Diversity was on full display at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Saturday.
The former site of the athletes’ village from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics hosted the first training session for English speakers volunteering at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
More than 300 took part in the session, during which they received a briefing on the history and significance of the games, as well as how to accommodate the diverse needs of the many athletes and spectators who will arrive in Tokyo beginning next July.
More than 200,000 people worldwide applied for 80,000 “field cast” volunteer positions during the 2020 Games. Twelve percent of accepted volunteers are non-Japanese and hail from 120 countries.
“People coming from all over Japan and all over the world,” said Charles Nishikawa, adviser to the Tokyo 2020 volunteer program, as he spoke to the crowd of field cast volunteers on Saturday. “This is diversity.”
For Inez Kelly, a 55-year-old contract manager working for the U.S. Navy, volunteering at the 2020 Games was the opportunity of a lifetime. She moved from Florida to Japan last year and will likely stay for at least another two years.
“I’ve loved the Olympics forever,” she said. “I happened to be living in Japan during the Olympics so I thought it would be silly if I didn’t take this opportunity to be part of it.”
Kelly had attended previous training sessions geared toward Japanese speakers but had trouble understanding directions.
“Unless you know how to interpret, it’s very difficult,” she said.
Steven Bency, a 32-year-old from Kansas who lives in Tokyo, chose to become a volunteer in part for the fun but mostly, he admitted, to “help confused tourists.”
“I’ve been there,” he said with a laugh. “Tokyo is very English-forward but it can be overwhelming.”
Bency said he was mostly concerned about transit, and whether non-Japanese speakers and visitors from overseas will be able to get where they want to go. Specifically, he said it’s easy to get lost between the station and your destination.
“All the important signs are in English,” he admitted, but added that train stations in Japan, and especially Tokyo, can be intimidating for visitors. Bency said his role as a volunteer is “definitely reducing their confusion.”
While several training and orientation sessions have been held for Japanese speakers, the session on Saturday was the first for English speakers. Another English session will be held in January.
Training for overseas residents will commence in June 2020.