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Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_8
On a Penn Club Japan tour of Meiji Jingu.

 

Olympians in 1964 remember Meiji Jingu as their neighborhood forest. The shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji was a wooded area next to their Olympic Village in Tokyo, where athletes like Peter Snell would maintain their condition with a run.

I was fortunate to enjoy a walking tour of Meiji Jingu (aka Meiji Shrine) through my university alumni group on a beautiful autumn Saturday morning recently. We were led on the tour by a Shinto priest at Meiji Jingu, Taisuke Kadosaki, who provided a wonderful description of the shrine’s history and customs as we ambulated through what is often called the lungs of Tokyo.

Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_4

Here are a few of the fun facts gained on the tour:

  • Omotesando: a street akin to the Champs-Élysées in Paris or 5th Avenue in New York, Omotesando leads up to Meiji Jingu, and literally means “the entrance of the path to the shrine.”
  • 80,000 Shinto Shrines in Japan: Most shrines in Japan are over a thousand years old. Meiji Jingu is yet to turn 100.
  • Kami: Shinto shrines are places to pay respects to “kami,” translated as a mixture of such words as spirit, angel, or deity of nature, things or people. There are kami for the wind, for rice, for rivers and for emperors. For example, famed anime character Totoro is a tree kami. The kami at the heart of Meiji Jingu is Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912.
  • Not Quite Nature’s Handiwork: In 1916, work was begun for a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji after his death. Over 100,000 trees from all over Japan were transplanted in a desolate part of Tokyo called Yoyogi. In other words, the woods inside Meiji Jingu – a symbol of Japan’s love for nature – is completely man made.

    Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_3
    Pointing to Amaterasu, the Sun kami.
  • Sake and Rice: On the shady peaceful dirt path through the woods on the way to the shrine halls, you see barrels of sake on your right and casks of wine on your left. Sake is made from rice, a staple of Japan, and was granted from the sun kami, Amaterasu at the beginning of time. Rice and rice wine are two key offerings to “kami”. The casks of wine represent the modern era Emperor Meiji helped usher into Japan.
  • Red Wine: In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Emperor Meiji opened up Japan to the West with treaties, Western clothes, and wine. In fact, when his doctor informed the Emperor that he had diabetes and should diminish his sake intake, the good doctor recommended red wine in its place. Once the wineries of Burgundy in France heard about that, they sent bottles of their best red wine to Emperor Meiji every December.
  • A Most Popular Place After New Year’s Day: In 1920, Meiji Jingu welcomed 500,000 people when it opened. Every year, 10 million people visit Meiji Jingu, the first 3 million in the first three days of the year coming to make wishes for the new year.

Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_7

  • 100th Birthday: In 2020, Meiji Jingu will have its 100th birthday. It is currently going through a renovation, the most apparent part is the re-plating of the copper rooves of the shrine’s halls. What most people will remember are light green rooves, the product of copper oxidating over decades. The very day of our tour, the roof of the main hall was uncovered, displaying a bright and shiny copper finish.
  • Put Your Name on Meiji Jingu for 3,000 Yen: If you want to help finance the renovation of Meiji Shrine, you can donate JPY3,000 for a copper plate that will adorn the roof of one of the halls of the shrine. On one side of the plate, you can write your wish for the future and your name.
Penn Alumni at Meji Jingu_25Nov_5
My tiny bit of Meiji Jingu.

One of the wonderful insights shared by Kadosaki-san on the tour was about the Japanese, and whether they are religious or not.

“Many Japanese will say, ‘I’m not religious’. But in reality,” Kadosaki-san told us, “our daily lives are very close to Shinto.” He then cited several examples:

  • Children dressed up for Shichi-Go-San and new-born babies are brought to shrines to celebrate their growth and health
  • Cars are brought to shrines to be blessed.
  • Weddings are held at shrines. In fact, eighteen wedding ceremonies were scheduled the day of my tour.

