Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

Volunteers from the Tokyo Olympics media center made origami designs, which included cranes and flowers.

Merrit Kennedy / NPR


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Merrit Kennedy / NPR

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

Volunteers from the Tokyo Olympics media center made origami designs, which included cranes and flowers.

Merrit Kennedy / NPR

At an Olympic Games where journalists are largely isolated from the host country due to strict COVID-19 protocols, a group of young Japanese volunteers are offering small gifts that showcase an art form from their country.

In a corner of the convention center where journalists from around the world work, volunteers diligently fold origami paper into beautiful and elaborate designs.

A handwritten sign on the front reads, “CARRY FREE.” On the table are creations such as multi-colored handmade flowers, paper sushi rolls and small boxes. Paper cranes come in many shapes and sizes, traditionally given to sick people to wish them well.

“It is very natural for us to acquire origami skills in the early stages, like maybe when you are in kindergarten or maybe when you are in elementary school, you have many opportunities to learn it,” says volunteer Chie Kitta.

These young women work at the desk of the press center that helps journalists set up their temporary offices.

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

These volunteers working at the media center wanted to do something to show journalists about the culture of Japan.

Merrit Kennedy / NPR


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Merrit Kennedy / NPR

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

These volunteers working at the media center wanted to do something to show journalists about the culture of Japan.

Merrit Kennedy / NPR

“But while we wait, we thought that maybe we could do something to show our hospitality to the media partners,” said volunteer Toshimi Yabu.

Journalists arriving in Japan to cover the Olympics cannot get out of the Olympic “bubble” during their first 14 days in the country, to protect the Japanese population from exposure to potential coronavirus cases.

Saeko Sumida, one of the origami group, says the idea is “to make gestures towards some of the Japanese arts, or some of the Japan-like experiences, for the media partners who really can’t get out.”

“Maybe we can at least offer some of the Japanese arts that they can enjoy,” he says.

The Olympics generally provide a great opportunity for cultural exchange, and that extends to the former media centers. For example, at the Pyeongchang Games, one booth offered journalists books by South Korean authors to read in 14 languages.

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

Volunteers make origami to give away to visiting journalists at the Tokyo Olympics.

Merrit Kennedy / NPR


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Merrit Kennedy / NPR

Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics: NPR

Volunteers make origami to give away to visiting journalists at the Tokyo Olympics.

Merrit Kennedy / NPR

But there has never been an Olympic Games in which the media has been so far removed from the host nation.

The organizers of the Japanese Olympics are making a small gesture by offering tours of Tokyo’s main sites to journalists who are still under strict restrictions, so they can “absorb the atmosphere of the games and Tokyo.” These tours are strictly controlled and journalists have to win a daily lottery to participate in one.

Volunteers who fold origami also have a board where they put a Japanese word of the day. Today’s word is “excited” or “wa ku wa ku”. There hasn’t been much enthusiasm for these Games in Japan yet, as coronavirus cases rise, but this group is doing its best to make the most of them.

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