On Saturday, October 24, a national effort to restore pride to a defeated nation and demonstrate to the world that Japan was indeed back, ended at the Closing Ceremonies on the final day of the Tokyo Olympiad.
The ceremonies began with Emperor Hirohito entering the National Stadium. And then began the march of the athletes – perhaps less march, more flood. Here’s how it was reported in The Official Report of the XVIII Olympiad:
The flags of all participating nations were marched into the Stadium by standard bearers at 5 o’clock with the names of the nations held high. The athletes followed into the field behind them without distinction of nationality and like a flood water released from its gates. All lined up together in an orderly manner in the area behind the flags. There was a feeling of deep emotion with the completion of the Games, and a peaceful hush descended on the Stadium.
When the athletes had all entered the stadium, the national anthem of Greece was played as that nation’s flag was raised, followed by the flags of Japan and Mexico, accompanied to the playing of the Mexican national anthem. The president of the IOC, Avery Brundage, then officially closed the Tokyo Summer Games, and proclaimed hope for a successful Games in Mexico City four years later:
I call upon the youths of all countries to assemble four years from now at Mexico City and there to celebrate with us the Games of the XIX Olympiad. May they display cheerfulness and concord so that the Olympic torch will be carried on with ever greater eagerness, courage and honor for the good of humanity throughout the ages.
As The Tokyo Olympic Hymm B played, the Olympic flame dissipated into the blackness of the night. In the dark and the quiet, the Olympic flag was lowered and carried off the field by members of the Self-Defense Forces, their solemn march highlighted by a single spotlight.
And suddenly, blossoming from the dark canvas of the field, red-orange flames ignited from hand torches held by hundreds of female college students who formed an oval around the stadium track. As Auld Lang Syne wafted through the Autumn air, the students rotated and waved tehir torches that “made a most impressive and magnificant spectacle as their flames…rotated like a gigantic undulating wave,” according to the Official Report.
It was finally time to leave. As the athletes marched out of the stadium, the electronic signboard lit up with the words “Sayonara! We Meet Again in Mexico City in 1968!” The Emperor left the stadium, and then the evening sky exploded in a blaze of fireworks.
Thus ended one of the most significant milestones in Japan’s march to recovery and prosperity in the 20th Century.
If you had this ticket to the Closing Ceremonies of the XVIII Olympiad on Saturday, October 24, 1964, 53 years ago today, you would have had honored seats. Like this ticket to the Opening Day Ceremonies, you would likely have been watching the pageantry from this area marked in red on the ticket’s stadium layout. That would have placed you directly across from the Olympic Cauldron, and some distance behind Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
You would have seen a different march of the athletes from that on Day One. On October 10, in the daylight of a beautiful Autumn afternoon, the athletes of 93 nations marched in order and in an orderly fashion. On October 24, after the tension of months of intense training and two weeks of pressure-cooker competition, the athletes were ready to party. They did not march in order of their country or even in an orderly fashion. Athletes of different nations mixed as they strolled, ran, and lollygagged their way into and around the stadium.
And as the November 2, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated described it, the team from New Zealand likely drew the attention of the Emperor with their antics.
The butane Olympic flame had been turned off and a blazing “SAYONARA” flashed on the scoreboard in capital letters. At that moment of opportunity, a maverick group of nine New Zealand athletes had a second thought. Grinning preposterously, they broke ranks and began loping around the track in one last ceremonious romp, pausing in their progress to dance impromptu jigs and to sing sudden songs.
In front of the imperial box, they repeated their comic opera for Emperor Hirohito himself, bowing from the waist in an exaggerated series of jerks. Distance Runner Bill Baillie threw the Emperor a record-breaking kiss (of the numbers who had stood in his imperial presence, no one had ever done that before). Remarkably, nobody hurried to intervene. The Emperor smiled in spite of himself, and doffed his Western hat.
That doesn’t happen every day. And you would have had a fine seat to witness it!
This is Part 2 of a breakdown of the amateur film by George and Lilian Merz.
