Prime Minister Ikeda Resigns the Day After The Closing of the Olympic Games

Japan Times, October 26, 1964
Japan Times, October 26, 1964

Indonesia and North Korea pulled out of the 1964 Olympics. The Vietnam War was raging a few thousand kilometers away. China tested its first atomic bomb. Lyndon Johnson was facing off against Barry Goldwater in a testy US presidential campaign. The Soviets launched the first three-man spaceship. The Warren Report on the Kennedy assassination was released.

Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda
Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda

On top of it all, in October, 1964, on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, the health of the prime minister of Japan was teetering.

In the first week of October, it was reported that Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda had a throat condition and might not be able to attend the opening ceremonies. Fortunately, when the Games opened on October 10, the prime minister was able to preside over the Games.

Ikeda became prime minister of Japan in 1960 as the famed Japanese economic miracle really began to gain steam. In addition to building pension and health insurance schemes for the country, Ikeda created a vision of doubling the income of the Japanese by the end of the decade. Akin to Kennedy’s moonshot vision, Ikeda captured the imagination of the country, and continued to preach that Japan’s economic success was just getting started.

When the Olympic Games ended on October 24, the flame extinguished and the word “Sayonora” flashing on the large National Stadium screen, Japan was universally recognized for having emerged as a legitimate success story, from an Asian nation that re-built itself from the rubble of war to a powerful force in the global economy. Hayato Ikeda, who was born in Hiroshima a year before the turn of the century, was able to witness this as the leader of the country.

And then a day later, on October 25, he announced his resignation. The tumor in his throat was simply not going to allow him to continue as leader. He was hospitalized for three months, had an operation in August, 1965, and then passed away on August 13, 1965.

As Wikipedia notes, a leading economic historian described Ikeda as “the single most important figure in Japan’s rapid growth. He should long be remembered as the man who pulled together a national consensus for economic growth.”

John F. Kennedy and Hayato Ikeda
John F. Kennedy and Hayato Ikeda, from the JFK Library