If surfing comes to the Tokyo Olympics, it’s possible surfers will have the American military to thank.
After the Pacific War ended and General MacArthur assumed nearly imperial-like status in running Japan, military bases with thousands of American troops were established throughout the country. As explained in a previous post, American soldiers and their families were particularly prominent in the Shinjuku and Roppongi areas, significantly influencing the fashion and music of those areas in the 1950s and 1960s.
In Kanagawa Prefecture, which is just south of Tokyo are two major American military bases, Atsugi and Yokosuka. A spot in between those two bases is a beach called Shonan, which today is considered a popular place for sun worshippers and surfers. The image of Shonan as a surfer’s hangout was most certainly cultivated by American soldiers who brought their music and surfboards to the beach. As Tokyo University professor, Shunya Yoshimi, explained in his EdX course, Visualizing Postwar Japan, “Kanagawa Prefecture or Shonan area was one of the most important areas where American military facilities remained even after the 1960s. And from these military facilities, sporting culture, marine culture, music culture, many kinds of American military culture spread out which people enjoyed.”
Marketers in Japan immediately noticed the influence and the emerging love of beach culture in Shonan. As Professor Yoshimi explained further, Hawaii, or the image of a Hawaiian lifestyle began to enter the Japanese pop consciousness. Prof Yoshimi uses as a case in point an advertisement of TRIS Whiskey, in which the company, Suntory, offers a trip to Hawaii to a lucky 100 Japanese people. Hawaii in the 1960s, for mainland Americans and Japanese alike, was becoming the exotic paradise that people dreamed of visiting. Today, of course, Hawaii is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Japanese.
One of the more influential movies of the time was called “Season of the Sun”, which came out in 1956, based on a novel by Shintaro Ishihara. Season of the Sun was a love story between a boy, who runs with a rough crowd, and a rich girl, with life on the beach as a central part of the storyline.
Influenced by the surfing culture of beaches like Shonan, and with a desire to inject youth and fun into the Olympics, the Tokyo Olympic Committee nominated surfing to become an Olympic sport in 2020.