Closing Ceremonies_Mixing_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
From the book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

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.

Closing ceremony 6
From The Official Report of the XVIII Olympiad

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.

Closing Ceremonies_IOC Flag_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
Fromthe book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

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.

Closing ceremony 5_Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad_Kyodo News Agency

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.

Closing Ceremonies_Sayonara_Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC
From the book, Games of the XVIII Olympiad_IOC

Thus ended one of the most significant milestones in Japan’s march to recovery and prosperity in the 20th Century.

Closing Ceremonies Ticket_front

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.

Closing Ceremonies Ticket_back_marked

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!

NZ team bowing
Members of New Zealand team bowing to the Emperor, from the book, XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun

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.

US Team Opening Ceremony_Merz Film
US Team Opening Ceremony
  • 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.

Nature Boy_Merz Film

  • 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.

eating bento in the stands_Merz Film

  • 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.

Rain Rain Go Away_Merz Film

Abebe Bikila Avery Brundage Basketball Billy Mills Bob Hayes Boycotts Closing Ceremonies Cold War Dawn Fraser Diving Japan […]

031164 - Crown Prince and Empress meet teams Tokyo Games - 3b -
The Crown Prince and Princess greet athletes at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics.

Today, Emperor Akihito is 83 years old, a revered father figure in Japan, looked upon kindly by old and young alike. The Emperor took the unusual step to ask the Japanese government for permission to abdicate in 2019 so he could hand over the countless royal duties to his son, the Crown Prince Naruhito.

In 1959, then Crown Prince Akihito married a wealthy commoner named Michiko, in a highly publicized and popular wedding ceremony, a television extravaganza in a time when Japan was just getting its footing back after years of post-war American occupation.

When the nascent Preparatory Committee began to seriously consider the hosting of a Stoke Mandeville Games in Tokyo after the Tokyo Olympics, the head of the committee, Yoshisuke Kasai, knew he needed powerful allies and influencers to build the awareness of disabled sports and a possible Tokyo Paralympics, as well as raise the organizational infrastructure and funds required to pull off an international sporting event successfully…in only two years.

As explained in this post, part of the plan to grow awareness was to send athletes from Japan for the first time to the annual Stoke Mandeville Games in London, in 1962. According to D. J. Frost and his article, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, Kasai appears to have leveraged the opportunity to celebrate Japan’s participation in the Stoke Mandeville Games to introduce the importance of sporting events for the disabled to the Imperial Family. He arranged for the Crown Prince Akihito to meet the returning athletes and members of the Preparatory Committee, which was heavily covered by the Press.

In addition to the Crown Prince’s expressed hopes for the Paralympics to come to Tokyo in 1964, the newspapers were filled with pictures of the Crown Prince, the Crown Princess, and the disabled athletes showing off their skills. Members of the government, including then Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, pledged their support for the Tokyo Paralympics. As Frost wrote, thus began a long-lasting relationship between the Imperial Family and the Paralympic movement.

Although it remains unclear how the meetings with imperial family members came about, it seems likely that committee members, and perhaps Kasai specifically, mobilised their social connections to establish what proved to be a long-lasting and critically important link between the Paralympics and the imperial household. Associations with the Crown Prince, in particular, practically guaranteed the Games increased media attention. At a moment when the ruling conservative party in Japan, led by Prime Minister Ikeda, was looking to revive the influence and prestige of the imperial family, the potential power of the Crown Prince’s expressions of support should not be underestimated.

A cording to this paper called The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, from the Journal of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group, Kazuo Ogoura explains that the involvement of the Imperial Family in the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics was significant, as “at least one of the members of the Imperial family went to see some events every day,” and that their commitment to disabled athletes was heartfelt:

Even after the Games ended, they extended full-scale cooperation and support to those involved. This experience helped them establish in-depth knowledge and interest in the Paralympics in general. It must be noted that the Imperial involvement came from their heart, rather than physical and systemic arrangement. A member of the Paralympics’ International Secretariat said, “When the Crown Prince and Princess unofficially invited the members of the Secretariat to the Imperial Palace, the Crown Princess Michiko told us that their young prince made a Teru Teru Bozu doll to pray for sunny weather during the Paralympics.”

