TMG Yuriko Koike Tokyo Foreign Press Briefing, Two Years From Tokyo 2020

Tokyo 2020, the heat is on. We may associate the North African city of Cairo with some of the world’s hottest temperatures, but on Monday, July 23, Japan’s capital recorded a temperature of 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit), one degree higher than the Egyptian capital. With 38 reported heat-related deaths in Tokyo alone this month, it was a tough day to present an optimistic picture of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games that officially begin on July 24, 2020.

Despite Japan’s hottest day of the year, Koike resonated cool confidence, beginning her remarks by cajoling those present to donate our old mobile phones to the Tokyo 2020 Medals Project for use in manufacturing Olympic medals for the Summer Olympics. “Even the mobile phone that you are using is okay,” she joked. The goal is 100 percent recycled content, a first, but the first question wasn’t about where we deposit our old hardware. It was about the weather elephant in the room. With the extreme temperatures outside, she admitted that Japan and Tokyo have felt like “being in a sauna,” but that the New Tokyo would be ready, even if the Olympic Marathon has to start in the early morning hours or low heat-emitting pavement must be used to resurface the roads.

Koike proclaimed the city formerly known as Old Edo the New Tokyo, three cities in one. As she explained to the Cairo Review in 2017:  “I want Tokyo to be a safe city where people feel more secure, more at ease, and can live more vibrant lives; a diverse city where everyone can actively participate in society and lead fulfilling lives; and a smart city that is open to the world, and a leader in the fields of the environment, international finance, and business.”

The Tokyo-based organization, Lawyers for LGBT and Allies Network (LLAN), would like to see Koike further her 2017 statement in support of holding a national discussion on marriage equality. When I asked her if she would promote such a discussion now in order to make Tokyo 2020 the most inclusive and LGBT-friendly Games in Olympics history, she referenced the Olympic Charter, which has condemned anti-LGBT bias as part of its Non-Discrimination Principle. Japan remains the only country among the G7 industrialized nations to not yet introduce a same-sex marriage or same-sex partnership system at the state or national level.

It’s just 24 short months to go and this is a city whose existing charms are already on full display to the world. Anthony Bourdain famously said that if he were stuck in one city forever, he’d choose Tokyo. In 2017 Tokyo was ranked “most livable” by British-based Monocle magazine. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked it number one among fifty in its Safe Cities Index of 2015. But a mega city of global charms with a renowned mayor must prepare for all scenarios. A reporter from Bangladesh asked about terrorism, a jolt to the senses when just minutes earlier we were being shown a slide of the super kawaii Tokyo 2020 mascots Miraitowa and Someity, selected by school children across Japan.

Koike, an award-winning journalist turned politician, is fully aware of another heat yet to come: the global media spotlight and the eyes of the world. With so much high regard for the city, she knows that just one bad situation—athletes delayed by transportation or overcome by heat exhaustion—and the revenue in global goodwill will evaporate.

“Since becoming Tokyo’s first female governor two years ago, I have pursued a grand reform of Tokyo. With this grand reform, I aim to put the citizens of Tokyo first.” This includes using Tokyo “as an example of a model society, one capable of helping to solve global issues.” This putting-people-first strategy includes recruiting 110,000 Games and City Volunteers to help everything run smoothly during the Olympics (July 24-August 9) and Paralympics (August 25-September 6).

With so many people involved, what can possibly go wrong?

O Little Town and Great Big Wall

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I first sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the children’s choir at Bon Air Methodist Church in Richmond, Virginia. Along with other favorite Christmas songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” my awareness of Bethlehem was strong from a young age. I knew it as the place where Jesus was born. As a Christian, the images of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and the Church of the Nativity were powerful enough that they made me want to pay a visit to this holy place. I finally got my chance in June when I was visiting Palestine.

Jordan had control of Bethlehem until 1967 when Israel retained control after its victory in the Six-Day War. Bethlehem was returned by Israel in 1995 to the Palestinian National Authority in accordance with the Oslo peace accord. Today Bethlehem is fully controlled by Palestine, but there exists a major eyesore to tourists–the Israeli West Bank barrier or security wall that the Israeli military built during the Second Intifada.

This barrier is often called an Apartheid Wall or Apartheid Fence. I just call it a wall. It is definitely not a fence. When I was with my driver in Bethlehem, he made a point to show me the art and graffiti. The Wall is now a stain on a united holy land, but also a tourist attraction to the millions of religious pilgrims who visit Bethlehem each year, especially at Christmas. You cannot visit Bethlehem without simultaneously confronting religion and politics, as I experienced with my taxi driver:

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That’s East Jerusalem, Baby!

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. The older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.          Mary Schmich

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Inas, my friend of 28 years (!), greeted me again at her family home in East Jerusalem in the Wadi al-Joz (Valley of the Walnuts) section. We met during the summer of 1990 when I was the Academic and Program Coordinator for the Fulbright Pre-Academic Orientation Program and she was pursuing graduate studies in engineering as a Fulbright scholar.

I knew when I last saw Inas in her East Jerusalem home in 2011 to come hungry and thirsty for both sustenance and knowledge. My Palestinian family is a highly educated bunch of Ph.D.s, photo journalists, editors, authors, and pediatric dentists, just to name a few. I could go on and on bragging about this exceptional group of humans.

If you do not have a friend in East Jerusalem, your life is poorer for it!