Kadosaki-san also explained that from the moment the sun rises, people are sweeping the shrine grounds, cleaning floors, and wiping rails and handles. Washing the hands and rinsing the mouth inside the shrine grounds is also a custom. If you assume Japan is a culture of cleanliness, it’s possible this culture emerged from the practices and beliefs of the shrine.

If you’re in Japan, or planning a trip, you may want to visit peaceful and rejuvenating Meiji Shrine, or one of the other 80,000 shrines in Japan.

For a more detailed explanation of Kadosaki-san’s description of Shintoism and Meiji Jingu, click here.

Soya Skobtsova autographs
Businesslike Zoya Skobtsova signs autographs for kids at Russian camp outside Tokyo_Sports Illustrated, October 19, 1964

It’s days before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Olympic fever in Tokyo is rising. Athletes from all over the world were arriving days if not weeks in advance, filing off of planes and ships and filling the Olympic villages in Yoyogi, Enoshima and Lake Sagami.

For most Japanese, the Olympic villages were pop-up mini United Nations, places of such diversity to shock the mono-culture of Japan. They were drawn to the villages with the hopes of seeing the wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes of the world population, to shake hands with the foreigners, take pictures with them, and of course, get their autographs.

Certainly, to get the autograph of swimming siren Kiki Caron from France, or the amazing barefoot runner from Ethiopia Abebe Bikila, or the 218 cm giant center on the USSR basketball team, Janis Krumins would be a coup. But apparently, the Japanese would rush up to anyone who looked like a foreigner and ask for their autograph.

Hayes Jones was not just anyone – he was the 110-meter hurdles gold medalist. But when he wrote down his name “Hayes,” he would cause a ruckus beyond his expectation:

When I was going into town after the winning the gold in Tokyo, I was leaving the village to see my wife, and these Japanese kids were outside with the autograph pads and they saw me call me out, and this kid put my pen and paper in front of me. I started signing my sign, “Hayes”. …they started shouting “Bob Hayes” is here. I didn’t have the nerve to write “Hayes Jones”.

The “fanaticism” of the Japanese to get autographs was apparently wearing thin on athletes and officials alike, even before the Olympics opened, so much so that the press had words of caution for their readers. As you can read in the Yomiuri article of October 5, 1964 below, athletes were “outraged,” at risk of “writer’s cramp”! To be honest, it’s hard to tell whether the article was preaching, or teasing….

Some athletes have become so outraged that whenever they see these “fanatics” they raise their voices, yelling them to go away.

The great majority of the determined pack of autograph hounds consist of people assigned to the village. These are mostly defense force servicemen, interpreters and assorted workers who often show utter disregard for the time, place or mood of athletes in asking for autographs.

If this trend remains unchecked, many athletes will end up having writer’s cramp before they leave for home.

Autograph Hounds_Yomiuri_5Oct64
The Yomiuri, October 5, 1964
1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball
1964 Paralympics_US vs Japan basketball. from the book 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, Kyodo News Agency

The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, which ran from November 8 to 12, had an immediate impact on Japanese society.

Only a few weeks after the exhilarating Tokyo Olympiad, the Paralympics created an entirely new set of images and impressions on the Japanese psyche regarding notions of what disabled people can and can’t do, as well as the individual Japanese attitude towards disabled people.

Hundreds of foreign Paralympians were in Japan, serving as models in terms of performance and attitude, which was a jolt to Japanese society. Seeichiro Ide of the Ministry of Health and Welfare said, “Japan had the culture of shunning people with disabilities,” and that “making the disabled more visible in society” was a new goal for the new Japan.

A paper entitled The “Legacy” of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, from the Journal of the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Research Group, examined the areas of impact of the Paralympics on Japanese society. My labels for those impacts are: Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability; An Emerging Independent Mindset; Paralympians as Athletes; Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation; and Instant Advances in Equipment Technology.