The Japanese government was conscious now of the possibility of the Tokyo Paralympics, and the impact that such a successful international event right after a successful Tokyo Olympics would help boost Japan’s standing in the global community. They also understood that to succeed, the institution of the Imperial Family and the increasing star power of the Crown Prince and Princess were needed. That in turn would continue to enhance the Imperial Family as a fundamental pillar of Japanese society. As Frost wrote,

The Tokyo Paralympics, emerging from this same historical and cultural milieu, proved no less important as a tool for reviving national symbols and bolstering Japan’s international prestige. Indeed, viewed in this light, the Crown Prince’s oft-mentioned involvement with the Paralympics reflected more than a personal commitment on his part; it was a carefully cultivated and highly politicised link designed to benefit both the Games and the international reputation of Japan’s future monarch.

The Crown Prince and Princess, as you can see in the video below, were present during a good part of the 5-day Paralympics. Unlike Emperor Hirohito, whose appearance at the opening ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was most official and formal, the Crown Prince and Princess walked among the athletes, stopping to greet and talk with them. Their exit during the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Paralympics was a stroll across the gymnasium flow, waving and smiling at the wheelchair athletes – a modern royal family for changing times.

Hiroshima torch relay
The torch relay passing through Hiroshima prior to the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, from the book 1964 Tokyo Olympiad Kyodo News Agency

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.

All he was saying was give peace a chance.

It is so hard to find footage of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, beyond a few newsreel samples and clippings from Kon Ichikawa’s documentary of the 1964 Olympiad. One of the few, great samplings of footage from the 1964 Olympics is a film produced by George and Lilian Merz, amateur filmmakers.

Not only do you get to see a few great events and athletes, you get a feel for the atmosphere in Tokyo and in the stadiums.

Part 1 of this breakdown of the Merz’s documentary focuses on the athletes and the competitions. Part 2 focuses on the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as things happening beyond the cut-throat world of high performance competition. The numbers below are the minute marks of the video where you can find what I am describing.

Track

  • 100-Meters Men’s: 8:51 – Watch Bob Hayes in the first semi-final heat of the 100-meter spring in lane 6. You can see Bob Hayes again at the 24:33 mark in this exciting 4X100 meter finals, with Hayes coming from behind to win gold for the US handily.
  • 100-Meters Women’s: 14:17 – Wyomia Tyus wins 2nd heat of 100-meter sprint in a spirited race.
  • 200-Meters Men’s: 15:50 –   Here’s great film of the finals of 200 meter dash, American Henry Carr, pouring it on at the finish
  • 400-Meters Women’s: 16:14 – At this mark, you can see Australian Betty Cuthbert beat Brit Ann Packer in the women’s 400 meters final
  • 80-Meter Hurdles Women’s: 17:56 – Men and women run hurdles on a slick track. The Merz’s show footage of a Canadian woman being carried off the track. They call her “Miss Wengerson”, but I suspect it is someone named Marion Snider of Toronto, whom I wrote about here. The film returns to the women’s hurdles at the 20:44 mark.
women hurdles carried off_Merz Film
Female hurdler carried off the track after the 80-meter competition
  • Women’s Pentathlon: 12:08 – Here is the 80-meter hurdles part of the pentathlon
  • 400-meter Hurdles Men’s: 13:59 – Watch American Rex Cawley win in the 400-meter hurdle finals
  • 800-Meter Women’s: 21:45 – Great footage again of the women’s 800 meters final, with Ann Packer taking gold, coming from behind to win.
  • 1500-Meter Men’s: 23:27 – Here we can see double-gold-medalist, New Zealand’s Peter Snell, winning the men’s 1500, going from last to first. The race started in misty, low visibility conditions, but by the end of the race you can see Snell victorious by 10 meters.
  • 3,000-Meter Steeplechase Men’s: 10:38 – Great footage of a 3k steeple chase heat
  • 5,000-Meters Men’s: 18:31 – Great film of the rain and slick track that Bob Schul and other 5000 meter runners had to deal with, as well as Schul’s great streak at the end to win gold.
  • 10,000-Meters Men’s: 6:30 – The Merz’s spend their greatest length of footage on the incredible 10,000 meter race, which Billy Mills won in a surprise finish. The film goes on to show IOC president, Avery Brundage, awarding Mills with his gold medal, kimono-clad medal bearers behind Brundage.
  • 20K Walk Men’s: 10:14 Here is the start of the 20K walk, with the finish at the 11:37 mark, Brit Ken Matthews emerging victorious, whose victory hug of his wife captured the hearts of the Japanese.
Merz filming Ira Davis slo mo_Merz Film
Merz filming Ira Davis slo mo_Merz Film