The richness in culture, history, and education led to my spending ten hours over two days eating first at the kitchen table and then drinking tea and coffee in the living room. I ate so much that I ended up on the day bed, and we kept visiting. These pictures are before I went to lay down and sleep off my overeating.

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We sat (or I lay down!) minutes away from where pilgrims around the world come to worship at the holy sites of Greater Jerusalem, including. The Mount of Olives mountain ridge was a neighbor, as was Al-Aqsa Mosque,  the third holiest site in Islam. It is a privilege to be in East Jerusalem and reunite with my longtime friend and her dear family. Just look how happy I am. Photo credit: Inas

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I have been invited back so I guess I didn’t overstay my visit!

Palestine: A Place To Call Home

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Ben Gurion Airport (TLV)

On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, it would have been my mother’s 98th birthday. I chose this day for my outbound flight from Tokyo Narita to Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport via Seoul Incheon, as my honor to her memory, since I like to think of her traveling around the world with me. She was supportive, although a bit concerned, with my first visit to the Middle East in 2011. That invitation was from the Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy to teach two sections of a graduate course in “Marketing Foreign Policy” at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, a private Jewish university just outside Tel Aviv. In 2018, I was invited to lecture at the first international conference of the Policy and Conflict Resolution Studies Center at the Arab American University, the first private Palestinian university located in Ramallah and Jenin, West Bank.

Getting invited to lecture in Israel or Palestine is an honor. But trying to explain your acceptance of such invitations can take a little explaining. People want you to have binary thinking about Israel and Palestine. They want you to choose a side, either pro-Israel or anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian or anti-Palestinian. In sports, it’s like saying that you love the Boston Red Soxs and the New York Yankees. That’s incomprehensible. In the case of Israel and Palestine, it’s beyond sports rivalries. If only it were that simple. In the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, politics is a bloody sport, so if I have to choose, I’ll choose life, humanity, and people. And people like to have a place called home.

Right now there is no state, a permanent home, for the Palestinian people. They remain a stateless people living under occupation in the Palestinian Territories. Palestinian territories or Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are terms often used to describe the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, which are occupied or otherwise under the control of Israel. The world’s majority supports a Palestinian state that can thrive next to the 70-year-old state of Israel.  I hope that I will see this come to fruition.

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My Room View from Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah

To arrive to Palestine, you usually go through Israel, as I did when I landed at Ben Gurion Airport. The trip was quite long–a few hours from Tokyo to Seoul, short layover, and then a 12-hour nonstop to Tel Aviv. An early morning departure at 09:00 placed me in TLV at a little before 21:00. My driver was Palestinian with an Israeli car tag (IL), which gave him authority to pick me up at the airport. Palestinian car tags (P) are not allowed.  When I arrived, I saw my name “Nancy Snow” taped on the barrier that separates international arrivals from the people waiting. I went straight to my sign but there was no driver. So I taped the sign to me and waited for him to arrive. In a few minutes, there he was and off went. Now I thought it might get very exciting, but I was a bit too tired to be worried. I knew that we would have to leave the state of Israel and enter the OPT. But all that I noticed on my 45-minute drive was an empty checkpoint and a series of speedbumps, along with groups of Arab men sitting on chairs in front of businesses and homes. It was all quite peaceful and quiet. My ultimate destination was Ramallah, where I stayed at the Grand Park Hotel for the next four nights. My room was spacious and welcoming. The television had over 3,000 international films on demand, including Pretty Woman. I began to imagine a funny essay I’d write called “Julia Roberts is still young in Ramallah.”

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Desk Space at Grand Park Hotel

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Good Rest is Essential

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Image of Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman”

Social Media and Diplomacy

I came across this TEDx talk, “How to Make a Splash in Social Media” after I watched another Alexis Ohanian at Oxford video featuring the Reddit co-founder. His 2016 talk at Oxford Union highlights the agnostic (unknowable) quality of the Internet. Anyone, with any content, can go viral online. It’s hard to predict.

There are many memorable points that Ohanian makes, including this:

What we’ve seen in social media the last ten years [2006-2016] has been the cocktail party. It has been the most superficial level of connection. Now, it’s something we need. I don’t say that derisively. We like cocktail parties. As humans we like showing people how cute our pets are, how wonderful our life is. That’s a level of connection that doesn’t go very deep. What we are seeing on platforms like Reddit, Snapchat, is a hunger for the next wave—a demand for authenticity…something that feels more real, that’s not there because of wanting to show a filtered version of yourself, but wanting to show how you really are in that moment.

Ohanian was a history major at the University of Virginia who saw the connectivity value of the Internet early on. His first business idea with his UVA computer science major friend, Steve Huffman (My Mobile Menu or “MMM”) failed to get funding but then they began to think about what web pages they went to every morning and Reddit was born. Btw, Ohanian is a bit more famous these days for being the spouse of a particularly talented tennis player.

Reddit is a social news website supported by a community of users called Redditors who have only one thing in common, shared interests with other Redditors. Reddit’s subreddit on The Donald helps Trump keep support in the White House. Durinf the 2016 presidential campaign, Reddit served as an alternative source of news for Redditors enthusiastic about Trump’s candidacy, including those who were lining up for hours to hear Trump speak in person. I went to Trump’s subreddit community threat regularly and it convinced me that Donald Trump could beat Hillary Clinton.