Help Wanted: Tokyo 2020 Volunteers

Amid enthusiasm and excitement at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are underway.

One huge task is to recruit more than 100,000 unpaid volunteers for the event. The organizers are facing an uphill battle, but they are looking at ways to meet their goals.

Last month, the Tokyo prefectural government held a symposium on volunteering for the Olympics. About 600 people attended the event.

"I hope to make the Tokyo Olympics a milestone year in terms of the quality of the volunteers," said the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike.

Volunteers from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics talked about how incredible the experience was for them.

"I felt more connected to the Olympics," one said. "It gave me a real sense of participation."

The organizers have been working hard on recruitment. Between the sporting venues and the Olympic Village, they’ll need 80,000 “event volunteers.”

Another 30,000 "city volunteers" will be required at train stations and major tourist spots to guide foreign visitors.

"City volunteers" must be able to work at least five days, and "event volunteers" must be able to work at least 10 days. They also need to attend a workshop about nine months before the Olympics to learn about general guidelines and how to welcome guests.

With a recruitment goal of 110,000 people, they’ll need to draw from the pool of working people. But those people have to put their jobs first.

"Honestly, it will be difficult. I don't think I can take that much time off," one potential volunteer said.

"As a working member of society, I think there’s a limit to how much time I can contribute, even for the Olympics," another said.

Many companies don’t have systems in place to give their employees time to volunteer.

According to a survey taken in 2017 by the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry, only 6 percent of the 1,200 companies polled in Tokyo had a system for granting their employees time off for volunteer work.

Furthermore, only 5.8 percent of the companies are planning to implement a new system that would allow employees to volunteer for the Olympics.

Meanwhile, some companies are taking a more volunteer-friendly approach.

Shigeo Kaneko is the director of a stage-lighting service company with 350 employees. In 2012, the company revised its labor regulations, implementing a system that lets employees take time off for volunteer work.

Employees can miss a maximum of seven work days for volunteer commitments. "We want to create an environment in which our employees can contribute to society without being penalized," Kaneko said.

Organizers are approaching a critical moment in their bid to enable working people to participate in the Olympics. Recruiting begins in mid-September.