Field

  • Pole Vault Men’s: 9:13 The Merz’s spend time watching pole vaulters warming up and practicing, with a bit of slo mo.
  • Discus Throw Men’s: 11:18 – Here’s footage of the men’s discus competition, including US Olympic legend, Al Oerter.
  • Triple Jump Men’s: 12:40 – Watch triple jumpers Labh Singh of India, and slo mo of Ira Davis of US
  • Javelin Women’s: 13:30 – See a few throws in the women’s javelin
  • Shot Put Men’s and Women’s: 15:11 – Footage of the men’s shot put finals, including gold medalist Dallas Long; with the women’s shot put at 21:19
  • Shot Put Women’s: 19:48 – Day Five brought great weather, and the Merz starts with women’s discus throw. You can see the only American women’s shot putter, Olga Connolly, at the 20:19. For some reason, Merz calls Connolly Polish born, when actually she was born in Czechoslovakia.
  • High Jump Men’s: 25:03 – Here’s footage of the men’s high jump competition, featuring Valery Brumel and John Thomas.
  • Hammer Throw Men’s: 17:28 – Rain dominated Day Five, with rain hammering the fans as the hammer throwers slipped around their ring as they tossed their hammers
  • Equestrian Jumping: 26:18 – Here’s something I hadn’t realized. One of the equestrian events were at the National Stadium, not at the venue in Karuizawa. The infield were set up for the complex set of jumps for the Grand Prix Jumping competition.

Equestrian Jumping Competition_Merz Film

ben-campbell
Members of the US Olympic Judo Team in 1964: George Harris, James Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell

When it was announced in 1960 that judo would make its Olympic debut in 1964 in Tokyo, Ben Nighthorse Campbell knew he had to be there. He had to be there not only to compete in the Olympics, but also to train. Japan was the mecca for judo, a martial art developed by IOC’s first representative from Japan, legendary Jigoro Kano.

So after years of training in the United States in high school and college, as well as in the US Air Force in South Korea, Campbell resolved to go to Japan and train at the Japanese judo powerhouse, Meiji University. In the 1960s, there was no organized funding system to train and support American athletes in judo, so Campbell sold his car and his house, and even cashed in his life insurance policy to pay for his trip to Japan.

“I’m not sure what I was thinking,,,it’s really hard,” Campbell told me. “You can’t believe the difference (between training in the US and Japan). You have to live with a lot of bruises. I was training 5 hours a day, first at Keishicho (where the police trained) in the morning, and then at Meiji in the afternoon. If you broke your nose, you had to show up. If you broke something else, you had to stand at attention for hours until you healed.”

Campbell, who would go on to serve in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate from 1986 to 2005, representing the state of Colorado, said in his biography, Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior, “the training, in fact, was absolutely brutal. My nose was broken a couple of times, I lost two teeth, and I guess I broke or dislocated virtually every finger and toe I’ve got and suffered any number of bruises, contusions, and swollen ears.”

Training with the very best judoka in the world twice a day every day in Japan shaped Campbell into a champion, as he won US national titles from 1961 to 1963, and a gold medal in the open weight division at the Pan American Games in 1963. He also attended the Tokyo International Sports Week, which was held precisely one year prior to the actual start of the 1964 Olympics. This was a dress rehearsal for officials and planners, a way to test out preliminary operational plans, including the opening ceremonies. But it was also a legitimate sports competition for athletes who were invited.

Campbell was already in Japan for Tokyo International Sports Week, and pulled off what was considered an upset at the time. He defeated the captain of the Meiji University team, someone who was considered a strong candidate to make the Japan judo team. So when Campbell went to New York City for the Olympic trials, he was at the top of his game. He went on to win seven out of seven matches, five of them on falls, and won a spot on the US Judo Team.

ben-nighthorse-campbell-in-competition

With only four months to go before the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell had to stay in shape and stay away from major injury. Unfortunately, he was not in Japan, where the competition was keen. Instead he trained against a large number of inexperienced judoka, which according to Campbell, can be unpredictable, and lead to awkward maneuvers that can lead to injury. As it turned out, Campbell had just such an experience, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. With the Olympics around the corner, Campbell felt he had no choice but to grin and bear the pain.

