Minnesota Nice, you have met your match. There is clearly no place on earth as polite and well-mannered as Japan.
We've been in Tokyo for 12 days now, and we hear the words arigato gozaimasu — thank you— approximately 754 times a day. Bus drivers thank you when you board and when you depart. The people staffing the exits at the Main Press Center thank you. The young men in military fatigues running the security screening thank you.
While some people might find this cloying, I'm enjoying it. Tokyo feels like a little oasis of civilization in an angry world. We know from loads of public opinion polls that Japan wasn't particularly keen on having thousands of strangers barging into their country during a pandemic. From the moment we arrived, though, we've been treated like welcome guests.
At the security checkpoint, the guys in fatigues handle my backpack as if it were the firstborn heir to the throne. Large items are placed carefully into a tray; smaller ones are covered by another tray to ensure they won't be damaged.
There's a bit of a formal feel to many social interactions, which often end with a slight bow. But they don't lack warmth. You can tell people are smiling under their masks, and no question goes unresolved. If you're trying to find the bus for the swim venue, you're likely to get a personal escort, so they know you got there safe and sound.
Even the security presence reflects this attitude. The Olympics usually are awash in military personnel equipped with rifles and riot gear. There are plenty of police and military around the Tokyo venues, but not an overwhelming amount, and they don't display weapons. Quite a contrast to the 2008 Beijing Games, where there was a tank parked outside the Main Press Center.
None of this is a surprise. My first visit to Japan came in 1998 for my first Olympics, the Nagano Winter Games. I collected dozens of little gifts, graciously presented for no reason other than kindness: origami swans, candy, a tiny Lucky Cat. And my colleague Jay Weiner left his Elmer Fudd hat on a bus — twice — only to have the driver track him down and return it to him.
I'll miss that when I leave. I guess the best thing I can do is pass it on.