Toyota Times previously published a series of articles under the headline Olympic Torchbearers—Who do they run for? The stories introduced and featured five Toyota employees who had been selected to run in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay that was originally scheduled to start on March 26, 2020.
Although the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay has been postponed until 2021, it was decided that there would be merit in sharing these stories at this timing, as they convey these runners’ willingness to run for something or someone other than themselves.
In addition to the others already introduced, Akio Toyoda was also scheduled to run in the Torch Relay. Thinking about how Toyota, worldwide partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, could contribute to this event, Akio intended to run with something special in mind.With that in mind, it felt like now was the time to introduce another story related to the Olympic Torch Relay. This story highlights a day when a promise was made between Akio Toyoda and a 14-year-old boy.
Olympic Torch Relay in Toyota City
Originally planned for April 7, Akio was scheduled to run through a course set at Toyota’s Headquarters’ Plant Campus in Toyota City as part of the Olympic Torch Relay. After his run, he was going to pass the torch to the next runner through a robot, Toyota’s T-TR1, a remote location communication robot. Had this happened as scheduled, it would have been a world-first trial for this type of mobility in action.
T-TR1 is Toyota’s latest virtual mobility/telepresence robot concept developed by Toyota Research Institute (TRI) in the United States. It might be easiest to imagine T-TR1 as a large-screen video phone set on wheels for mobility. The mobile robot is equipped with a camera atop a near-life-size display that also houses a large speaker and embedded microphone. The combination of video, size, and sound provides a remote user an immersive virtual presence at the robot’s location.
When Toyota says “Mobility for All,” it is not limiting mobility only to the “physical” movement of a person or thing from one location to another, but it also includes the “virtual” mobility of a person. Toyota was looking forward to demonstrating a practical way to implement this virtual presence and mobility at a major event, and the Olympic Torch Relay was thought to be that venue.
However, as Toyota was discussing how to execute this idea, a decision would also need to be made on the ideal person to serve as the virtual runner operating the T-TR1. As management looked to make this decision, the team remembered the unchanging direction offered by Akio when he said it was the company’s goal to offer “Mobility for All.”
Inspired by Akio’s commitment, the Toyota Times editorial team visited the Toyota Memorial Hospital, where an introduction was made to the young boy who would be selected to run by operating the T-TR1 – Shunsuke Suzuki.
Shunsuke Suzuki is both a 14-year-old junior high school student and fan of Morizo
Shunsuke Suzuki, 14, was born in 2005 and currently lives in Takahama City, Aichi Prefecture (Japan). From this April, he started his third and final year at his junior high school. Due to an impairment he has with his legs, he normally uses a walking assist instrument to help him move around. He also regularly visits the Mikawa Aoi-Tori Medical Care and Rehabilitation Center, where he engages in physical therapy to help him maintain his physical strength.Through his father’s job, Shunsuke became interested in motorsports early on, and enjoys watching Super GT and rallies. He often attends the Shinshiro Rally, the biggest rally event within the prefecture, in person. More than anything, he is a big Morizo fan. To think that a junior high school student who is also a big fan of Morizo would be given the opportunity to receive the flame from Morizo himself – what an interesting twist of fate.
However, there is more to this story. Shunsuke has other ties to the Olympic Torch Relay. The connection comes through his maternal grandfather, Mitsuo Kawakado. Mitsuo, 73, was a former member of the Toyota Long Distance (Running) Team, and today he is still actively coaching children in running at a local non-profit organization, Takahama Sports Club. In fact, when his grandfather was an 18-year-old still in high school, he was selected as an Olympic torchbearer and ran through Aichi Prefecture in the Olympic Torch Relay for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The torch that Mitsuo ran with in the relay is displayed at the junior high school Shunsuke attends. Every time Shunsuke sees the torch, he is proud of his grandfather and has secretly desired to “run in the relay myself someday” in his heart. In an odd twist of events that could be described as miraculous coincidence, the opportunity to carry the flame came to Shunsuke. A decision that seemed like a dream led to Shunsuke being selected not only as a virtual torchbearer, but he would receive the torch directly from one of his heroes, Morizo.
The door opened, and there stood Morizo!
Akio mentioned that he hoped to meet Shunsuke, so an opportunity to do so was arranged.
