Telegram from Tokyo: No crowds, no traffic but getting around town is still no easy feat

Sports correspondent Sazali Abdul Aziz documents his day of getting around the various venues of the Tokyo Olympics.

TOKYO - This is the Olympics so it would not surprise anyone that there has been plenty of sprinting over the past few weeks in Tokyo. Records are being shattered by world-class athletes but if journalists had been timed at previous Games, maybe those marks would be tumbling too.

The sight of pressmen lugging heavy backpacks and giant lenses over their shoulders scrambling for transport has become common in the Japanese capital.

Placed in a bubble to limit our interaction with the city's residents during the pandemic, members of the international press have two main ways of getting around in their first 14 days here: dedicated buses and taxis.

The bus system is fairly straightforward. Hop onto one from the hotel to the Media Transport Mall (MTM) - an occasionally gusty, perpetually hot interchange overlooking Tokyo Bay - before transferring to another to get to an event venue or the Main Press Centre.

Japanese efficiency means the buses leave precisely on time. Stragglers, as you can imagine, are not welcome.

For those of us unaccustomed to moving around with clockwork precision, dashing out of your hotel room with untied shoelaces has become a frequent occurrence.

Miss a bus and it might wreck your schedule or, at the very least, leave you very bored with a very long wait. My colleague, executive photojournalist Kua Chee Siong, spent one afternoon twiddling his thumbs for 50 minutes at the MTM after missing his transfer.

Being quick does not always pay off either, as I and my fellow sports correspondent David Lee learnt on our third night in Tokyo.

Doing our best impression of Usain, we caught up to a bus that we thought would send us back to our accommodation. Pride turned to dread as we realised the meandering 40-minute journey was taking us to a hotel in Shinjuku, about 18km from our own in Koto City.

Thankfully, a kindly hotel concierge helped call us a taxi from a 24-hour company. Our wallets took a hit, though, as the 30-minute journey cost about 5,000 yen ($61.70).

Unfortunately, the taxi that night was not one of the dedicated Toyota "black cab" hybrids specially commissioned for these Games. Trips in those can be paid for with coupons valued at 10,000 yen each. Members of the media are given 14 coupons each to cover our stay here, a welcome perk but one that must be used shrewdly given that we are at multiple venues daily.


Taxis at the Media Press Centre in Tokyo on July 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Getting around any host city during the Olympics can be tricky, but commuting within a bubble is on a different level.

For example, our hotel is less than 1km away from the Tokyo Aquatic Centre - the equivalent of a 12-minute stroll.

But due to the restrictions, getting there requires a 25-minute bus ride to the MTM, waiting for a transfer -they usually come every 10 minutes - before another 40-minute journey.

That is more than an hour's worth spent inside a bus to get somewhere 950m from our original starting point. It would be funny if it weren't so painful.


Members of the media on board a bus at the Media Transport Mall in Tokyo on July 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG


Journalists on board a dedicated bus for the media at the Media Transport Mall in Tokyo on July 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

These hurried, sometimes cumbersome, commutes have even become a topic that journalists from different countries chat about and bond through.

Imagine if there was no pandemic, eh?

Having the freedom to walk around the city, take in the sights and move around at your own pace and leisure.

Just imagine…

Actually, hold that thought - I have a bus to catch.