A year ago, the sleepy Japanese seaside town of Ichinomiya hosted the first-ever Olympic surfing competition. Today, he is trying to ensure that the economic benefits of the Games are felt by the whole community for years to come.
Sunny skies and high waves have long made Ichinomiya, east of Tokyo, a surfer’s paradise. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the pristine beaches each summer.
Olympic organizers had originally expected Ichinomiya to host some 6,000 spectators per day during the Olympics. Tourism developments have grown rapidly across the region, with the number of accommodation establishments exploding from just ten to 200.
But the coronavirus pandemic meant spectators were not allowed at any Olympic events. The expected wave of tourists never arrived in Ichinomiya. The first Olympic surfing competitions took place in front of deserted beaches.
The temporary observation structures set up for the events were quickly dismantled. Now the beach looks exactly like it did before the Olympics.
But a new visitor center educates visitors about the city’s place in Olympic history. The building also includes showers where surfers can wash off the sand after a day on the beach.
Uzawa Kiyohisa owns a nearby surf shop and runs the local tourist association. He believes the Olympics will end up being a blessing for the city.
“I think the Olympics inspired many people to visit Ichinomiya,” he says. “There’s a chance for everyone, including surfers, to show there’s more to the city than just waves.”
This summer, surfers and beachgoers fill the restaurants and lodging sites along the coast. But they still have to get to town. Watanabe Takaaki, Ichinomiya’s public relations manager, says the next step is to share the benefits of Olympics-fueled tourism with the wider community.
“The challenge will be how to maintain the notoriety that we have gained during the Olympics.”
The Tokyo Games brought unprecedented attention to Ichinomiya. The city hopes to ride this wave of momentum for as long as possible.