Confidence in Ability, Not Shame in Disability

The Japanese athletes who were asked to participate in the 1964 Paralympics likely had very little time to prepare as the institutionalization of sports for disabled people had really only just begun in Japan in the early 1960s. But when placed in a situation that tested their skills on a n international platform, Japanese participants felt a rush of elation at being asked to stretch and compete. The paper, written by Kazuo Ogoura, quotes a Japanese fencer, Shigeo Aono, a Japanese discus thrower, Masayoshi Koike, on the Paralympics:

Some said we were out of our minds for trying to compete in fencing, a traditional western sport, after just eight months of practice. Yet, we rejected the naysayers, followed through with our intentions and managed to win the silver medal…, which gave us a powerful realization that we could do anything if we tried. That sense of confidence gave me strong insight and courage, which has been a guiding force of my life ever since. – Aono

I had so much fun, with my spirit lifted high into the sky. – Koike

An Emerging Independent Mindset

With confidence came the realization for Japanese athletes that they were not disabled, but enabled. They took heart in seeing the foreign athletes in Tokyo, and how they carried themselves, particularly in terms of being independent. The paper cites the example of the Paralympians from Argentina, who “upon arrival in Japan, refused to use a lift vehicle provided by Japanese officials, and used crutches or had their arm around the shoulder of assisting Self-Defense Force personnel to walk down the gangway stairs by themselves to the wheelchairs on the ground.” Ogoura concluded that

Most of the athletes from overseas had worked… and lived a life the same way as able-bodied persons did. This difference forced Japanese Paralympians to face the importance of developing an independent frame of mind.

This understanding extended to the need for disabled people in Japan to take care of their health, and strengthen their bodies.

Another demonstration of overseas athletes’ independent mindset was their day-today efforts to boost their physical strength and athletic abilities. Japanese athletes were reminded of the importance of maintaining and increasing physical strength in daily life, when they witnessed a large number of injuries sustained by their teammates during the Paralympics. Two Japanese athletes suffered Achilles’ tendon injuries and 14 others sustained a range of other injuries during their respective events.

More importantly, people saw in the example of visiting foreigners that it was normal in other countries for people with disabilities to be happy and full of life, quoting an administrator of the Paralympic village, Eiichi Machida:

We were stunned to see overseas athletes in wheelchairs, hanging onto the back of a slow-operating Athlete Village loop bus to hitch a ride. It was sheer astonishment to witness their energy, enjoying themselves at a dance party at the International Club, or catching a taxi at night and loading their wheelchairs as well to go to Shibuya’s entertainment precinct.

 

1964 Paralympics_youtube video of wheelchair holding onto bus
Wheelchair Paralympians hitching a ride at the back of a bus; a screenshot from a video about the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics; click on the image to watch.

 

Paralympians as Athletes

The common attitude was to treat anyone with disability with kid’s gloves, people who needed constant care and careful handling. But at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics, spectators and television viewers saw that the participants were athletes, not victims. Ogoura highlights this example of a Japanese swimmer.

One female athlete from overseas had to be carried by her husband to get into the swimming pool. When the race started, she was left behind the rest straight away. By the time the first swimmer finished the race, she had only just swum about 5 meters. She would start sinking, but get back afloat. Rescue staff was swimming about 2 meters behind her just in case. When she began sinking after so many times, the rescue staff proceeded to help, but her husband on the poolside used a hand gesture to tell them to stop. Two more meters to go…, one more meter… The progress was slow. Applause broke out in the spectators’ stand. After more than three minutes, she finally completed the 25-meter feat.” Episodes like this prompted eminent persons and sporting officials to express the opinion that “Disabled sports must be fostered as regular athletic events.”

