I tend to write a lot less about my travelling experiences than I probably should. The reason is what makes my travel experience any different from anyone else’s? Everyone can go to Paris, Malaga, or Thailand and have a similar but different experience. Anyone can describe what it’s like to see the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. But, for me, travelling is always about the people and never about the place. So, when telling tales of travelling adventures I always talk about the people I meet, and that’s sometimes harder to get across than describing a city’s buildings or landscape.
However, Tokyo 2020 (In 2021) was a unique experience that I know I was fortunate enough to experience. I never usually talk of places at the time of me being there, as I’m generally working and never want people to find my blogs or thoughts. You never know what can happen to you if colleagues or governments find your reflections. Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo was amazing, and is amazing, and the people of Japan are just unbelievable in comparison to some of the western civilisation. Japan and Japanese people are just the best you can find. And the food is my all-time favourite food. I could eat Japanese food every day for the rest of my life.
I’ve been on some adventures in my years, but this was like no other. It makes me excited just thinking about it again. So here goes…
On the last day of working at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, I met with the sports manager for Tokyo 2020. I had two spare tickets to the Closing ceremony at the Maracanã stadium so invited him and his colleague. We had a great evening and got pretty drunk before the heavens opened and a storm descended on Copacabana. A great evening to finish the games and we stayed in touch by email for the next few years, before I headed to Tokyo in October 2019 for the Olympic Games test event. This was the confirmation I needed that I would be involved in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
We all know March 2020 then happened and the Olympic Games were postponed for one year. No more international travel and the acceptance that I may not be attending the Olympics this time.
Tokyo was not open for international travellers from March 2020 until October 2022. They were against any international workers for the Olympics. But boxing had a special pass because of current issues in the sport. Getting me on the flight took a lot of effort, especially as the UK was then put on the red list for international travel, but I was prepared to do what was required.
Before flying to Japan, I would have to get three negative PCR Covid tests, one day after another, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 72 hours before the flight. The Covid tests had to be from a specific verified Japanese test centre and my closest centre was an hour away at Bournemouth Airport. These Covid tests had to then be sent to a consultant in London who had to stamp them with a Japanese government stamp. My flight was on a Saturday so this was touch and go if I would get the stamps back in time from the consultant. As well as this I had to have a letter from the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee to show at the boarding desk, written in Japanese and English. Three tests, three stamps, three letters.
It’s difficult to get excited about a trip when you’re unsure if you’ll even get on the flight, but after very thorough checks I was finally in my seat J26. Window seat and 3 seats to myself so I could eventually lay down across them and sleep.
After the 14-hour flight from London Heathrow to Tokyo I had to gather all of my documents for the checks on arrival. I exited the plane and was immediately ushered with the rest of the passengers to another testing centre. I had been wearing my face mask for 14 hours and had to keep it on for a while longer.
Passengers were escorted into the airport covid testing centre where you’d enter a private booth and spit into a tiny funnel. Whilst I waited for the results, which would take thirty minutes we were instructed to download a location app on our phones and enter our details, passport number, and apartment location. You also had to sync this app with your live location settings on your phone so that you could be tracked at all times.
As I waited in the lounge area for my number to be called the tension grew. Imagine failing a test at this point. It wasn’t worth thinking about. They’d whisk you away and quickly isolate you. The staff sat behind a check-in desk and two numbers written in Japanese were displayed in big digital red letters. They’d press a button to change the numbers and then call them out in Japanese followed by English. It was getting closer to my number, number seventy-eight.
‘Seventy-five, seventy-six, seventy-seven and … seventy-nine’ The Japanese lady shouted from behind the check-in booth.
Huh, what? Where’s seventy-eight? What have I done, I’m positive, oh crap this is it, I’ll be in a two-week quarantine in Japan.
‘Eighty, eighty-one, next ‘
You know when you think you’re ill and now you have a headache, and you feel your temperature rising? Yeah, that. Am I sweating? Maybe I do have a fever. Shit!
‘Number seventy-eight, eighty-two, eighty-three’. She shouted once more.
My Christ, that was close, but I was out. Well, kind of.
Next level unlocked.
After three and a half hours since landing, I finally got through immigration and was met at the arrivals gate by Ken. Ken was a twenty-three-year-old colleague from Tokyo who was currently studying in the US. He’d been waiting at the airport since my flight had landed and was even holding a sign saying #YOUGOTTHIS, which had been decorated in all different colours. Ken welcomed me to Tokyo and gave me two tickets. One was to get my dedicated taxi from the Airport to my hotel and one was to get me to the venue in three days. Ken was not able to travel with me in the taxi due to my covid quarantine rules and my isolation requirements. I had to get into the back of a dedicated taxi which would take me the thirty-minute journey from Haneda airport to Nihonbashi.
As I was driven from the airport I kept an eye on the streets of Tokyo as I knew I wouldn’t be seeing much of it for the next two weeks. I was due for a three-day hard quarantine in my hotel room, followed by eleven further days of just bubble-to-bubble isolation.
I arrived at my hotel and was instructed about the rules once more and that I should stay in my hotel room for the next three days. I would do a covid test the next morning and put the test inside a plastic tray outside my door. But not leave the room. I’d also have to do another test on day 3. I was not allowed outside the hotel or even into the corridor.
I was given three meals per day, all delivered to my door and left inside a plastic tray. The instructions even said, ‘No vegetarian option.’. Each day you’d wonder what you’d get in your next meal.
Every box contained a bread roll. That was a given. Then some mushrooms, some noodles, and either chicken, beef, or fish. I wasn’t going to be fussy and I was intrigued to take on the culture. It did feel a little odd eating chicken in lemon sauce with rice at nine in the morning.
My morning box meals
Three days in complete solidarity is very interesting. You’re dying to see someone. Anyone. I stood at the door with my eye looking through the peephole just to see if anyone else would be in my corridor. I think I’m ok in my own company, I walked up and down the room, which was about ten steps long. I stretched and did some press-ups to get the blood flowing. You’ve probably already said it in your head, but yes, it felt like a prison. Even the view outside my window was just a brick wall of the building next door.
After three days and two negative covid tests, I was allowed to go to the boxing venue. The boxing would be held at the legendary Kokugikan Arena. It’s famous for being the main Sumo Wrestling venue in Tokyo. First built over one-hundred years ago and its latest revamp was in 1985. Each morning I would have to call a phone number that would send a private taxi to the front door of the hotel. I would have to leave the hotel and immediately enter the taxi. The arena was only a five-minute car journey and I would be greeted by a colleague at the gates who would chaperone me to the office.
I met the team and had my own desk away from them. They were still a bit wary as I had just arrived from the UK and we were on the red list for Japan. I would have to wear my mask at all times including outdoors. On arriving on my first day, I was given more instructions.
I was not allowed to walk around the venue without a chaperone. I was only allowed to use a certain set of toilets, which had the signage ‘Toilets for exceptional foreigners.’ Quite the compliment I thought. The other stipulation was that I had to wear a yellow armband for my duration at the venue. To show that I was quarantining. I took it all in my stride. If these are the rules, then that’s the rules. Back home in England, 65,000 spectators had just attended Wembley Stadium for the Euro Semi-Final of England versus Denmark. And here I was only able to go to a specific toilet, being chaperoned and wearing a yellow armband.
These were all necessary actions and I still felt privileged to be in Japan. One outbreak of the virus would put the entire Olympic Games in jeopardy.