Foreign Journalists Speak Their Minds as Tokyo Olympics End
“7-Eleven Is Wonderful” “That Tasty Bread” “Shocked by Darkness of Shibuya”
With Tokyo Olympics now ended, we asked the foreign journalists and photographers covering the event how they really thought. Here are some things they told us: love for the convenient stores, irritation with the transportation, and Japanese hospitality.
“This will be a different type of coverage, for sure. Even shooters who have 10, 12, 14 Games under their belt are taking this one, uncertain, step at a time.” (Joe McNally, American photographer). Coming to Japan as an unwelcome visitor, self-quarantine after arrival, and extreme heat…… Everything was extraordinary in this Olympic, for athletes and the press.
The routine for the press coming to Japan is, “you arrive, and hard quarantine for three days, then Olympic bubble quarantine, pretty much thereafter. My world is the Olympic approved hotel, the Olympic buses, the Olympic venues, and then reverse that at the end of the day.” (Joe McNally)
Of course, they cannot venture into the neighborhood for a meal or a beer. Whether there was time or energy for that is another question, but the foreign press could only leave the hotel for 15 minutes. “The only time I went out was the trip to the Family Mart. For 16 days of my stay, I ate the fresh and delicious Family Mart sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The egg sandwiches are good.” (Joe McNally)
“Ate 7-Eleven Shrimp Mayonnaise Onigiri Every Day”
For journalists isolated within the Olympic bubble, convenience stores have tremendous presence. Like the love for 7-Eleven by a Canadian journalist (Devin Heroux) that became viral, the convenience store culture of Japan became the lifeline for the foreign press. Heroux’s initial favorites were chicken karaage onigiri (rice ball), edamame (green soybean) chips, and Pocari Sweat.
Australian reporter Eryk Bagshaw, who used the same 7-Eleven store as Heroux, says, “That store is my 7-Eleven.” “My personal favorite was onigiri with shrimps and mayonnaise.
I literally ate it every day, so in the end, I got tired of it,” he laughed.
Other circumstances also contributed to the convenience store’s popularity. Christopher Jue, an American photographer living in Japan told us that at the media centers, there is not much to eat, and the items available were premium lunch box (1,600 yen), lunch box with 4 or 5 pieces of chicken karaage (800 yen), and bottle of Aquarius (300 yen), all overpriced like in Disneyland. He said the only things offered for free were coffee, bottled water, jelly beans, and chocolate. So it is no wonder the food from convenience stores with reasonable prices and satisfying taste was popular among the reporters.
The Photographer That Loved “Lunch Pack”
Eryk Bagshaw mentioned that the food provided at the media centers of each venue “differed.”
“There was almost nothing at the softball venue, but the new national stadium had something like dumplings. And the skateboarding venue had beef croquettes. Personally, I was most pleased with that.” (Eryk Bagshaw)
At the media center where the American photographer Joe McNally frequented, they offered what seemed to be Lunch Pack sweet sandwiches to the press as snacks. (He expresses this as “pockets of soft white bread somehow welded together on four sides to make a pouch filled with strawberry jam and margarine.”) He writes in his blog, “Editing at the venues at post midnight, I’ve been eating these like popcorn.”
Italian Prefers Uber Eats: “Both Sushi and Ramen Were Great”
Instead of using convenient stores, photographer Bettini from Italy, the land of gourmet food, said, “I made full use of Uber Eats to eat sushi, sashimi, and other Japanese food. Ramen was also good.”
“I placed my order on my way back to the hotel on the shuttle bus. They had a wide range of selections, with quick delivery just as I reached the hotel.”
Bagshaw, we mentioned earlier, also switched to Uber Eats later on.
“I ordered various things, including ramen, sushi, and Japanese curry. But since many foreign journalists in the hotel ordered Uber Eats around the same time, there was always some confusion to figure out which delivery staff has your food (laughs). Several times, I saw about six foreign press people holding smartphones chasing people with Uber Eats delivery bag.
And even after they got hold of the staff, they had a hard time communicating…… It must have taken at least 15 minutes to actually receive the food after the delivery staff arrived.”
“The Shuttle Bus Was Irritating”
Chip Le Grand, chief reporter of the Melbourne daily newspaper “The Age” said, “With normal Olympics reporting, it’s important to listen to the voice of the local people, and get a direct feel for the city’s atmosphere. This time, for two weeks, it was like trying hard to get a look at Tokyo though glass while we were completely cut off. Tokyo is a city with the most advanced transportation system, yet we had to ride the shuttle bus for over 40 minutes to a place we can reach in 20 minutes by subway. There were lots of irritating points with transportation.” Although this could not be helped considering the Olympic bubble, there were many others who voiced the extreme inefficiency of travelling on the shuttle bus.
The Olympic bubble also made the press work on a demanding schedule. “Everyone was physically tired,” said Bagshaw. He headed for Fukushima to cover softball and took the 1.30 am bus and arrived at 5:00 am. He waited hours for the match to start at 9:00 am, and when the game finished, he took the bus leaving at noon to return to the hotel in Tokyo, because he was not allowed to stay in Fukushima. In the afternoon of August 7, he arrived at Sapporo in Hokkaido to cover the marathon, goes back to Tokyo on August 8 for the closing ceremony, and flies back home on August 9. When we interviewed him before he went to Sapporo, he said. “It’s my first time to cover the marathon. I hope I can see some spectators.”
Le Grand said, “We knew that with the COVID situation, most of the Japanese were opposed to holding the Olympics. But we were really impressed with the hospitality of the people who directly greeted us. We strongly felt the Japanese people’s sense of duty for hosting the Olympics, when unwelcome visitors like us who don’t even speak the language come flocking in. Lockdowns are being implemented in Australia even with fewer cases than Japan, and people have to stay home. Japan hosted the Olympics for us while COVID cases were surging. For the people in Australia locked up in their homes, the Olympics was a wonderful event that lifted their spirits (with Australian athletes achieving highest results ever).” Bagshaw said, “We are grateful that the games were held, and as a reporter, since I was rather tired of covering politics and the COVID pandemic, it was fantastic to deliver positive news.”
American photographer Joe McNally writes in his blog, “One thing I knew about, but re-learned all over again. The Japanese people are amongst the most gracious, helpful and hardworking people anywhere on earth. The staff and volunteers trying to make this complex enterprise work in the midst of this very complex time on our planet are unfailingly wonderful to encounter. One woman left her post and walked this very confused photographer to the right doorway the other day for over ten minutes. Didn’t let me go until she knew I had it dialed in.”
Lights Out at Shibuya Scramble Crossing
Lastly, Le Grand said, “Two days ago, I completed my 14-day bubble quarantine and went out to the streets. Considering the population of Tokyo, there were surprisingly few people out there. The policy in Tokyo is voluntary restraint, and in principle, restaurants and bars have to close by 8:00 pm, and not allowed to serve alcohol. But if you look in less prominent spots in the back streets or on the second or third floor of a building, you could find lots of places that were open. In that sense, it was a good chance to experience the underground aspect of Tokyo.”
But he added, “I was standing at the Shibuya Scramble Crossing after the electric bulletin boards have been turned off. If it were not for the pandemic, people celebrating the Olympics would have filled this place, and I was struck with the sense that the event was held at a really tough time.”
It must have been hard for the foreign press to cover the Olympics this time, yet we were impressed by many journalists saying it can’t be helped and they have to accept this situation amidst a global crisis.