Medical Shift from Curing the Disease to Rehabilitation

Another significant effect of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics was the shift in the medical world, where more doctors and institutions realized the need to focus more on rehabilitation, not just on cure or prevention of the disease, that to ignore the state of the disabled, who may have the potential of athletes seen at the 1964 Paralympics, is to ignore the opportunity to bring confidence and joy to a significant part of the population. Ogoura quotes a healthcare worker:

Modern medicine focused too much on diseases and ignored people who suffer from them. It was the case of hunters being too busy looking for deer to look at the mountain itself, as they say in Japanese. Take spinal cord injuries for example. If medicine had focused more on achieving patients’ recovery than merely treating the condition, I have no doubt that those with spinal cord injuries today would have enjoyed a higher level of physical recovery, even joining in on the funfair of the Paralympics.

1964 Paralympics_wheelchair fencing
Wheelchair fencing at the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics

Instant Advances in Equipment Technology

The exposure to foreign equipment used by the disabled was hugely impactful. When the hundreds of foreign Paralympians, coaches and administrators came to Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, they brought things that Japanese people had never seen, and immediately set the standard for Japan. Ogoura cited wheelchairs:

The greatest technological impact the Paralympics had was on the development and proliferation of equipment and tools for the care of those with disabilities, which were still underdeveloped in Japan at the time. There was a clear performance gap between foreign-made and Japanese wheelchairs and urine collectors, etc.   Commenting on this matter, Yutaka Nakamura said, “The difference of wheelchairs was as clear as day. British sport-use wheelchairs weighed 13 kilograms, whereas Japanese wheelchairs were as heavy as 23 kilograms.   Overseas players had wheelchairs made to suit their physique, while Japanese sport wheelchairs were the case of one-size-fits-all.

The Japanese could see the difference in performance based on the foreign athletes’ use of the wheelchairs compared to themselves: “Overseas players are bigger but very skilled at handling wheelchairs. We looked more like the wheelchairs were handling us. Then again, the experience gave us confidence that practice would improve our skills.”

The 1964 Tokyo Paralympics caused a monumental mindshift in Japanese culture. Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, one of the key players in making the Tokyo Paralympics happen, wrote in 1964 something that is the essential message of inclusion today:

Our society in general tends to underestimate the capability of people with disabilities. An event like this is significant in that it is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate their capability to the rest of the society.

 

When I was younger so much younger than today

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help! By John Lennon and Paul McCartney

In 1964, Japan was younger, so much younger than today. They were bursting with energy, building a new, modern country, one the world would soon see during the Olympics to be friendly, proud, caring, technologically advanced and joyful.

In 1964, the Beatles invaded America, their dream destination, their exuberance boundless – needing absolutely nobody’s help in any way. From their press conferences, to their hotel escapades, to their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, to their trips to Washington DC and Florida, the four lads from Liverpool were the four mates Americans wanted to hang out with. And as Ron Howard’s film – The Beatles Eight Days a Week – shows, John, George, Paul and Ringo sincerely enjoyed hanging out with each other.

the-beatles-landing-at-haneda
The Beatles Landing at Haneda Airport

I watched this film last week. I can’t say if it was a great film or not. But Howard rightfully kept all the attention on the Beatles and their music. As a lifelong fan, I could not help but smile incessantly throughout. The film, particularly the first half that focused on 1964, was a portrait of The Beatles as the personification of joyfulness.

The Beatles did not relegate their time to the US only. As it turned out, the record deals they agreed to actually paid them little, so they needed to tour to earn themselves the riches they deserved. In 1964, they premiered in the US in February, and then in the middle of the year, went on a 27-day tour of Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, where they performed in a total of 37 shows. Then in August, they returned to the US and powered through a 30-concert tour in 23 cities. Everywhere they went, they were mobbed.

the-beatles-ascending-the-stage-at-the-budokanAs brilliant author, Malcolm Gladwell, explained in Ron Howard’s film, The Beatles were a phenomenon that rode the wave of a new global teen culture, driven by the popularity of the Fab Four. When Olympians the world over gathered in Tokyo in October, 1964, the majority of the Olympians, many teenagers or only years removed from that age group knew The Beatles, and sang their songs.

