Fake Olympian in 1964 Learns Crime Doesn’t Pay

ramen oden yatai black and white
A late night bit of ramen or oden at a yatai in Japan.

The kindness the Japanese had for visiting foreigners during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is legendary. I’ve written about how lost traveler’s checks were returned to a British journalist, how JTB saved the vacation of an Australian couple, and how Japan Self Defense Forces came to the rescue of the Netherlands’ Prince Bernhard, who lost his tobacco pouch.

All Japanese were united in ensuring that visiting foreigners left the country believing that Japan was the friendliest country in the world. Of course, in a society built on trust and assumptions that all people are intent on doing good, free riders and scam artists may sometimes think they are the one-eyed-king in the country of the blind. But if you’re going to cheat in such a society, you better be good.

An article in the October 3, 1964 edition of The Yomiuri tells the story of a scam artist wannabe who failed in his scam, but perhaps gained food for thought. Saburo Komuro walked up to a food stall outside in Kamata, and sat down for a hot bowl of “oden” on a cool October evening. He proceeded to mumble his way in explaining that he was in fact an Olympian on the Chinese Olympic judo squad.

Free Olympic Oden Leads to Arrest_The Yomiuri October 3 1964
The Yomiuri October 3 1964

Of course, the Japanese owner of the stall was very proud to be serving a visiting Olympian, and began to “lavish beer and oden on Komuro,” with complements. How could this food stall owner know that there were no judo competitors from Hong Kong or Taiwan, the only countries at the Tokyo Olympics related to China? Komuro was likely very pleased with himself, enjoying a lovely feast of boiled eggs, fishcakes, daikon in a warm broth, while bringing joy to this hard-working food stall owner.

But sometimes, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

A person who was actually Chinese sat down at the oden food stall. When told that he was sitting next to an Olympian from China, he immediately began talking in Chinese to Komuro, who of course couldn’t understand a word. It quickly dawned on the food stall owner that this was no Olympian sitting in front of him, only a fraud. A fight ensued, and in a weird twist, Komuro took off to the police box to explain how he had been wronged, only to be arrested.