Town hopes to ride the Tokyo 2020 wave

There are fewer than 600 days until the start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and preparations are affecting communities and businesses around the venues of the Games. A small town in Chiba Prefecture is witnessing rapid change as it gets ready to host the first ever Olympic surfing events.

Excitement mounts

The town of Ichinomiya has long been a surfing hotbed. And the news that the sport will make its Olympic debut here has led a lot of excitement.

"I can't wait to see the world's best surfers in action," says one junior high school student.

"I'm so excited," says another. "I can't believe such a big event is coming."

Changing town

Surfing hotbed town Ichinomiya is about 70km away from Tokyo.

Ichinomiya has a population of just 12,000 but 600,000 come to surf every year. And more than 500 people have moved here since 2015 mainly for the surfing.

The influx is obvious at places like Torami Elementary School. It now has 152 students, almost double from a decade ago. And many of them surf.

Kailu started surfing when he just one year old.

Both of Kailu Nishio's parents are surfers. They moved to Ichinomiya 7 years ago in search of big waves. Kailu started surfing when he just one year old. The sport is at the center of his family's daily life. This summer, they went to Hawaii for 3 months to surf.

His mother, Minori, says living in Ichinomiya allows the children to feel close to nature, with the sea, mountains and fields all around. She says it's a great environment to raise kids.

Construction boom

The influx of residents has led to land prices in residential areas rising for the first time in a decade. Shunichi and Maiko Koike live in Tokyo but are regular visitors. Maiko is an avid surfer. They have been building a new home here and plan to move this February.

"We really love the atmosphere," Shunichi says. "And we heard the local people are really friendly toward newcomers."

"I'm excited that surfing is going to be part of my daily life," says Maiko.
New rental apartments dedicated to surfers have been built. Some units have outdoor showers and lockers.

Attracting new business

The town thinks the Olympics will spur the growth of other businesses in addition to real estate.

A shared office facility was opened, with space available for $130 a month. Tomohiko Murakami, an entrepreneur, commutes from Tokyo about 10 days a month.

"I think living in this town is a good choice," he says, "even for the rest of my life."

Local surfers prepare for event

Ahead of the Games, residents have been stepping up preparations to welcome surfers from around the world. Some local surfers started a nonprofit organization called Voice of the Sea, which gets together once a month to check water quality and make sure the beaches are clean.

"We want the top athletes to feel safe when they participate in the Games," says Kazunori Hata, the leader of the group.

Local surfers check the waters once a month

Issues remain

Ichinomiya town has never hosted such a large-scale event and a number of issues are yet to be resolved.

There is a shortage of parking spaces and hotel rooms. And the town will need to shuttle thousands of people to and from the local train station.

Ichinomiya Mayor Masaya Mabuchi says it's a challenge

"It is a huge challenge for this small town to host an event of this scale," Masaya Mabuchi, the mayor of Ichinomiya, told NHK. "But we see it as a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to the world."

If all goes according to plan, the town of Ichinomiya will be riding a wave of success in two years' time.