Diana Yorgova, a Bulgarian long jumper who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Games, wrote to me that she would take a break from the intensity of her training by going to the music hall, a place inside the women’s dormitory. She would listen to the music she liked, and one of her favorite albums was “With the Beatles“, which had come out in November, 1963. While watching ikebana lessons nearby, and taking in the sweet fragrances of the flowers, she would listen to her favorite songs: All My Loving, Please Mister Postman, Hold Me Tight, I Wanna Be Your Man.

Ada Kok, a Dutch swimmer who won two silver medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 100m butterfly and 4x100m medley, was also a Beatles’ fan. In the confines of the women’s dormitory, she told me that the Dutch and the Australians had a particularly raucous party after the swimmers celebrated their medal hauls. Kok said they celebrated by singing Beatles songs the entire time.

But alas, all good things….

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics is considered the last pure Games, the last innocent Olympics. Security was not an issue, doping was not so prevalent, the under-the-table sponsorship payments were not so obvious – a good time was had by all.

But the roiling geo-political and social undercurrents were just getting noticed. And as we saw at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, with the massacre of hundreds just prior to the opening ceremonies, and the murders of 11 Israelis by Palestinian terrorists inside the Olympic Village at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the world had made its transition from joyfulness and purity to cynicism and insecurity.

But now those days are gone, and I’m not so self assured.

In 1966, The Beatles came to Tokyo, playing four shows on June 30 and July 1. After the amazing reception that foreigners got during the Olympics in October 1964, one would think the most popular people in the world would get the very best of welcomes from the Japanese. But as the Howard’s film showed, The Beatles walked into an ambush.

Scheduled to play the Budokan, opened in time for the Olympics, the Beatles would be the first musicians to perform there. The increasingly vocal right wingers in Japan did not take kindly to a group of foreigners coming to Japan to perform music that would, perhaps, despoil The Budokan, a venue they believed should be reserved for only Japanese martial arts. The shows went on, mixed in with the normal Beatlemania response, but tainted by a high level of security and caution for the Beatles in Japan.

security-at-the-budokan-for-the-beatles
Security at the Budokan

The second half of the 1960s was challenging for The Olympics, for the Beatles, for everybody. An Age of Innocence had ended.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being round

Help me, get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, ooh

Takeko Honma 1
A picture of Ted (Theo) Mittet, 2nd from left, by Takeko Honma, middle, in front of the National Gymnasium

When I first arrived in Japan in 1986, one of the most popular programs on television was “Naruhodo! The World (なるほど!ザ・ワールド),” a quiz program that showcased the beauty, excitement and uniqueness of the places around the world their reporters visited. This was entertainment, so their reporters were often loud and garish, shamelessly interacting with foreigners in goofball English, often emphasizing stereotypical or even non-representative quirks of a particular country or culture. The questions and insights of the reporters often revealed more about Japanese culture than the culture they were trying to represent.

Ted (Theo) Mittet was a 22-year-old American rower who decided to travel Japan after helping his four-without boat win the bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. As explained in Part 1, Mittet made many Japanese friends along the way, who exchanged letters with this young man from Seattle, Washington. Their questions to him said a lot about Japan at the time. Mittet wrote to his family describing the conversations he was having with Japanese all over the country.

