TOKYO (Reuters) - Akiko Amano, the sole Japanese judo referee at this year's Tokyo Olympics, has a full-time job that involves more heat and energy than a gold medal match: She is the first female head of a famed fireworks company whose history goes back 362 years.
When the Kagiya company puts on a fireworks display, which can attract more than a million spectators, Amano oversees about 100 pyrotechnicians. Although the required skills are quite different from those of a judo judge, Amano says she draws strength from her work experience.
"You work with danger hanging over yourself at fireworks events. In a pinch, you cannot judge and issue instructions to ensure safety of spectators and your craftsmen unless you are mentally prepared," Amano, 50, told Reuters.
"For a judo referee, it is extremely important to have the courage to pass split-second decisions as the situation changes from moment to moment in a match. That courage and determination is cultivated by the fireworks job," she added
Amano, ranked by the International Judo Federation (IJF) as one of the world's top 10 referees, said courage and determination also apply to the fate of the Tokyo Games, as Japan struggles with a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I see the Tokyo Olympics as the culmination of my 20-year career as an IJF referee. But I'm also ready for a possible cancellation ... I will have no regrets either way," said Amano, the 15th-generation leader of Kagiya.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged that the event will go ahead, but a voter survey by Japan's Jiji news agency showed this month that two-thirds of those polled believed the Olympics should be postponed again or cancelled.
An Olympic judo referee is not allowed to judge a match involving a compatriot, so the better Japanese judoists perform, the less chance Amano will participate in later-stage competition. But she said she wouldn't mind.
"I was the main referee for the men's 100-kg final match at the Beijing Olympics. I've already tasted the gravity and joy that come with it," Amano said. "This time, I'm just thrilled with the prospects of being able to watch, up close, Japanese athletes fighting it out."
The Tokyo Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, are scheduled to open on July 23. Japan traditionally dominates judo at the Games.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka. Editing by Gerry Doyle)