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By Sakura Murakami
TOKYO (Reuters) - At every Olympics, away from the hordes of cheering spectators and the athletes competing for medals, pin enthusiasts lay out dozens of badges on corkboards or soft cloth in hopes of making a trade.
The tradition of trading in the metal keepsakes that represent various sports, cities or competing countries has been around since the early 20th century when athletes and sports officials first swapped their lapel pins as a sign of friendship.
But with overseas spectators banned and delegations asked to stay in a safe coronavirus "bubble", Tokyo 2020 will be different.
"It's painful," not being able to hold trading sessions, said Yoshiyuki Terajima, a 51-year-old pin enthusiast based in Tokyo. Much of the trading, done through face-to-face negotiations and close contact, had to be suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pins, about the size of a coin, are these days mostly produced by media and sponsors and given to their staff. The rarest can fetch hundreds of dollars on auction websites.
Terajima said he spends up to 150,000 yen ($1,360) every month on pins and owns about 40,000 of them.
“Among Olympic pin badges, for a long time I wanted pins with designs from the time of the Nagano Olympics, like a snowman pin or those from TV Tokyo and (broadcaster) TBS. I got them about five years ago and I remember feeling extremely happy.”
In Japan, trading the pins was a rare hobby until the winter Games which took place in the mountain city in 1998.
Masamichi Tamai, a 68-year-old pin collector from Nagano, remembers locals trying to get their hands on a TV Asahi pin with robot cat character after many saw Japanese skier Tae Satoya wearing one during a television interview.
“I remember there was a moment when those pins were being traded at 250,000 yen ($2,270)," he said.
Tamai was exhilarated when Tokyo won the bid to host the Olympics, but now says that he doesn't quite know how he is supposed to enjoy the pandemic Games.
"It’s a real shame that we won't be able to connect with people from other cultures through pin trading," said Tamai, who has tickets to see the Games and is hoping to watch them in person.
Organisers are set to decide on whether to allow domestic spectators into the venues in the coming days.
"I can’t help but hope for a stroke of luck,” he said.
($1 = 110.1000 yen)
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)