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To Tokyo and back: A TODAY staffer reflects on coming full circle at the Olympics

As a student studying in Tokyo, Phoebe Wiener watched National Stadium being built for the Olympics. Two years later she found herself back, helping cover the Games for TODAY.
TODAY researcher Phoebe Wiener lived in Japan as a teen and later a Fulbright scholar in Tokyo, where she watched the Olympic stadium get built.
TODAY researcher Phoebe Wiener lived in Japan as a teen and later a Fulbright scholar in Tokyo, where she watched the Olympic stadium get built. Phoebe Wiener

Two years ago this month, I was taking one of my final walks in Tokyo before moving back home to New York.

After a whirlwind year of studying in the city on a Fulbright scholarship, I wanted to take one last look at New National Stadium, the future site of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

Everywhere you went, the excitement for the Olympics was palpable. Construction of new subway stations and stadiums was well underway, and the official mascots popped up all over, from billboards to convenience store coffee cups. English-speaking volunteers were already stopping me to ask if they could rehearse giving directions to future 2020 tourists.

As I stood in front of the giant stadium, I made a promise to myself that I would work really hard, and try to do everything I could to return for the Olympics. And boy, have I returned!

TODAY researcher Phoebe Wiener. "Although it has been bittersweet seeing empty stadium seats and empty streets because of COVID, the magic of Tokyo is still here."Phoebe Wiener

Helping TODAY cover the Tokyo Games has been the most fulfilling and exciting experience I’ve had so far in my career. These past few weeks, I’ve witnessed unbelievable athletic accomplishments and assisted in producing amazing pieces about the city.

I also wore a giant bear mascot costume pretty much every day on the show … yes, that really happened. Knowing that I’ve been making my family laugh each morning from thousands of miles away was priceless, and I can say with confidence that the memory of putting a fat suit on every night will never get old.

But most of all, it is the people who will come to the forefront of my mind when I look back on this journey. I am so lucky to work with such diligent and kind-hearted people at NBC News.

The team in New York has been working day in and day out, and I’ve loved FaceTiming them every day, taking them on a virtual tour of the city I once called home.

As for those in Tokyo, I’ve been able to walk some of them down back alleyways to hidden ramen spots, and bring back takeout boxes of gyoza dumplings to those who can’t venture out.

Wiener performed as the TODAY mascot, Hinode, on set in Tokyo. Phoebe Wiener

It brings me such joy to share any part of this city with them, especially when it comes to food! I can’t help but smile as they take their first bites from my favorite restaurants here.

Apart from the regular team at the TODAY and NBC News, I’ve had the chance to meet and work with our wonderful team of Tokyo-based Japanese "runners," production assistants who help with anything and everything the broadcast team needs.

I laughed so hard with them every day, especially when they poke fun at the rusty grammar and word choices I make in Japanese. I know how much work they’ve put into making our show look amazing every day, and I’m so grateful to have met them. I know they will be lifelong friends.

Although it has been bittersweet seeing empty stadium seats and empty streets because of COVID, the magic of Tokyo is still here. I feel it when I’m on the train commuting to our TODAY set and a Japanese elementary school student says to me, “Go Team USA!”

I feel it when a coffee shop barista tells me how much happiness the Olympics are bringing her after a difficult year.

And I feel it when I look out on the rings in Tokyo Bay—they continue to shine bright in these scary and often dark times.

I cannot thank the TODAY team enough for giving me the chance to return to Tokyo, my favorite place in the world. I know I will carry these memories for the rest of my life, knowing that I was a part of an Olympics like no other.