Photo/IllutrationThe Olympic stadium for the Pyeongchang Games is illuminated on Jan. 9, a month before the Opening Ceremony. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

With the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics kicking off Feb. 9, I toured the South Korean host city.

Starting off with the Olympic stadium where the Opening Ceremony will be held, I was assailed by a powerful stench of fish. It came from a nearby huge open space where strung-up Alaskan pollock were being air-dried.

Thousands of pollock, or perhaps tens of thousands, were swaying in the north wind.

"This is the high season," explained a local resident. "This area has been the nation's top producer of dried pollocks since time immemorial."

The individual said the hill where the stadium now stands used to be a pollock drying place.

The stadium has no roof. I wondered if athletes and spectators will be able to bear the icy winds that dry and freeze the fish.

The Games will be held in the county of Pyeongchang and the city of Gangneung, both located in Gangwon-do province, which shares its border with North Korea. Because the province failed to keep up with South Korea's rapid economic growth, its younger population has left for the big cities, causing depopulation and inexorable aging of society.

The locals are still smarting over the fact that no official game was held in their province during the 2002 World Cup soccer event co-hosted by Japan and South Korea. One person offered a penetrating view: "The Winter Games are being held here to make up for our missing out on all that excitement (in 2002)."

Sitting down to a dinner of pollock cooked in a pot, I had a lively time with my hosts discussing the personality traits of people in different provinces.

In Gyeonggi-do province, where Seoul is located, people are said to be "shrewd and cunning." Gyeongsang-do province, which has produced many high-profile politicians, is known for its "tightfisted" population.

Whether these claims are true or not, they certainly made for animated conversation.

People of Gangwon-do province are nicknamed "gamja bawi," which literally translates as "potato rock" as the spud is the province’s specialty. The moniker implies "honest bumpkins from the mountains."

I was also told that unlike locals in the mountainous county of Pyeongchang, where ski events will be held, people in the coastal city of Gangneung, the venue of skating events, are sociable and outgoing.

Aside from watching the performances of Olympians, I believe one of the pleasures of the Games lies in getting to know the cultural climates and personalities of the host regions.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 3

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.