Meet the Olympic Volunteers
Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004
Olympic Games Volunteer
As a graduate student, Ms. Ichii volunteered for the Sydney 2000 Olympics. She helped spectators direct at the Beach Volleyball venue. She also played a part in the Athens 2004. Her role involved assisting photographers during the Olympics and directing spectators to the venues during the Paralympics.
Olympic Games Volunteer
Ms. Shinjo has become proficient in eight languages including English, having lived abroad and worked for foreign companies based in Japan. She has established and currently runs a language learning community for adult learners. She volunteered for the Olympic Games for the first time in Rio, where she interpreted for the women's national field hockey team and the national rugby sevens team.
Your Omotenashi spirits for Tokyo 2020
––– At the Olympic Games, there are “Games Volunteers” who support the operation of the Games and “City Volunteers” who offer tourist information and transportation guide to domestic and overseas visitors. Both of you served as Games Volunteers, but you were in a position to be served by City Volunteers once you stepped out into the city. Did you have any interaction with City Volunteers during the Olympic Games?
Ichii ：In both Sydney and Athens, there were information centers around the city, and I received tourist information from a City Volunteer there. It was reassuring for us foreigners to have people to talk to about things we weren’t sure about. There is a big difference between having someone and not having anyone to talk to.
Shinjo ：Athletes and people from the media move around in designated buses, but volunteers move around using public transportation. There are City Volunteers on the platforms and near ticket gates of major stations. It’s the same in Japan, but transferring train lines can be a hassle. For example, there are some trains that separate at certain stations and head for different destinations or some trains that stop at the same platform but go to different destinations. When I didn’t know which train to get on, I asked City Volunteers, and they helped me. Also, the station near my hotel didn’t have an elevator or an escalator. I was disappointed having a month’s worth of luggage with me, but fortunately, a City Volunteer helped me out.
Ichii ：There will be many visitors from other countries at the Tokyo Olympics, and City Volunteers will be asked many questions. For example, how to get to the event venues, recommendations for tourist sites and/or event schedules. In Sydney, people would stop me to ask questions because I was wearing a volunteer uniform. Someone once asked me, “What time does this event start?” and we looked it up together [Laughs].
––– Japanese people are known to be shy. Even if tourists from other countries are in trouble, they may not offer to help.
Ichii ：They will probably ask us for help [Laughs].
Shinjo ：Also, Japanese people will probably be “transformed” during the Olympic Games. There was once a shy person on my team, but that person became very assertive as the days went by. That’s the power of the Olympic Games.
––– What should people who want to volunteer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games do to prepare themselves?
Ichii ：Many people think they need to study English to speak to people speaking other than Japanese, and that’s a very good thing. However I recommend studying about Japan. When I volunteered in Athens, I stayed with a host family, and the grandmother and daughter told me about the history of Athens almost every day. It’s wonderful to be able to take pride in your country and boast about it to someone from overseas. I myself would like to study more about Japan and be able to speak about it.
Shinjo ：Personally, I think it would be good training to go to Tokyo Station, ask tourists from other countries who seem to be lost, “Where would you like to go?” and help them. If you are thinking about studying a language, it would be interesting to study a new language. For example, if you study a little Chinese, it would be greatly appreciated.
––– What level of language proficiency is required?
Shinjo ：It’s fine just to be able to speak a little. Having volunteered in Rio, I think it would be good to know how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in 10 languages. Many places in Japan only have signs in Chinese characters, so tourists may not know where to go or what the store sells. In that kind of a situation, they would be reassured if someone said “hello” to them in their own language. Also, four years from now, there will be many translation apps, and people will be able to communicate using their mobile phones. So you won’t need to study a language that intensely.
Ichii ：In a foreign country, people have the most trouble when they don't know how to get to the place they want to go to. I had trouble in Sydney when someone gave me the wrong directions. It would be useful if you could explain how to transfer trains or what type of buses there are in English.
Shinjo ：Also, places to eat. There will be people from all over the world, so if you know not only good restaurants, but also unique restaurants or restaurants for vegetarian, it would be greatly appreciated. You also need to say “I don’t know” when you don’t know something. Japanese people tend to smile and evade a question when they are spoken to by people with other cultures. It’s hard them to know if we understand or not. If you don’t know, it’s better to take the person to someone who knows, or clearly say, “I don’t know.”
––– Lastly, how would you like to be involved in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?
Ichii ：As a volunteer again. You can enjoy the Games more as a volunteer, and the feeling of unity comes only because you are not receiving money. I am secretly aiming to become a team leader for volunteers. Since I have volunteered in two Games, I would like to be involved in a different way.
Shinjo ：I would definitely like to be a volunteer again. So far, I have applied to be a volunteer for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games.
––– You have really gotten into volunteering!
Ichii ：In Athens, there was someone who had been a volunteer for 10 consecutive Olympic Games.
Shinjo ：I have the same passion [Laughs].