The Merz’s, who won an award for their summary of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, stayed primarily around the National Stadium, so their view of the Olympics was primarily track and field. But on occasion, they trained their cameras at events outside the National Stadium, as well as on non-sporting events. Their footage of the ceremonies have been more effectively captured elsewhere, but their human interest forays are interesting at times.
Opening Ceremony: 1:25 – It’s the Opening Ceremony at the National Stadium on October 10, 1963. At the 3:12 mark, the US team enters the stadium. The men on the US team are wearing cowboy hats, and it appears that is all you see in their sea of members. The women however aren’t wearing any hats. President Johnson, who is believed to have had the hats sent to the Olympians, probably didn’t think it was appropriate for women to wear these cowboy hats. What struck me was how small the female crowd was. When I looked it up, of the 346 people on the US Olympic squad, only 79 were women. And many of them were likely swimmers who had to compete in the next few days, so were likely not allowed to march in the opening ceremony. Interestingly, the men who dominated the US sailing team brought up the rear, not in cowboy hats, but in sailor caps. Also great footage of the balloon released, the Olympic flag raised and the cauldron lit, in a jam-packed stadium. At the 8:36, Merz has footage of the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the stands!
Huckster Girls: 12:25 and 13:56 – That’s what Merz calls the women selling food and drink in the National Stadium. I can’t tell what snacks they were selling, but they were selling a bottle of Coca Cola for 50 yen. At 360 yen to the dollar, that’s about 13 cents!
Nature Boy: At the 14:32 mark, Merz films an unusual looking Japanese man outside the National Stadium, whom he dubs “nature boy”. He’s bald headed and bare chested, except for a sash, and holding a banner. The sash says “Make Your Body as Naked as Your Face!”. His banner basically says the same thing, further emphasizing that nudity is healthy, and that he belongs to some sort of nudist association. In modest Japan, this is the last thing I would have expected to see in this documentary.
Rain Rain Rain: You can see at the 17:16 mark a sea of umbrellas. On certain days, it simply rained through the day.
Press Seats and TV Monitors: As you can see at the 16:44 mark, the press section in the National Stadium had little TV monitors so that the press could watch the action up close.
Eating Bento: I don’t know what the guy is eating, but I’m sure it was good! At the 23:16 mark you can see the spectators sitting on wood-slat benches, and this particular man enjoying a bento. He appears to be sitting in a covered section of the stadium too.
4×100 Swimming Relay Men’s: 5:26 – The Merz’s visit the National Gymnasium and fil the second heat of the men’s 4×100 swimming relay, which the Americans win handily.
Field Hockey Men’s: 25:24 – The Merz’s take a break from the National Stadium and head to the Komazawa Stadium to watch a field hockey match between Germany and Kenya.
Basketball: 25:48 – The Merz’s then head to the National Gymnasium Annex to see men’s basketball. Unfortunately, the footage is too dark to tell which players are from which countries.
Closing Ceremony: 27:38 – And finally, here was footage of the closing ceremony. The film is dark, but you can see the Olympic flame extinguished – a blurry light extinguished, the Olympic Flag lowered, to be send to Mexico City, and an fireworks display to cap off an incredible two weeks.
To many Japanese, so much was riding on the success of the 1964 Olympic Games, particularly the need to avoid shame, and to project the image that Japan can run a global event flawlessly, in a first class fashion. And for the most part, they did. The Japanese were justifiably proud that their country pulled off the first Olympic Games in Asia.
So on Saturday, October 24 (exactly 51 years ago today), the final day of the 1964 Olympic Games, after everything had proceeded to near perfection, the Closing Ceremony was to be the icing on the cake. And to many it was…except that the athletes did not behave exactly as they were supposed to.
According to the procedures of the Olympic Organizing Committee, the objective was to “carry out all the ceremonies in a well-defined and orderly manner.” The athletes were relieved and ready to celebrate after months of preparation and a few weeks of intense pressure and competition. The officials and supporting staff were also likely very relieved that everything was working to plan. So it’s possible that during the closing ceremony, inhibitions as well as the will to police them crumbled.
“We were told we had to stay in line,” US gymnast Rusty Mitchell told me. “That lasted 5 minutes as we all started taking pictures, exchanging pins. It was disorderly and fun.”
