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Tokyo residents collect trash around Olympic stadium to give world warm, clean welcome

People are seen with garbage they collected near the National Stadium in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Aug. 9, 2021, a day after the Tokyo Olympics' closing ceremony. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- A group of local residents kept on with their task of diligently picking up trash around the National Stadium in Tokyo during the Olympic Games, even as record high COVID-19 cases were continuously registered. Behind their efforts was a desire to offer athletes and affiliates from around the world warm hospitality and a clean environment -- similar to the wishes of the people at the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

    The group also held cleanup activities around the stadium on Aug. 9 -- the day after the Tokyo Olympics' final day -- and said it plans to carry out its activities during the Paralympic Games as well.

    At just past 8 a.m. on Aug. 9, the group of local residents were seen collecting trash along a road near the National Stadium in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, while wiping off sweat from the summer heat. About 30 individuals got together and cleared the street and shrubbery of cigarette butts, empty cans, plastic bottles and other garbage, one after the other, while wearing masks and maintaining distance to avoid close contact. All the while, it had rained on and off due to a typhoon.

    This day was the group's sixth meetup. As many people had gathered around the area near the stadium on the night before for the Olympic closing ceremony, there was noticeably more trash than usual. The residents and others extended the range of their cleanup activities, and collected five 45-liter garbage bags' worth of trash in around an hour.

    Kanade Ueda, 48, who manages a company in the capital's Shibuya Ward, came up with the idea for the project. She called for cooperation on her social media accounts and through other means on July 21 -- two days prior to the Games' opening ceremony. Contrary to her expectations of gathering around five people at most, about 20 people participated in the first cleanup session that was held on the morning of July 23. More and more people joined following each session.

    People are seen collecting garbage near the National Stadium in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Aug. 9, 2021, a day after the Tokyo Olympics' closing ceremony. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

    Narumi Tsutsumi, 20, a third-year student at Tsuda University who participated in the cleanup activity for the first time on Aug. 5, said, "This road, as seen by athletes, affiliates and others who came from overseas, will be the image of Japan that they take away. I wanted to contribute by doing what I could do, even in the slightest."

    The history of trash-collecting has deep-rooted ties with the Olympics in Japan. Around the time of the Tokyo Olympics 57 years ago, garbage was littered across the Tokyo area and accompanied by a stench. Although it was decided that Tokyo would host the 1964 Games, enhancing public health in the capital ahead of taking in foreign athletes and other parties became a priority issue.

    In response, the government of Tokyo established the "headquarters for promoting the beautification of the capital" in November 1962. From December that year, every 10th day of the month was a "capital beautification day." Both the metropolitan and ward governments, as well as commercial districts, neighborhood associations, and other resident bodies, cooperated and encouraged all residents of Tokyo to engage in road cleanup activities. Large-scale events were held at major stations and areas near Olympic venues on Sept. 10, 1964, ahead of the Games' kickoff the following month.

    Women are seen cleaning the area in front of Tokyo Station on "capital beautification day" on Jan. 10, 1964. (Mainichi)

    Residential endeavors are said to have been particularly active in Shibuya Ward, where the Olympic village and many venues were focused. The government-led campaign, under the slogan "Let's make Tokyo beautiful with the hands of 10 million people," has now evolved into a proactive movement by Ueda and others.

    Ueda said that while she had little interest in the recent Tokyo Games, and was neutral about whether they should be held or not, she "wanted to make the city clean if people were to be welcomed from overseas."

    Ueda had run a shop handling belly dancing costumes in an entertainment district in Shibuya, and began cleanup activities by herself six years ago after witnessing the street in front of the shop overflowing with trash. People who sympathized with her efforts gradually increased, and it has grown into a group that collects trash regularly.

    Kanade Ueda is seen during cleanup activities before the National Stadium in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Aug. 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

    The Sendagaya area, where the National Stadium is located, is near the site of Ueda's cleanup activities. As she talked with Chiharu Okazaki, 54, the director of the Sendagaya Odori Shopping District promotion association, they reached the conclusion that they might as well continue the trash-collecting efforts during the Olympics. Once they began, the network expanded beyond expectations through word of mouth and other means, and local university students and employees of financial institutions also joined the endeavor.

    Harajuku Gaien Junior High School in Shibuya Ward wrote about the cleanup efforts on its website, and many students on summer break also participated. Principal Shoichi Komazaki commented, "As spectators have been barred from Olympic venues and students are unable to watch events, I thought about what we could do as a school in the community, and decided to cooperate."

    Beautification activities which began with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics continued for 10 years even after the Games' end. Japan's capital transformed into an area so clean that foreign tourists were astonished.

    The recent Tokyo Olympics have ended amid a mixture of various emotions and reactions among the public. Ueda's company has also suffered due to the pandemic. However, she said she intends to push on with the activities. Ueda is arranging cleanup schedules for the period during the Paralympic Games starting Aug. 24. She commented, "Following the current activities, we extended the community network. I want to continue efforts to make the town clean."

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura, Digital News Center)

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