I spent last evening with a very good Japanese friend’s family (his father speaks English, as does he) and was treated royally. Sukiyaki and tempura were served in unlimited quantities. After dinner we all discussed love and life and I am amazed at the similarity between East and West. My friend is anxious to learn about Christianity and I am anxious to learn about Buddhism. (He is studying Zen.) I certainly think that Buddhism makes more sense than Christianity. I plan to look into it a little further. – letter from Mittet to family in late October

While coming up the east side of the inland sea I stopped at the town of Niihama where I met three English teachers who asked me if I would speak at their school. I gladly accepted and as a result spent about three hours teaching English conversations to about 150 English students. The school offered me 3,000 badly needed yens, but being a true patriot I could not accept. You might say that it was my donation to the cultural exchange program. I was asked questions about the Beetles, the American date, President Johnson (damn!) and “What you think black man?” It was a wonderful experience and I gained much insight on Japanese life and thought. – letter from Mittet to family in late November

Religion, politics, race – all the things we were taught not to talk about in polite company. But many Japanese knew they had an exaggerated view of the world, and were eager to correct their perceptions. In the case of America, Mittet became their source.

Like the hundreds of others on the US Olympic squad, he got the training from the US State Department about how to conduct oneself properly in a foreign land as a representative of America. But one can argue, based on the letters he received from the many Japanese friends he made during his 2-month travels, Mittet was as much an American diplomat as those who sit in embassies around the world.

When travelling through Ashiya, a city near Kobe in Japan, Mittet met Mikio, a middle-aged man who saw the tall American in a crowded bus, and felt compelled to introduce himself. Like other Japanese energized by the influx of foreigners during the Olympics, and infused with a desire to warmly welcome them, Mikio went up to Mittet in the bus. “I remember first scene when I saw firstly you in the crowded bus,” he wrote in a letter to Mittet. “You are too tall, so you put your head on the bus ceiling. Then I felt too funny. (Excuse me.) But that time, I felt much friendly to you.”

Amazingly, not only did Mikio introduce himself, he invited Mittet to stay at his and his wife’s Eiko’s home overnight, where they ate and talked. But in the letter, Mikio admitted that he was still very curious, his English capability failing him in attempts to ask important questions:

It was first experience for me that I gave a lodge to a foreigner. I doubt I could make a full hospitality to you? It’s most sorry I could speak English very little. If I could speak it more fluently, I wished to ask about America things, and to tell and discuss about several problems of the war, current events and American colored man through all night. And about your life experience and philosophy.

Eiko and Mikio 1
Eiko and Mikio

Even more remarkably, Mikio found Mittet so earnest and trustworthy that he admitted to changing what he felt were prejudicial views of Americans.

I had had a prejudice for American through a few American I know, soldiers and seamen. I have thought American are a spending, war-like, uncultural and bright and cheerful nation. (Excuse me) However general Japanese people don’t think so as me.

I see and tell you, I found mistake. You are wonderful man with wit and culture. If there are many people as you in America, American will develop more and more in future. I hope you become young face of America. My dear Eiko in the room you slept, talk about memory of you.

 

Ajinomoto Ad_Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir
Ad from the book Tokyo Olympics Official Souvenir 

 

It’s 1964 and Ajinomoto is at the top of the world.

Housewives in the growing post-war economies were benefiting from advances in food sciences. In America, it was easy to bake a Betty Crocker cake, or create a Jell-O dessert, or slap together a meal with a Swanson’s TV dinner.

For those who actually had to cook, particularly in Asia, mother’s little helper came in a little glass bottle with white crystals. This chemical substance, when added to food, instantly transformed bland vegetables, soups of meats into something savory and tasty. Created in 1908 by a chemist named Kikunae Ikeda, who extracted an element of sea kelp, Ajinomoto (or “the essence of taste”) became a global phenomenon in the first half of the 20th century.

It started with post-Meiji Era housewives of the upper classes, who believed that to be Western and cultured, they had to cook meals themselves. When they learned how easy it was to enhance the flavor of their prepared meals by adding Ajinomoto, sales took off.

Because this was the era of Imperialism, and Japan had colonies in East Asia, Ajinomoto made its ways to the kitchens of Taiwan and China. Restaurants in Taiwan quickly became addicted to the use of Ajinomoto, and this particular flavor and brand became associated with quality. According to this fascinating history of Ajinomoto called A Short History of MSG – Good Science, Bad Science and Taste Cultures, by Jordan Sand, display of the container that Ajinomoto was shipped in became proof of the quality of that establishment.