In his first bout in the Budokan during the last days of the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell faced off against Thomas Ong of the Philippines. The match was over in seconds, as Campbell simply rushed Ong and swept his legs out from under him for an ip-pon. His second-round opponent was a far heavier opponent from Germany, Thomas Glahn. And in the midst of battle, Campbell’s knee gave way, and then so did any chance of winning a medal. Campbell forfeited and hobbled off the mat. “If my knee was OK, I could have beaten him,” Campbell told me.

ben-nighthorse-campbell-and-anton-geesink_from-an-american-warrior
Campbell and Geesink, from the book Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior

Glahn would go on to earn a bronze medal, but could not do better as he lost to Japanese judoka, Akio Kaminaga. As it turns out, Kaminaga was the only Japanese not to win gold when he lost famously to the huge and hugely talented Dutch man, Anton Geesink.

And then the Olympic Games ended. It was time to say farewell. Campbell was hanging out with one of his friends from California, Don Schollander. Having won four gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, the swimming golden boy Schollander was pegged to carry out the American flag for the closing ceremonies. But according to Campbell, Schollander had to leave, literally during the closing ceremony. So somehow, during the march in the stadium, Schollander handed Campbell the flag for the rest of the march. Campbell’s knee was aching. Cold winds were whipping through the late October evening. And the flag and its pole, apparently, is not so light. But according to Campbell in his biography, it was a weight he would bear with pride, not just on that day, but throughout his days of service.

Campbell has never forgotten that moment. He remembered it clearly twenty-five years later when, as a member of Congress, he voted for the amendment to make desecrating the American flag a crime. “I got some heat from the liberals for that vote, but it made no difference to me. I told my colleagues on the House floor that I didn’t fight in Korea or carry our flag in the Olympics so some fool could burn it.”

Japan Times, October 26, 1964
Japan Times, October 26, 1964

Indonesia and North Korea pulled out of the 1964 Olympics. The Vietnam War was raging a few thousand kilometers away. China tested its first atomic bomb. Lyndon Johnson was facing off against Barry Goldwater in a testy US presidential campaign. The Soviets launched the first three-man spaceship. The Warren Report on the Kennedy assassination was released.

Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda
Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda

On top of it all, in October, 1964, on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics, the health of the prime minister of Japan was teetering.

In the first week of October, it was reported that Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda had a throat condition and might not be able to attend the opening ceremonies. Fortunately, when the Games opened on October 10, the prime minister was able to preside over the Games.

Ikeda became prime minister of Japan in 1960 as the famed Japanese economic miracle really began to gain steam. In addition to building pension and health insurance schemes for the country, Ikeda created a vision of doubling the income of the Japanese by the end of the decade. Akin to Kennedy’s moonshot vision, Ikeda captured the imagination of the country, and continued to preach that Japan’s economic success was just getting started.

When the Olympic Games ended on October 24, the flame extinguished and the word “Sayonora” flashing on the large National Stadium screen, Japan was universally recognized for having emerged as a legitimate success story, from an Asian nation that re-built itself from the rubble of war to a powerful force in the global economy. Hayato Ikeda, who was born in Hiroshima a year before the turn of the century, was able to witness this as the leader of the country.

And then a day later, on October 25, he announced his resignation. The tumor in his throat was simply not going to allow him to continue as leader. He was hospitalized for three months, had an operation in August, 1965, and then passed away on August 13, 1965.

As Wikipedia notes, a leading economic historian described Ikeda as “the single most important figure in Japan’s rapid growth. He should long be remembered as the man who pulled together a national consensus for economic growth.”

John F. Kennedy and Hayato Ikeda
John F. Kennedy and Hayato Ikeda, from the JFK Library
The Closing Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, October 24, from the book,
The Closing Ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, October 24, from the book, “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

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.”

From the book,
From the book, “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

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.”

From the book,
From the book, “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

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.”

Sayonara
Sayonara