By Tom Baker / Japan News Staff Writer The dome-shaped building, with an enormous pair of rounded windows looking out on an inlet of Tokyo Bay, resembles the head of a goggle-wearing swimmer emerging from the water.
At least, that’s how I see the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center. According to the website of Kozo Keikaku Engineering Inc., the company behind the building’s structural design, it was “inspired by the image of a bird soaring.”
TV audiences around the world will form their own impressions next year, when the facility in Koto Ward, Tokyo, serves as the 2020 Olympic water polo venue.
The center has a 50-meter long-course pool behind one of the big windows, a large diving pool behind the other, and a 25-meter short-course pool tucked under a bank of 3,600 seats — expandable to 5,000 for special occasions.
Thirty-seven current national swimming records were set here. In 2017, Ippei Watanabe set the world record here for the men’s 200-meter long-course breaststroke.
I’m no star athlete, but I recently swam where he did — and you can, too. When big competitions are not being held (check https://www.tef.or.jp/ttisc/en/index.jsp for a schedule in Japanese), the Tatsumi pools are often open to the public. The facility is a 10-minute walk from Tatsumi Station on the Yurakucho subway line. Admission is ¥600 for adults and ¥260 for kids through junior high school age. Swim caps are required.
Jumping in, I was able to stand at one end of the 50-meter pool, but that might not be the case every day. The pool floor is divided into sections that can be raised or lowered to adjust the depth.
Swimming backstroke, I kept on a steady course by watching the straight lines formed by a rectangular grid of catwalks and lighting equipment hanging high overhead. The ceiling itself was even higher. As I moved through the water, the soaring rafters of the curved roof seemed to be moving along behind the lights, in the same optical illusion that makes the moon fly through the trees when seen from a moving car.
I broke out in a watery grin at the thought that this borderline-psychedelic view may also have been seen by the likes of Kosuke Hagino during the backstroke portion of his national record-setting swim here in the men’s 200-meter individual medley in 2016, and Yui Ohashi when she set the national record for the women’s 400 I.M. in 2018.
Later, standing on the pool deck and looking out the big windows, I could see the massive, angular roof of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre rising above the trees just a few blocks away. Still under construction, this building will be the Olympic venue for swimming, diving and artistic swimming, and the Paralympic venue for swimming, with seating for up to 15,000 spectators.
The roof, 160 meters long, 130 meters wide and 10 meters thick, was built on the ground at the site and then raised into position. It weighs 7,000 tons.
How will backstrokers feel when they gaze up at that? This is something else you may eventually experience for yourself. The Tokyo Aquatics Centre will see use as a public recreation facility after the Games.