Their first meeting was set for March 2, 2020. At first, the idea was to set up the meeting at the hospital that Shunsuke commuted to regularly for physical therapy. However, with heightened risk of infection from COVID-19, Shunsuke was invited to Toyota Headquarters in Toyota City. A car, Akio’s specially commissioned white Toyota Century GRMN, was sent to pick up Shunsuke from his home and transport him to the Toyota Headquarters office building, where Akio stood outside waiting.
Once the car stopped and the door opened, there stood Morizo. Shunsuke was smiling ear-to-ear under his mask as he was this close to a man he so greatly admired.
Words came immediately: “Wow! It’s really him! I can barely stand to look at him out of sheer excitement.”
He had been nervous with excitement about finally meeting Morizo in person, but, prompted by his mother, Shunsuke courageously turned to face Morizo and said, “I have wanted to meet you!” as he bowed excitedly again and again. He was caught up in the moment and could do nothing else. Dressed in a suit and tie, Akio greeted Shunsuke with a big smile and said, “Even though I am dressed like this, it’s me Morizo,” pulling a nervous laugh from Shunsuke.
Akio then invited him back into the Century so they could take a short drive along the planned course for the Olympic Torch Relay before heading to the office for further discussion. While inside the car, Akio led the conversation, focusing on topics such as Shunsuke’s favorite cars and motorsports.
Do you like riding in cars?
Yes, very much.
Good. What kind of cars do you like?
I like the Sienta and Roomy.
Oh, you like van-type vehicles.
Have you ever ridden in a Supra?
No, I don’t think so.
No? You want to go for a ride?
Eh! If there is such an opportunity, yes, I would like to.
Well, there might be a chance.
Responding to Akio’s smirking face, Shunsuke laughed with excitement, saying, “Really!?” While the conversation had started out slightly awkward, due to Shunsuke’s nervousness, he gradually loosened up, reducing the distance felt between the two.
Akio shares a secret behind the only one-of-its-kind Century
During the originally scheduled Olympic Torch Relay, the plan was for Akio to pass the torch to the T-TR1 while it displayed an image of Shunsuke on its screen – the course had been set in the campus area of the Toyota Headquarters Plant. As the Century they were riding in turned right onto the Toyota campus, the running course spread out in front of them.
The section that Akio would start running from was planned to be at the top after going up gentle sloped road. After running 200 meters, Akio would pass the torch to Shunsuke via his display on the robot.
Upon seeing the course, Shunsuke gathered up enough courage to initiate the conversation for the first time that day, and it turned out to be quite memorable.
200 meters is quite long to run, isn’t it?
Yes. But your grandfather also ran it, right?
Yes, he did.
That’s brilliant. It’s destiny. From grandfather to grandson.
Yes. What a true honor.
I don’t believe it is purely coincidence. I feel there is some kind of destiny working for you.
I do, too.
Afterwards, for a while, Akio talked about the things and landmarks they were seeing alongside the road, such as the previous headquarters building and buildings for the R&D and design departments. Shunsuke paid close attention to Akio. Toward the end of the conversation, Akio noticed that people outside the vehicle were watching as it passed by, something it seemed that Shunsuke had also noticed. Akio saw an opportunity to tell Shunsuke an inside story about the car they were riding in.
This car is rather well known even within the company. When people see this car, sometimes it creates more than a little buzz.
Everyone thinks that I am the one who usually rides in it; however, sometimes it is used for different purposes as well. When they see it, they wonder, “Who is riding in that car today?”
“There is no other Century model in this color or shape; it is the only one-of-its-kind in the world,” said Akio. For Shunsuke, who spent a measureable part of his day riding in it together with Akio, it was surely an unforgettable experience. However, what Shunsuke didn’t know was that he was about to have an even more amazing experience once they reached their destination.
A test drive that required a written apology!?
The destination was a test course. Waiting for Shunsuke at the test course was a Supra – the one that Akio had previously alluded to when he said that there might be a chance to ride in one. In addition, a Toyota 86 had been prepared, the one that Morizo uses to race in rallies, and was parked beside the Supra. Shunsuke could hardly mutter “Wow” as he was taken aback by the scenery and opportunity.
With no further ado, Shunsuke was immediately guided to the passenger seat of the Supra. Akio slipped into the driver’s seat. Leisurely entering the test course, the Supra was followed by a Century that was carrying Shunsuke’s family. Everyone rode and watched the cars run one lap and then another as their engines purred comfortably, undoubtedly feeling an innate sense of “Fun to Drive.”
