and softball
Baseball may be American as apple pie but it’s a national passion in Japan as well. The country’s top league, Nippon Professional Baseball, features a high caliber of play and passionate fans who sing and chant throughout the game. They’ll no doubt be looking forward to seeing how their national team fares in the sport’s return to the Olympic program. And don’t forget about softball. Japan’s women’s national team is a three-time world champion and won the gold medal the last time softball was an Olympic sport in 2008.

Volleyball may be a ways down the list in the Japanese sporting consciousness, but the sport has a long history in Japan and has seen some famous victories. Volleyball debuted at the 1964 Tokyo Games, and the hosts performed valiantly, with the women’s team winning the gold medal and the men taking bronze.  

Japan is always reverent of the past and its symbols and traditions. The Olympic and Paralympic torches will be no exception, carrying such famous iconography as the cherry blossom.

It’s no surprise tech-crazy Japan will have something special in store for the Games. One of the most visible technologies to visitors will be helpful hospitality robots on hand to assist travelers. The robots can answer questions in several languages and perform such tasks as directing patrons to their seats.

When not taking in the athletics, visitors will have more sights to see than is even possible on a normal-length trip. Some of Tokyo’s most unique attractions include the Tsukiji fish market, the largest in the world, the man-made Odaiba island and Yoyogi Park.

The Tokyo Games are in part about diversity and inclusiveness. This theme is expressed within the official Olympic and Paralympic symbols, designed to represent how different things can come together as one.

Vending machines (really!)
You’ve never seen vending machines like Tokyo does vending machines. More than just a place to grab a quick soda, Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines carry a diverse array of items from hot beverages to a hot meal. 

Most transactions in Japan are still cash-based, so get used to using the yen. Exchange rates with the U.S. dollar typically hover around 100 to 1, so divide your total in yen by 100 to get an idea of the total in dollars.

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Legacy of 1964
The 1964 Olympic Games remain a fond memory for the people of Japan. The Games symbolized all the progress Japan had made since the devastation of World War II. The legacy of the Games will live on as some of the venues will be re-used for 2020. The 1964 Games were also of historical importance to the world, as it was the first time they were broadcast live via satellite. 

The 1964 Games also coincided with the opening of Japan’s famed bullet train. Known as the shinkansen in Japanese, the train remains a point of national pride. Famously punctual, the train whisks passengers across the country at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.

Natural beauty
Japan’s famous cherry blossoms won’t be in bloom come July, but there is no shortage of natural beauty in Tokyo. At over 12,000 feet, Mount Fuji can be easily spotted from Tokyo on a clear day.

A sporting tradition
Sports are hugely important in Japanese culture. Each October, schools around the country hold Health and Sports Day. Designed to coincide with the opening of the 1964 Games, Health and Sports Day encourages kids to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.

Judo is back home
Judo will come full circle at the 2020 Games, returning both to its homeland and the site of its Olympic debut in 1964. Japan is the all-time Olympic medal leader in judo, with as many gold medals as the next four nations combined.

New visitors to Tokyo may be surprised that a city of its size isn’t home to skyscrapers on par with cities like New York. Earthquake concerns are to blame for that, but while Tokyo doesn’t have mega-sized office buildings, it has two towers from which you can get a great view of the Tokyo megalopolis. Tokyo Skytree is the second-tallest structure in the world at 2,080 feet. The older Tokyo Tower stands at 1,092 feet. 

Like any major city, Tokyo is not without its entertainment and shopping districts. The famous multi-way crossing at Shibuya is Japan’s answer to Times Square. Harajuku is a must-see display of Japan’s youth culture. Then there’s the upscale Ginza neighborhood, for when Rodeo Drive just doesn’t cut it.

The devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami that befell Japan is never far from the minds of Japanese citizens. Much like the 1964 Games did for the painful memories of World War II, the 2020 Games hope to serve as a healing event for the people of Japan.

An exciting schedule
Now just a year away, it’s never too early to take a look at the competition schedule. Athletes will be bringing their special talents to a special Games that is uniquely Japanese.  

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.