For whatever reason, the athletes came into the stadium arm in arm with athletes from different countries, whether friendships had been struck up during the two weeks of competition, or right then and there. And there was plenty of horsing around, in ways that ordinarily would not have been permitted in rule-rigid Japan.
The ceremony was invaded by a non-athlete who just jumped into the mix, the mysterious number 351 on his shirt. As AP explained, a citizen from Sierra Leone named Arnold Gordon, jumped on the track as the athletes were marching in. “Normally, a cordon of police would have swooped down and gobbled him up before he had taken more than a dozen steps. Instead, the Japanese officials acted as if he did not exist. The crowd, stunned at first by this interruption of the show, soon accepted it as a big joke, laughed and waved as the volunteer pranced around the 400-meter oval, waving in reply to every cheer. ‘It was a just a gag,’ he said afterward. ‘I did a television commercial in this suit, and decided to pull this stunt for the fun of it.’ Emperor Hirohito, graying, bespectacled and nattily attired in a business suit, showed little emotion during this and the more serious proceedings.”
According to Stars and Stripes, “a group of New Zealand athletes made a gallant – if not successful – bid to be the star attraction during the Olympic Games closing ceremonies Saturday night. The Kiwis, before a packed audiences in National Stadium, stopped in front of the Imperial Box and bowed low several times to Emperor Hirohito and Empress Michiko. Then distance runner Bill Baille drew cheers and applause when he threw a kiss at the emperor, Hirohito acknowledged by waving his hat. Baille was completely out of the medal picture. He placed sixth in the 5,000-meter run – and they didn’t strike any medals for the 50-meter kiss throw.”
But then, all good things must come to an end, and Japan bid farewell in the dying light of the dusk, and offered their best wishes to the city that would next host the Olympiad – Mexico City.
As John McBryde, captain of the Australian field hockey team told me, “what really made it special, (the closing ceremony) took place as dusk was approaching. By that time were all strolling in, in a very leisurely fashion, it had become dark. And when the flame was extinguished, it was suddenly gone. There was no light. And then, up popped the sign for Mexico city. Everybody was in tears.”
The Japanese were buying televisions, this magical device that brought the world into their homes. And with the Tokyo Olympics arriving in October, 1964, sales for color television were soaring like their pride in hosting the Olympics.
The Tokyo Games had a massive impact on the psyche of the Japanese – no event in the history of Japan was viewed as much by as many people. Reports of television ratings in Japan vary wildly depending on the source. One source explains that over 75 million people watched some part of the Olympics over the two-week period, for a rating of 97.3%. That’s amazing since the population in Japan at the time was about 100 million.
Another source explains that three of the four highest rated programs in Japan in 1964 were related to the Olympics:
15th NHK Red and White Song Battle (NHK General, December 31) 72.0%
Tokyo Olympic and Volleyball Women’s Final “Japan vs Soviet Union” (NHK General, October 23) 66.8%
Tokyo Olympics Closing Ceremony (NHK General, October 24, 16: 52-18: 20) 63.2%
Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony (NHK General, October 10 13: 43-15: 20) 61.2%
But I suspect this list from Wikipedia is misleading as it focuses on ratings for one channel. The number one program, the annual new year’s eve programming (Red and White Song Battle) was broadcast only on NHK. But the Tokyo Olympics, on the whole, was broadcasted on multiple channels, sometimes up to five channels covering the same event. That was the case for the Opening and Closing ceremonies, as well as the highest rated event during the Olympics – the women’s volleyball final – when the Japanese defeated the Soviet Union to win gold.
One can say, with little exaggeration, that nearly everyone in Japan was watching that match.
Think about that – when was the last time an entire nation’s eyes were watching the same exact thing, united in their attention and feelings? In recent years, I can think of only moments of disaster and distress: 9.11 in the US or 3.11 in Japan.
In terms of uplifting moments, never was Japan more united, or prouder, than at 9 pm on October 23, 1964, when the final point sealed the victory for the Witches of the Orient, as the women’s basketball team was affectionately called.