Still reeling from all the excitement the day had brought, yet another surprise was revealed for Shunsuke. Akio slipped off his suit jacket, offering Shunsuke a glimpse of Morizo as he slid into his Toyota 86. Starting from a purring idle in front of the Suzuki family who were anxiously looking on, Morizo hit the gas and accelerated the 86 away to a thunderous roar, thrilling both Shunsuke and the family as Morizo performed a drifting demonstration while driving a figure-eight course.
With white smoke billowing up from the tires, the intense roar of the engine and the noise of friction from Morizo’s driving, Shunsuke just looked on saying, “This is amazing! I can’t find the words to describe it!” Once the roughly two-and-half-minute performance was over, the place was surrounded by instant cheers and applause.
Wow, wow, that’s great!
Cool, don’t you think?
Those are beautiful circular skid marks.
They really are… how cool!
Leaving such skid marks, I might have to write a letter of apology! Someone might ask, “Who left those skid marks on the parking lot?!?”
Wow, that is just so cool.
They are pretty good marks, aren’t they?
(The family pointed out that it was clearly Akio who left the marks!)
I will write Shunsuke’s name over there with my skid marks – just kidding!
I have never driven this way at this location before. Finally, I did it!
The torch comes around, from grandfather to grandson
When Shunsuke switched from the Century to the Supra, he said he enjoyed feeling the power and thrill of taking banked turns on the high speed test drive. Also, he thoroughly enjoyed watching Akio do his drifting demonstration, about which Akio laughingly noted as one that “we won’t be able to do again.” With cars as the common grounds for communication, Shunsuke and Akio were able to connect and further talk and laugh with each other as they re-entered the Century to head to their final destination, Akio’s office.
Arriving and entering the president’s office, there were many pictures on display of Akio together with famous people, such as one with Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). To Shunsuke, the office is almost like a museum, filled with model cars sent by domestic and overseas manufacturers and trophies won by Toyota’s corporate sport teams. Shunsuke was mesmerized by the sight.
However, there was still one final surprise waiting. It was a true-to-size replica of the torch that will be used in the Olympic Torch Relay. With three generations of the Suzuki family present on the other side of the meeting table, Akio handed the torch to Shunsuke’s grandfather, Mitsuo, the same person who had been selected as a torchbearer in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. “I guess it has been a while since you held one of these torches.”
After receiving the torch from Akio, Mitsuo then passed the torch to his own son, then passed it to his grandson. Mitsuo then turned over pages of an old photo album he had brought with him as he clearly recalled the scenes of the 1964 event – the event was 55 years ago. Despite the long passage of time since then, it does not feel like a mere coincidence that the chance to run as an Olympic torchbearer was presented to Mitsuo’s grandson, Shunsuke.
This is incredible. Something is going on here. It’s like destiny.
Indeed, we are very grateful for this opportunity.
From Akio to Shunsuke – the torch connects them
The meeting in Akio’s office continued and the time was turned over to the person in charge of the Torch Relay, who explained the plans for the day of running. However, this was prior to the decision that was later made to postpone Tokyo 2020, so the plans are yet to be fulfilled.
The postponement has also meant another change to the plan. Originally, Shunsuke’s grandfather, Mitsuo, was to run accompanying children who would also be running together with the robot. Mitsuo had expressed his enthusiasm for this idea, saying, “I can run with Shun…”; Shunsuke had similarly expressed his excitement, saying, “It's like a dream.”
Fortunately, however, their Torch Relay opportunity does not end here. According to information released by the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, they will consider measures that allow torchbearers who were selected to run in the now postponed event to be given priority in the selection process for the new Torch Relay. Of course, Shunsuke plans to run.
To conclude their first meeting, a commemorative photo was taken that included both Akio and the Suzuki family. In the photo, Morizo and Shunsuke can be seen performing a “torch kiss,” where the torches are placed in a symbolic way to show the passing of the flame, in the center of the picture. Therefore, the photo will serve not only as a mere “memory” to stand in the place of being able to fulfill the dream of running, but will also serve as a “promise” to run next year.
Actually, there was still one more surprise, a small size racing suit that Morizo had prepared to give to Shunsuke as a departing gift.
As a follow-up to the story, though he didn’t have time to try it on during their day with Morizo, the family took a photo of Shunsuke donning the racing outfit and provided it to the Toyota Times. Here the photo shows Shunsuke wearing a racing suit identical to that of his hero, Morizo, and a genuine smile that reveals his happiness.