Japan's groundskeepers express their Olympic dreams

Two female groundskeepers hoping to be involved with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

JAPAN - With the demolition of the National Stadium in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, scheduled to start in July in preparation for construction of the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, two female groundskeepers have their sights on the stadium’s lawn, which has served as the stage for memorable matches and competitions in various sporting events.

Mayumi Ida, 30, and Emika Nakamura, 22, both contract employees of the Japan Sport Council, the independent administrative institution that manages the stadium, are determined to take care of the lawn until the last day.

Their eyes sparkled as they looked out at the lawn, with the two women saying, “We’re happy to see sprouts coming out from the lawn, right?” or “It feels just like raising children.”

The two employees, who got their jobs by applying for positions at the council four years ago, became the first female groundskeepers in the stadium’s half century-long history.

Ida watched the 2002 World Cup, which was cosponsored by Japan and South Korea, on TV. With her eyes glued to the footwork of the soccer players, she thought, “It’s the lawn that’s supporting their performance.”

Ida waited for her chance to come while she worked at a golf course management company, where she was in charge of lawn care at golf courses after graduating from Kinki University’s agriculture department.

Nakamura graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan Engei High School, a horticulture high school. She learned that the council was recruiting groundskeepers when she was struggling with the direction of her future after graduation.

When Nakamura went to have a look at the stadium, she was overwhelmed by the sight of the sprawling green lawn in front of her. She made up her mind then and there to apply for the job, thinking, “I’d like to take care of the lawn here.”

Seeing through athletes’ eyes

The National Stadium has been used not only for sports, but also for other events such as live concerts of pop idol groups like Arashi and Momoiro Clover Z. The stadium is used about 180 days a year.

It is necessary to keep the lawn in optimum condition by constantly adjusting the length to which it is trimmed and slightly varying the amount of water and fertilizer to provide the best performance conditions for athletes.

To keep the lawn in prime condition, Shigeru Watanabe, 54, who has worked as a groundskeeper for 36 years, always tells them to monitor its condition from an athlete’s perspective, putting themselves in the players’ shoes.

Ida and Nakamura must battle sunburn in summer, and when they use a vacuum cleaner to rid the lawn of dust, they themselves become covered with dust.

“When I hear the audience cheer as they watch their soccer team pass the ball well, I feel like I might have contributed to a good play,” Ida said.

Nakamura said, “It’s our mission to create an environment where the audience is impressed.”

Watching the two well-tanned women working hard, Watanabe said happily, “They’re very eager to learn.”

The stadium is scheduled to be demolished over a 15-month period from July. A new stadium with the capacity of 80,000 will be completed in five years. The two women are determined to keep the lawn in good condition until the stadium closes. While they expressed sadness over the stadium’s demolition, they also wanted to continue thinking about those who supported the stadium and the athletes who played there.

Their contracts will expire at the end of the next fiscal year. However, both hope to work on the new lawn in the new National Stadium in six years, as they have taken care of the current lawn until now.

“I’d like to work at the Tokyo Olympics, even as a volunteer,” Ida said. “I’d like to work hard to reach the level of veteran groundskeepers and be involved with lawn care here in 2020.”

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