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Going for logistics gold!

The Olympics hosted by an efficiency champion

The time approaches once again for the oldest sporting event in the world. After a year’s delay and in the face of exceptional concerns, Tokyo and the world will still be experiencing their Summer Olympic Games. Even if COVID-19 has forced fundamental changes, the Olympics will still be one of the largest – and most expensive – international sporting events. Some of the biggest challenges will be logistical in nature, but in disciplined Japan, thorough preparations have been under way for years.

Logistics on an epic scale

Events of such size demand world-class logistics. The sporting events must be planned, visitor flows must be coordinated, athletes and their entourages must be accommodated, not to mention transport, storage, installation and maintenance of all the equipment and materials. Ideally, all this should be accomplished without putting too much strain on the natural environment. One of the greatest challenges of such mega events is sustainable integration into the city planning while still ensuring economic success. A host city that can fall back on advanced infrastructure already in place enjoys a major advantage.

Experienced host

For Tokyo, the 2021 Olympics (to be held from 23 July to 8 August) are also a homecoming – the city already hosted the Olympic Games once before in 1964. At that time, major transportation routes and urban highways were built extending out from the city center that still shape the city’s traffic flows today. These connect the entire center of Tokyo to a system consisting of eight large ring roads. Japan was undergoing rapid development at the time, despite the destruction of World War II. In the course of this legendary economic growth, Japan’s innovative economy rose to global prominence.

The public transportation network in Tokyo was also substantially improved. These developments are important factors in today’s infrastructure, since with 38 million residents and over 10 million tourists per year, it is already essential even during “normal” times to manage the flow of people and vehicles as efficiently as possible in this densely populated metropolis.

Reduced number of Olympians

Everything is perfectly prepared for the 2021 Olympics – at least as far as possible in such times as these. To be honest, the requirements have been lowered considerably. With strict pandemic travel restrictions, only about 30,000 visitors from abroad are expected (athletes, trainers and support personnel). Typically the athletes’ retinues alone would number close to 200,000 plus hundreds of thousands of visitors in tow. The logistical challenges would have included everything from accommodation in Olympic villages, transport to the event sites and supplying the athletes with meals. Instead, "only" 10,000 local visitors were permitted in the stadiums initially, until on July 8, the organizers finally decided to host the games without visitors. Due to the pandemic, foreign sports fans would not have been allowed access in any case.

Best practices: Transport

Transport is already an area where the land of the rising sun truly shines. Not only Tokyo with its millions of inhabitants, but the entire country of Japan is set apart from other countries in Asia by its highly developed national infrastructure. This is due in part to Japan’s status as one of the most powerful economies in the world.

Not only has this highly industrialized country profited from a rapidly growing tourist industry owing to its diverse character, it has also placed great focus on diverse options for transport and commerce due to its geographic situation as an island nation. Thanks in no small part to its comprehensive shipping and air freight capacities and the associated international connections, Japan is a world leader in global trade.

Dense transportation networks

Japan’s regional infrastructure is based on extremely sophisticated and modern road and rail networks. The Japanese road network now consists of 1,218,800 kilometers of highways, and the railroad network has roughly 27,300 kilometers of rails. The close-knit local transportation network ensures good connections between urban areas and their surroundings. Just for the games in Tokyo, spectators (and athletes) have access to 882 train stations (including 282 subway stations) to bring them quickly to the event sites in an environmentally friendly way. Incidentally, in case you ever plan to visit Japan: Don’t be surprised by the different track gauges between the iconic high-speed train lines and the rest of the rail network.

Japan also profits from expansive sea and air connections. With over 5,000 ports and its large merchant fleet, the country and international trade can rely on uninterrupted deliveries of raw materials, fuel, food and other essential goods. This supply is extremely important to “Nippon”, which is highly reliant on imports.

Thriving ports and bustling airports

The ports of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya are among the most important in the country. A full 25 percent of all industrial goods are shipped all over the world through the port in Tokyo, and 2019 saw roughly 4.5 million TEU of container handling at this port. The total for all of Japan is 21.7 million TEU.

With an annual freight volume of about 185 million tons, the port of Nagoya is the country’s largest. It handles 10 percent of the total trade volume of Japan.

The ports are supplemented by over 170 airports, distributed across the entire country. Air transport is relied on heavily for moving passengers but also for importing goods, in particular. While the largest airport in Japan, “Tokio Haneda”, is primarily considered a major passenger airport, “Tokio Narita” comes in first in terms of cargo. Over 750,000 tons of cargo were moved in 2019 – which was actually a relatively light year! On the other hand, “Osaka Kansai” is located directly adjacent to the Tokyo Freight Terminal of the Japanese national railway.
As a side note, the Japanese are famous for locating their airports on artificial islands (Kansai, Chūbu, Kobe and Nagoya) since land is scarce in the densely populated country.

Quantity and quality

Thanks to its outstanding infrastructure, Japan has perhaps the most efficient public transportation system in the world. The development and use of high-speed trains, called the Shinkansen, as well as the specially built high-speed rail network played a major role here. The Shinkansen has been carrying passengers since 1964 – incidentally also an Olympic project – and is considered a forerunner of rapid goods transport. The world-renowned trains achieve speeds up to 320 km/h and link all major Japanese cities. For example, the section from Tokyo to Sendai, about 370 km in length, can be traveled in just 1 hour and 33 minutes.

The future is magnetic and it levitates

But even that is not enough. Japan is currently in the final phase of building the most expensive infrastructure project of all time. “Chūō-Shinkansen” is the magic word and refers to a superconducting maglev railway under development at the Central Japan Railway Company and the Railway Technical Research Institute since the 1970s. The same magnetic forces that lift the train also move it forward and keep it centered in the track. This is the same technology used by Tesla’s Hyperloop. It guarantees a smooth and exceptionally safe ride. Test runs have so far reached speeds of just over 600 km/h. The line has been under construction since 2014 and is expected to enter operation in 2027. However, it will take some time before the maglev network has grown as extensive as the “traditional” rail network. Perhaps it will be ready in time for another Olympics in the future.

Regular FCL/LCL Connections from Japan to CEE

Our intermodal sea/rail solution from Japan to Central and Eastern Europe is 33-50% faster than seafreight and up to 50% more cost-effective than airfreight. 

In FCL, we provide regular services from Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe and Toyama to Europe via the Kutno (Poland) and Duisburg (Germany) rail hubs with transit times of around 20 to 26 days. In LCL, we offer weekly departures from Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe via Poznan (Poland) with transit times of approximately 22 to 25 days. The containers are shipped by sea from Japan to Vladivostok, Russia, and then by train via Moscow to Europe.

Our service includes pick-up throughout Japan and delivery to any destination in Europe. In addition, we offer customs clearance, warehousing and inventory management as well as a wide range of value added services. Get in touch with your local cargo-partner Sea Cargo team to find out more!