I must admit. I believe I felt a bit of that unity and pride 55 years later, in September and October 2019. The Rugby World Cup is currently being held for the first time in Asia, and the host country, Japan has the only Asian representative in the tournament.
Japan kicked off the tournament on September 20, 2019, defeating Russia 30-10. The television rating was 18.3%, attracting a peak of 26 million viewers. On September 28, Japan pulled off an upset, upending Ireland 19-12, igniting celebrations across the country, and sending ratings higher with 29.5 million viewers. As excitement and expectations noticeably grew among casual and non-rugby fans, viewers of the Japan-Samoa match on October 5 climbed to 47 million.
With three wins in hand during the tournament pool plan, a Japan victory against Scotland would send Japan into the Top 8 for the first time. Nervous but hopeful, over 54 million people were tuned into to watch, attracting a peak rating of 53.7% at the end of the match, when Japan realized their dream of advancement into the elimination round.
Alas, the Brave Blossoms could not survive the South African python that squeezed the life out of the Japanese ruggers. Ratings during the course of the match suffered as viewers realized that the impossible dream was indeed just a dream.
But the dream is the thing. Japan was living a dream vicariously through the incredible energy and surprising skill of the Brave Blossoms – these upstarts turned world beaters.
Is the 2019 Rugby World Cup a sign of things to come? Will the 2020 Tokyo Olympics raise expectations of triumph and pride? Will Japanese heroes emerge to capture the imagination of children and adults across the nation? Will the Olympics unite Japan in a way that exceeds the unity inspired by the Japanese ruggers?
There is little doubt in my mind – the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will bring the nation together.
Tickets for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics won’t go on sale until the Spring of 2019. But the ticket prices have been announced. And if you want to have one of the best views to the biggest global must-see event of 2020 – the Olympics opening ceremony – then you need to shell out 300,000 yen. But if you just want to take your family of 5 to witness a bit of Olympic history, like the marathon, then all you need is to pay 2,500 yen per person.
Based on the price list released by Tokyo 2020, here’s What’s Hot, and What’s Not for the Tokyo Summer Games:
Opening Ceremony: JPY12,000 ~300,000
Closing Ceremony: JPY12,000~220,000
Track and Field: JPY3,000~130,000
What’s Not (or rather, What’s More Affordable)
Modern Pentathlon: JPY2,500~4,000
Note that there will be affordable tickets at JPY3,000 for such “hot” sports as Track and Field and Basketball. But I imagine those tickets could move quickly.
Another note to note on the 2020 site: “Tickets prices as of 20 July, 2018. Prices may change based on the Games plan and competition schedule.”
For all of us who fly, it’s a sinking feeling when you arrive in a foreign land and your luggage hasn’t arrived with you. Imagine if you’re an Olympic athlete, and you land without your official uniform, training gear, and other personal belongings. “I was numb with distress,” said Diana Yorgova, a long jumper from Bulgaria. Fortunately, among the Japanese welcoming the Olympians at Haneda Airport were two legendary athletes, Mikio Oda, Japan’s first ever gold medalist, who won the triple jump competition at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, and Chuhei Nambu, who also took gold in the triple jump at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
Nambu came up to Yorgova to comfort her, and told her that it would be OK, that in fact, he too had landed in Los Angeles without his luggage, and had make his first jump barefoot! She understood. But she was still unsettled. That feeling disappeared the next day.
After a sleepless night of worry and jet lag, the new day offered me a pleasant surprise: a huge parcel addressed to me containing a brand new outfit, absolutely my size from spikes and runners to training suit and, moreover, amazingly, a T-shirt with the national state emblem embroidered on it. I was stunned, deeply touched and full of admiration. I wanted to fly with joy because I knew now I was going to participate! In my thoughts I sent thousands of thanks to those Japanese who brought back my self-confidence and dignity and whom I not only didn’t even know but had unwittingly disturbed.
Yorgova would place a respectable sixth in the women’s long jump competition, her medal to come later with a second-placed finish at the 1972 Munich Games. To celebrate her strong performance in her first Olympics, Yorgova and her fiancé, Bulgarian gymnast Nikola Prodanov decided to do some very special shopping: wedding rings. They planned to hold their big day after their graduation from Sofia University on Prodanov’s birthday in May of 1965.