Some Taiwanese restaurants and noodle shops helped market the product unsolicited. If the tabletop glass shaker symbolized Ajinomoto’s mature position in the metropolitan Japanese food system, in Taiwan it was the square, gold colored, one-kilogram can, which was first imported in 1928. Food vendors and noodle shops displayed these cans toshow customers they used Ajinomoto. Presumably they did so in part to announce they were not using an imitationbrand, several of which had appeared in the 1920s. The large gold cans had particular significance for individual consumers, too, since Taiwanese merchants began opening them in the shops and selling small quantities by weight.

Ajinomoto ad_Jordan Sand
Ajinomoto advertised in a Chinese magazine from the 1920s. From Ajinomoto kabushiki gaisha shashi [Company History of Ajinomoto Incorporated] (Ajinomoto kabushiki gaisha, 1971), volume 1.
To succeed in China, Ajinomoto was marketed as the Buddha’s hand, again, according to Sand, and was particularly useful in making vegetarian food in China more palatable. And once something in China becomes popular or commonplace, it was only a matter of time before it made its way further abroad. The Chinese diaspora is one of the biggest, and when Chinese immigrants poured into America to help build the railroads, Chinese food became a staple of not only the migrants, but also the locals.

Fast forward to the 1960s, and this miracle food enhancer was at its peak, and beginning its descent. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring educated the world on the unintended but dangerous consequences of pesticides in our ecosystem and our food supply, and more generally on man’s impact on nature. Eventually, people began to suspect that Ajinomoto, otherwise known as monosodium glutamate (MSG), was making people nervous because of its linkage to headaches, sweating, rapid heartbeats, sweating and even chest pain and nausea. In America, this particular ailment was informally called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, thanks to migrant cooks inordinate dependence on Ajinomoto.

Eventually, negative reactions to Ajinomoto in the United States spread to Japan. When the 1970s rolled around, Ajinomoto’s sales fell. Ajinomoto diversified and recovered, and today, Ajinomoto is certainly a giant among food manufacturers in Japan. But at the early parts of its existence, Ajinomoto was a company, by virtue of a single product, that had a significant global impact.

And in 1964, during the Tokyo Olympics, Ajinomoto was held up as one of Japan’s great success stories.

Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
The Olympians has been a labor of love for exactly two years. It is my sketchbook as I prepare for the mural masterpiece, a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

While my book’s focus is on the XVIII Tokyo Olympiad, I use my blog as an excuse to write about anything even remotely related to these areas: the Tokyo Olympics, the Olympics overall, Japan, and sports in general. In other words, I think of my blog as therapy for a restlessly curious mind.

How else could I go 730 straight days without missing a post?

Enjoy!

Japan 1964

 

Tokyo 2020

 

Random Rambles

Sazae-san_Eight and a Half Million People

Another great comic strip from Machiko Hasegawa, in the book “The Best of Sazae-san: The Olympic Years“.

Sazae-san’s husband, Masuo, is coming home from work and bumps into a friend. It’s an excuse for Hasegawa to comment on the massive population of the world’s most populous city at the time – Tokyo – which in turn is an excuse for Masuo and his friend to have a drink.

Drinking alcohol in Japan has always been a significant part of Japanese society, the lubricant that eases interactions between people who ordinarily behave formally with each other, the softener that allows the hair to come down, and the relaxant that turns those frowns upside down.

