1964 Abebe Bikila Avery Brundage Basketball Billy Mills Bob Hayes Boycotts Closing Ceremonies Cold War Dawn Fraser Diving […]

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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

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

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.