That same day, the couple went to visit the Bulgarian ambassador, Christo Zdravchev. When the ambassador saw the rings, he brought out a bottle of Bulgarian wine and toasted to the couple’s happy future. But then, despite the diplomatic nature of the ambassador’s job, he apparently let the cat out of the bag by informing members of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee, who in turn implored the ambassador to request Prodanov and Yorgova to change their plans. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, they enthused, for the young Bulgarian couple to hold their wedding in Japan, in the Olympic Village, during the Olympic Games?
The next day, the ambassador sheepishly approached Prodanov and Yorgova with the surprising request.
“Thus our fairy tale began,” said Yorgova. “I can’t forget the attention and care with which the Japanese ladies of the beauty parlor in the Olympic Village were preparing me for the ceremony. There, for the first time in my life, I had my hair dressed and my nails polished by professionals, who also massaged my scalp and even my arms. When I saw and put on the most beautiful dress of white lace and Nikola put on the first tuxedo in his life we felt like the prince and princess of a fairy tale.”
It was October 23rd, 1964, the day before the closing ceremony. Prodanov and Yorgova were nervous and filled with mixed feelings as this impromptu wedding meant that instead of sharing the moment with families and friends in Bulgaria, they were sharing it with diplomats, administrators and athletes, as well as press from around the world.
With the civil ceremony completed at the Bulgarian Embassy, the couple then embarked on what can only be described as a most original wedding: Western Olympic Shinto.
Japanese who choose a traditional wedding take their vows before a Shinto priest. But this was something more than just a traditional wedding. Held at the Yoyogi Olympic Village International Club, Prodanov in a black morning coat and Yorgova dressed in a white lace gown and veil entered in the glare of television lights and hundreds of flashing cameras, as they came to take their places in front of the presiding priest.
The traditional Shinto arrangements of sake bottles and rice, along with photos of the Olympic cauldron and the ever-present Olympic rings forming their wedding backdrop, were reminders that they were a long way from home in Bulgaria. An interpreter stood by to explain some of the more confusing aspects of the ritual. In Yorgova’s words:
We made our oath of allegiance to the Olympic Flag and a huge poster of the Olympic Flame in the presence of outstanding athletes from all over the world, official guests and journalists. To a background of gentle Shinto music we exchanged our rings, drank three sips of sake, and cut the most magical cake of our lives. At the end, we all danced Bulgarian traditional dances “horo” and “ruchenitsa.”
If one event symbolized the Olympics’ singularly international character, this may have been it.
After the ceremony, the couple were whisked away to the brand-new bullet train to enjoy a honeymoon evening in Kyoto and return to Tokyo the next morning to participate in the closing ceremonies in the afternoon.
Fifty-three years later, Yorgova recalled that magical moment with gratefulness. “As parents and grandparents of four grandchildren, we value the great efforts of the organizers more than ever before, and we apologize most heartedly for the extra anxiety, inconvenience and problems we caused to organize our wedding on such short notice,” she said. “We lived a moment we will never forget, thanks to the kind and gentle people of Japan, so full of goodwill.”
One thing certain about the dates of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics: July 24 to August 9, 2020. It will be hot and muggy!
One less obvious thing recently occurred to me about the dates. The final week of the Tokyo Olympics falls on the 75th anniversaries of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Was it intended to bring attention to the worst days in Japanese history, during the proudest days of the nation’s history?
Of course it was. It’s impossible to imagine that no one in the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee or the IOC noticed that the closing ceremonies of the Olympics would take place on the day the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, thus expediting the eventual end of the war six days later.
On the contrary, the organizers must have thought that the final day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would be an opportunity to solemnly (and hopefully tastefully) implore the world that peace and love trump war and hate.
Such a closing ceremony would provide a poetic bookend to the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Only 19 years removed from the end of WWW II, it was a 19-year-old student from Waseda University named Yoshinori Sakai who carried the sacred flame up the National Stadium’s steps to light the Olympic cauldron on October 10, 1964.
Sakai was born in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the very day that the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb called “Little Boy” on Sakai’s hometown.