“Your Papers Please”: Efficiency Via Documentation at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Theo's Identity Card_Photo ID.jpg

The Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee was ready for the hordes of foreigners to descend upon their shores, preparing processes, rules and documentation that made it clear to officials, workers and volunteers in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic bureaucracy who an Olympian was or wasn’t.

So when Ted (Theo) Mittet came to Japan as a rower on the US Olympic Team, he had his documents. I know this because he kept them in a box over the past five decades, and he graciously allowed me to rummage through it.

The image at the top of the article is his Identify Card. Sent about five months in advance to some 7,900 competitors and officials, blank identify cards were provided to all National Olympic Committees (NOC) or International Sports Federations (ISF). Those NOCs and ISF’s in turn filled in the cards and handed them to the athlete.


Seven Types of Identity Cards
From the Official Report of the Organizing Committee – The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

These identity cards, were for all intents and purposes, a passport within Japan, and so Japanese officials took the time and effort to design a card appropriate for its level of importance. Not only was the paper manufactured with waterproof texture paper, and watermarked to prevent forgery, the card included a serial number that was fed into an IBM computer system. That serial number was also printed on a vinyl case designed to further protect the document.

The identity card allowed the athlete or official free passage on all related Olympic transportation, free admission into parks, zoos, museums, as well as free access to trains, buses and trams in Tokyo.

In the case of athletes like Mittet, their case was blue. My father was a journalist at the Tokyo Games, and his identify card case was red.

As described in this post, Mittet traveled through Japan. In as much as he could, he likely used identity card to travel, but he may have also used his railway pass, one issued to all Olympians. This pass may have been more to explain which train lines the foreigners were allowed to use, as the document kindly shows in red which lines they can board free of charge.

Railway Pass Cover

Railway Pass Inside

Inside the Olympic Village, Olympians had access to the dining halls. Each individual was provided with a book of meal coupons, which they could use breakfast, lunch and dinner in any of the dining halls they wanted. The picture below is of Mittet’s coupon book, with coupons left for only October 28, several days after the end of the Olympics.

As one can imagine, the Japanese organizers thought deeply about how the foreigners would interact with the Japanese at the countless number of touch points in Tokyo, and believed that easily recognizable documentation in English would become in certain instances the instant translation of an unspoken exchange.

“Having established procedures and protocol the Japanese organisers devised a document of reference for (almost) every forseeable contingency,” wrote Doug Ibbotson of the Evening News, in an article entitled Tokyo – Marvel of Efficiency and Goodwill. “This resulted in the distribution of mountains of paper which, I regret to say, frequently was jettisoned into the waste basket. However, once a document was in existence, the lesser officials were happy, for it became the sole arbiter in any dispute between Western Logic and the Oriental Mind.”

Paper work – one reason why the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were considered one of the smoothest operations in Olympic history.

Olympic Village Meal Coupon Cover

Olympic Village Meal Coupons