Olympic Shoplifters at the 1964 Olympics: Not Cool

olympic-shoplifters-headline-yomiuri
From The Yomiuri, October 7, 1964

The world was coming to Tokyo in 1964, and Japan wanted to make sure that Tokyo was the friendliest, cleanest and safest city anybody would ever set foot in.

In order to make it safe, one of the actions the Tokyo police took was to lock up all known and suspected pickpockets. Over a three-month campaign prior to the commencement of the Games, the police rounded up 230 pickpockets, resulting in a drop in incidents from 400 in April to 120 in September.

Unfortunately, one can never quite expect the unexpected.

Apparently, there was a rash of shoplifting in the popular stores inside the Olympic Village. The culprits? The Olympic athletes.

As the kid said to Shoeless Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

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From the report, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad 1964

Here’s how the The Yomiuri started off an article on October 7, 1964. “Although shoplifting is not among the listed events in the Olympics some athletes adept in the old sleight-of-hand game are establishing unofficial records in the village out in Yoyogi, much to the chagrin of shop clerks.”

The article explains that there were a total of 16 shops selling a wide variety of good, including clothing, jewelry and electronics. The most popular items – whether legitimately purchased or quietly absconded – were electronics, specifically transistor radios. Watches, pearl necklaces, ball point pens and silk handkerchiefs apparently also went missing.

Radios were priced at JPY1,000 to 8,000, watches at JPY7,000, and the stolen necklaces going for as high as JPY45,000. Back then, that’s significant money.

According to one shop manager interviewed in the article, “the customers engaged the attention of shop hands by communicating in writing while accomplices, all members of an undisclosed team, slipped the tiny radios into their pockets. The manager said he could not identify the culprits because none of the shop employees saw them in the act.”

“‘We were sorry we were off guard, believing all the athletes to be ladies and gentlemen representing their country,’ he bemoaned.”

village-shopping
From the report, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad 1964