【Tokyo Olympics, Coverage from Hokkaido Venue】

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics from July 23, 2021 onward.
In Hokkaido, Sapporo will host the marathon, race walking, and football events.
These articles bring you the feelings and reactions of Hokkaido residents.

Special feature

【Tokyo Olympics, Coverage from Hokkaido Venue ④】An interview with the managing director of the Olympic medal case manufacturer, Yamagami Mokko in the town of Tsubetsu

We talked to Yamagami Yuichiro (37) – managing director of Yamagami Mokko, a furniture maker in the town of Tsubetsu in the Okhotsk region of eastern Hokkaido – as he reflects on what was involved in the making of 5,400 wooden medal cases to be presented to athletes at the Tokyo Olympics.

The medal cases produced by Yamagami Mokko
Yamagami Yuichiro reflects on what was involved in the making of the Tokyo Olympic medal cases

— The Tokyo Olympic Games have finally begun

The order for the cases was confirmed in the autumn of 2018. It’s been a long time but, from around December 2019 to when the delivery was made to the games’ Organising Committee in July 2020, it was tough – working throughout the nights, often sleeping for only three hours, as we worked in parallel with our everyday business. When we considered the progress being made, we were often almost crushed by the pressure as we began to doubt our ability to meet the deadline. On many occasions, I wondered how good it would be to have 36 hours in a day.

— The decision to postpone the games for a year was made in March of last year

We just buckled down with the manufacturing of the cases. Immediately before the delivery last July, the concerns were about the humid climate in Tokyo. We had never even imagined having to store them for a year. Before they were shipped, the cases were packed into carboard boxes of 48, along with insect repellent sheets often used with artifacts from museum collections. The fact that the Organising Committee promised to “store them in the very best environment” gave us peace of mind.

— How did you feel about the Olympic Games being held amid the Coronavirus pandemic?

I understand that everyone has their own opinion and that there are various thoughts involved. No matter how much I worried about it, it wouldn’t change a thing. Regardless of the Coronavirus, as the maker, we were only concerned with our own mission of providing the best-quality medal cases. However, we didn’t even want to start to think about there being no need for cases at all.

— Right now, what do you remember most vividly?

The presence of my father. When we received the order, I considered it my job and was determined not to rely on my father, the CEO – but that was very naïve. At the end of 2019, when I was struggling with the task of painting the cases, I asked my father for help; “Do it yourself!” he bellowed. I cried. But the following day he came to the workshop. When I look back, I relied on my father’s connections when procuring the materials, and he helped me at each juncture. It made me keenly aware that I was a long way from surpassing him.

— Are there any competitions at the Olympics you are particularly interested in?

The cases are presented to the top three athletes, so all the competitions. When we were still in production, I suggested to my father that we should go to watch the Olympics but I was told to “just concentrate on completing the order” and didn’t apply for tickets. I’ve been glued to the TV, watching all sorts of events. I just want all the athletes to do their best.

— Do you have a message for the athletes?

It would be nice if they appreciate the quality of the case ‘made in Japan,’ with the magnet for opening and closing the lid, the beautiful, functional design and the like. And also, if they could spare a thought for where and by whom it was made. It seems like only yesterday when, on the night before the delivery was made, I slept in the workshop with the cases, thinking “so you’re leaving tomorrow, eh?” I don’t have a daughter but I suppose it feels like giving away a bride as she marries an athlete.


Yamagami Mokko

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