Sazae-san is one of the most well-known comic characters in Japan. Created, written and illustrated by Machiko Hasegawa from the 1940s to the 1970s, Hasegawa’s characters are as much a part of the average Japanese psyche as the Yomiuri Giants, a platter of soba, or Natsume Soseki.
Hasegawa wrote about the everyday lives of an average Japanese family, the Isonos. Her genius was to illustrate normal activities as vignettes, and controversial topics in sweet and innocent frames. I found many examples of this in a recently published book of her cartoons translated into English, called “The Best of Sazae-san – The Olympic Years“. It was a delight to read about the issues the average citizen in Tokyo were dealing with in the 1960s.
Here is one comic strip that deals with an issue linked to the Olympics.
Cities all over the world were building highways and expanding roads into avenues to accommodate the explosion of automobiles on the road. Tokyo was no exception. And when Tokyo was selected as the host of the 1964 Summer Olympics in 1959, urban planners saw this as an opportunity to transform Tokyo.
One of the roads that passed through a somewhat wealthy, somewhat sleepy part of Tokyo, was called Aoyama Doori (Aoyama Road). Aoyama Doori connected Shibuya and Ginza, and was one of the noisiest and busiest thoroughfares in the city. In addition to the expectation that traffic would get worse was the general expectation that infrastructure changes related to the Olympic Games would accelerate the pace of change and pain. City planners insisted that Aoyama Doori be widened dramatically, from 22 meters to 40 meters.
Watch this video from the 2:15 minute mark to 7 minute 45 second mark to see what Aoyama Doori was like in the early 1960s.
Dealing with the tremendous change was a challenge to the citizens of Tokyo, the most populous city in the world. The change created tremendous stress for its citizens. Hasegawa recognized this stress. But in her sweet particular way, she laced her negativity with sentimentality. Why is Sazae-san’s younger brother, Katsuo against the widening or building of a road in the cartoon? Not because of the impact to people and commerce, but because of the impact on a bird’s nest.