This is especially true in the office life of Tokyo, where most of the populace commute via train and bus and thus have little concern about having a drink or two or three after work. And for the retired generation, those who remember the industrious days of the 1960s and 1970s, drinking together at parties and at company trips to the countryside was the best way to build camaraderie across teams and functions. Drinking with clients after a routine meeting or at the year-end parties were ideal ways to relax the tensions built up between salesmen and customers. It is called “nomunication“, a cross between the word “nomu” which is Japanese for the verb “to drink”, and communication. Here is how Japan Today describes it:

Japanese salespeople frequently woo their clients over drinks, knowing that although explicit deal making is never done during this type of socializing, a deal is rarely won with- out it. Of course, drinking to build trust is not just a Japanese custom. Across East Asia, whether you are working in China, Thailand, or Korea, doing a substantial amount of drinking with customers and collaborators is a common step in the trust-building process.

Many people from task-based cultures don’t get it. “Why would I risk making a fool of myself in front of the very people I need to impress?” they wonder. But that is exactly the point. When you share a round of drinks with a business partner, you show that person you have nothing to hide. And when they “drink until they fall down” with you, they show you that they are willing to let their guard down completely. “Don’t worry about looking stupid,” Hiroki reassured our German manager, who had begun wringing his hands nervously. “The more you are willing to remove social barriers in the evening, the more they will see you as trustworthy.”

drinking in japan_JT

Times are changing. Alcohol consumption among men is dropping, while alcohol consumption among Japanese women is rising. Additionally, Japanese in their 20s and 30s are less likely to go drinking with company colleagues or clients at a drop of the hat as a desire for independence has grown in recent decades. I am an internal consultant in leadership development, and I remember a conversation about a Japanese leader who had strong leadership potential in sales, but was given negative feedback because he didn’t drink alcohol. “How could he shmooze the clients if he didn’t drink with them”, went the argument. Thankfully, executives in that company ignored that particular criteria, enabling that leader to climb the ranks.

Kanpai! I’ll drink to that!

Pachinko ad_Asahi Graf Tokyo Olympics_November 1964
Poster promoting pachinko in the Olympic Village_ from the book “Asahi Graf Tokyo Olympics_November 1964”

When I first came to Japan in 1986, I was struck by the brashness of the pachinko parlor – the martial music blaring, the blast of nicotine rushing through the doors as they opened, accompanied by the high-pitched sound of ball bearings slipping, sliding and colliding with glass, metal pins, and other balls across dozens of machines.

The game known as pachinko is as much a part of 20th century pop culture in Japan as Ishihara Yujiro and Misora Hibari, Godzilla and Astro Boy (鉄腕アトム), and Western-influenced music, fashion and sports.

Like bowling and surfing in Japan, pachinko started in the West, its origins thought to be in the 18th century French game, “Bagatelle”, and then the early 20th century game American adaptation, “Corinth Game”. As further explained in this detailed History of Pachinko, the Corinth Game came to Japan in the 1920s, providing ways for children to win candy or fruit in local shops. Children would call the game “pachi-pachi” as that was the sound they heard as the ball made its way through the playing surface.

After the Second World War, pachinko served society as a means to get access to daily necessities, as well as inexpensive entertainment for adults at a time when Japan fought its way out of the rubble and desperation of a lost war. Here’s how author and Japanologist, Robert Writing described it in his book, “Tokyo Underworld“:

pachinko parlor 1960s
Pachinko Parlor in Japan_circa 1960s

“In the postwar years, the prizes became daily necessities like coffee, canned fruit, sugar, soap, and domestic cigarettes like Golden Bat. Since it cost so little to play and was the essence of simplicity itself, the popularity of pachinko skyrocketed. By 1953, there were over a million machines housed in some 50,000 pachinko parlors, all filled to capacity, day and night. Critics complained the pachinko boom was creating a nation of idiots and that it also increased the crime rate. Indeed, people were so eager to try it, they would literally steal for the money to play.”

So you can see why the picture at the top of the post surprises me – pachinko in the early 1960s was less a shining example of Japanese culture and more a vice to cover up. I wish I could read the poster’s text – I could not good enough resolution to understand what virtues of pachinko the officials were playing up – but I’m sure the allure of the bells and whistles called out to more than a few of the highly competitive Olympians…at least for a try.