One of the great things about volunteering for the Olympics was meeting young people who were exploring options for their careers. Some worked in broadcasting services, others assisted during sporting events, but one young woman really caught my attention for her diligence and passion for her work. Her name is Saori Tago. She has been participating as a volunteer for several years and hopes to make a career of assisting on events. Saori worked both the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics as both an assistant to Olympic Families and a leader of her team.
John Cunningham: Tell me about yourself.
Saori Tago: My name is Saori. I’m from Gunma prefecture, Japan. My dream was to join the Olympic Games. When I was a student, I watched the Nagano Olympic games on TV. And I was really impressed. I also used to play softball, and I watched the National Championship which was held in my hometown. It was so impressive that my dream became to volunteer for the Olympics.
John: You live in Gunma, but you still volunteered for the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo. How long does it take to get there?
Saori: About two hours by train, but only one hour by Shinkansen.
John: So when you’re volunteering, did you do that every day or did you stay in Tokyo?
Saori: During the Olympic games, I stayed at a youth hostel in Tokyo for 20 days.
John: Okay. How was that?
Saori: Yeah. That was nice. Honestly, I was so busy with volunteer work that I just slept there.
John: For the Olympics, how many days did you work?
Saori: Almost all the days.
John: There was a lady that I worked with who said that you are always working and a very hard worker. She said, “We always see her. She is a manager, but we also see her escorting people around.”
Saori: It’s my pleasure.
John: Did you have any expectations about volunteering before the Olympic Games?
Saori: Yeah, I had a lot of volunteer experiences before the Games. For example, I have worked at the Tokyo and Osaka Marathons, the 2019 Rugby World Cup. I also worked at the 2018 Women’s Softball World Championship.
John: What is it about volunteering that has become a passion for you?
Saori: I saw major events coming, and I had the opportunity to hear about other cultures and stories from far-off countries. That is so interesting.
John: So how did your previous volunteer experience prepare you for working at the Olympics?
Saori: I had opportunities to use English, work with people from other countries, make friends in other countries and provide assistance.
John: What was your job in the Olympics? What was your role?
Saori: My role is Olympic Family Assistant (OFA). I guided National Olympic Committee (NOC) members around the city, to the Olympic Village and to venues. Then take them to the airport for their departures back home.
John: Okay. So you’re basically the escort for the NOC members?
Saori: That’s right. Occasionally, I supported IOC members too. They were all so friendly.
John: Okay, I imagine being an escort for Olympic families. You have some very interesting stories. Can you tell me about one of your adventures in helping Olympic families?
Saori: I have so many. One of my first assignments, I was so nervous, I was assigned to a IOC member. He is a sports director and his name is Mr. Kitt, and he was such a nice person. And I asked him what I should call him and he said, “Just call me Kitt.”
I was surprised and happy. I thought IOC members were very prestigious, but he was really kind. Then I could relax. I was hoping to help him again, but I did not get a chance.
I was really surprised at how friendly most of the IOC members are.
John: They have this skill for quickly making a bond with people. Like I noticed, they would quickly look down and read your name tag, and then use your name right away. They would say something like hi John, how are you today? In fact, two or three of the IOC members actually said, thank you very much for volunteering. We really appreciate it. It is because of people like you we are actually able to do these events. If we had to hire 80,000 people right on top of the people that are already working, The Olympics would never happen. I was really surprised that a lot of IOC members look down, look up, and use your name. Not only that, but they remember you, too. They were quite skilled in making you feel comfortable talking to you for those few minutes.
John: Do you think that your role as an OFA was a good fit for you?
Saori: At first it was hard work for me, but I had so many brilliant memories. It was so amazing!
John: I imagine some of your friends wonder why you volunteer. What do you tell them?
Saori: When people say arigato, or thank you, I feel happy. I can add the experience to my resume, too. I also am happy to connect to and learn about other cultures and ways of thinking, but mostly it is about helping people. This is valuable to me, so I will keep on volunteering.
John: How about in the future? Would you like to volunteer internationally? For example, the Asian Games in Cambodia, or the Paris 2024 games?
Saori: Yeah, I want to do volunteer work at the Paris 2024 Olympics. After the experience of the Olympics, I want to volunteer at other international events, even in other countries.
John: Through this blog project I got to meet people from all over the world and was really surprised that there are people that plan their vacations around volunteering for major events. It’s a passion for them to travel around the world, and volunteer for events.
So is there anything else that you would like to say as we’re wrapping up the interview? Any message that you’d like to share with people who are thinking about volunteering?
Saori: Yes, the athletes from South Sudan stayed in my hometown. I assisted them and became friends with some of the athletes and staff. They stayed in Gunma for over a year, because of the delay in holding the Olympics. It was such a great experience to share cultures. Then when I saw you yesterday, I was getting ready to escort their NOC President to the airport. I really felt like I was a key part of their success in Tokyo 2020. Doing volunteer work makes me very happy, and I am glad to be able to do it.
Today will be my 13th day of volunteer activities, and along the way, I have enjoyed every day. You can check my previous post for evidence of that. One thing that has really become an interesting measure of the ability of each one of us volunteers to make a difference is the number of pins we receive.
Yesterday was my first day of volunteer activities for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and it was full of intrigue. From the start to the end, it was all an enjoyable learning experience. Step 1 – Leave early, just in case I learned Murphy’s law, If something can go wrong, it will, very early in my
Participating in the Olympics is an opportunity to be on the world stage. It is a chance to let your light shine and brighten the lives of people from all over the world. While the number of people that we Tokyo 2020 volunteers will get to interact with is going to be smaller than originally
Using simple language like, “How are you today?” or “Looks like you’ve had a busy day,” are simple gambits that often lead engaging conversations.
So, my Olympic experience is half over, and I am having a memento mori moment. Trying to take in as much as I can in the 10 days of volunteering I have remaining.
Nima Esnaashari has been living in Hyogo prefecture since 2010. He moved to Japan from the United States. He originally came to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching, also referred to as the JET Program.