Less than a year remains before the start of 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which is coming to the Japanese capital for the second time in little over half a century. The summer Olympic Games that kicks off on August 24 is attracting public attention both in Japan and overseas from both positive and negative angles. Critics are vocal about the timing of the games, which they say, might harm athletes physically as summer heat in Tokyo in turns almost unbearable in late July and early August. There is also a sense of unease about the huge expenditure already incurred for building new facilities. The Japanese government and the organizing committees of the games, on the other hand, are convinced of the Tokyo 2020's success; and saying this would uplift the image of Japan globally.

Most of the Olympics related preparations are now going ahead in full swing. Japan hosted the summer games in 1964, which was also the first Olympic Games in an Asian city, and some of the landmarks built for that event are still displaying their proud existence against the backdrop of ever-changing Tokyo skyline. Prominent among those is the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, where a number of events, including swimming and diving, had taken place in 1964. Designed by the renowned Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, the facility is now being renovated for its reuse during Tokyo 2020. Although the main Olympic stadium of 1964 games has already been demolished and being completely rebuilt at the same old location, Yoyogi Gymnasium and few other facilities are getting a face lift for their renewable use.

Also under construction is the Olympic Village where athletes are to stay during the games. Tokyo is expecting a renewed surge in tourism during the Olympic and Paralympic games. As a result, organizers are bracing for a possible shortage of hotel rooms for those planning to visit Japan from mid July to mid-September next year and this prompted them to look for other possible options that might help ease the accommodation problem. Allowing visitors to rent rooms at privately owned houses and apartments is one such option which is now being considered. However, Tokyo's neighboring Saitama Prefecture has already come up with a unique plan that would not only help easing the accommodation problem to a certain extent, but also would provide rare opportunities to visiting Olympic-related personnel to get the first-hand experience of Japanese life style. Under the program visitors will be able to avail the opportunity of home stay facilities that the prefecture government is set to offer during Tokyo 2020.

Situated on the northern edge of Tokyo, Saitama has easy access to most of the Olympic venues through extensive highway and rail networks. In addition, since the prefecture has also been designated as a host for a number of Olympic events, including golf and shooting, visitors coming to Japan specially for watching those sporting events will find it quite convenient to commute. The 'Home-stays in Saitama 2020' program initiated by the prefecture will allow athletes' families and games-related personnel to avail the opportunity of experiencing the Japanese way of life by staying with a host family, rather than at a hotel. The home-stay period will run from July 20 to September 11 next year. One of the most attractive parts of the program is its free offering. Those who apply for the program and are selected will not have to pay for accommodation. Moreover, host families will also arrange breakfast and dinner for the participants.

Family members of 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games participating athletes, national Olympic committee-related personnel, foreign press representatives, as well as overseas volunteers will be considered as eligible participants and they'll be able to stay maximum three nights per household under the program. However, organizers have also left the option open for an extended stay for those who intend to stay for a longer period. The prefecture has already started accepting applications from willing participants. Those who intend to join the program need to submit their applications in a prescribed form that can be downloaded from the official website of the Prefecture government. The Saitama International Association, which has been entrusted with the running of this program, will receive applications no later than four weeks prior to the first day of applicants' intended home stay. A list of required documents that applicants must submit along with the application form can also be checked at this official website:


The program has already generating enthusiasm among Saitama residents and many families living at different locations within the prefecture have signed up for volunteering as host families. For the program to run smoothly during the designated period, the Saitama International Association has already started trial run by inviting Tokyo based diplomatic community and foreign press representatives to experience the home-stay hospitality of host families. The author of this column has recently availed the offers and had spent wonderful time with a Saitama family.

Ueno family has their cozy home at Tsurugashima City of Saitama Prefecture and all five members of the family are now looking forward to the arrival of overseas guests during Tokyo 2020. The family signed up for the program as parents thought it to be a rare opportunity for kids to learn more about life in other countries and also improve their skill of English language. All three kids are going to elementary school and they already can speak and understand English up to a certain level. Moreover, the family has a passion for nature and all five members enjoy bird watching, with father Daichi and the eldest son Ibuki also having the added passion for bird photography. This nature-loving family arranged a special home performance of a story-telling event for their overnight guest where three kids narrated in English language along with the display of illustrations the plight of albatrosses in Southern Pacific where plastic waste is posing a serious threat to marine life. Mother of the kids, Naho, is fluent in English and has a keen interest in fostering better understanding among people of different nationalities. It was indeed a pleasant experience to know that there are families where parents are keen about their children becoming aware of problems that are global in nature. No doubt, such children will be much well prepared to tackle such issues once they grow up and take the helm of running the affairs of societies.

Saitama International Association is also planning to arrange site-seeing tours for visiting Olympic guests within the prefecture. Hence, it is expected that many family members of athletes and media personnel from Asian countries, including Bangladesh, might find the program lucrative, as this will not only provide them with easy access to accommodation at a time when hotel prices are expected to rise significantly, and also lessen the burden on their coffers through related package offers.

(Tokyo, August 19, 2019)

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