homeless in postwar japan
Hundreds of Japanese jam the Ueno railway station in Northeast Tokyo, on Oct. 26, 1945, these windy autumn nights seeking shelter. Homeless, the old and the young huddle together on thin matting and old newspapers, and try to sleep. Many are starving. Police estimate there are two of three deaths nightly from starvation. (AP Photo)

At the end of World War II, in 1945, there were 9 million Japanese left homeless, primarily due to the devastation wrought by B-29s and their bombing raids for nearly a year.

With 80% of all ships destroyed, 33% of all industrial machine tools destroyed, 25% of all trains and cars destroyed, and with the allied-ruled governing body, led by General Douglas MacArthur, imposing a rule of law that prioritized dispersing of Japanese assets to allied victors, the economy was in ruins.

Hunger and malnutrition were the norm, as Japanese managed to live off of 550 to 1,100 calories per day, about 25 to 50% the minimum required to maintain health.

The years after the end of the war was a desperate time for Japanese. Historian John Dower referred to this post-war malaise in his book, Embracing Defeat, as kyodatsu, a Japanese word for the collective depression that fell on the country. After all, when the Emperor got on the radio on August 15, 1945 to announce that the war had ended, they had not only heard the voice of a divine being for the first time, after years of being told of the need to fight to the end, they were suddenly told to stop their resistance, and to continue to live and work towards Japan’s recovery.

The immediate meaning of ‘liberation’ for most Japanese was not political but psychological. Surrender – and, by association, the Allied victory, the American army of occupation itself – liberated them from death. Month after month, they had prepared for the worst; then, abruptly, the tension was broken. In an almost literal sense, they were given back their lives. Shock bordering on stupefaction was a normal response to the emperor’s announcement, usually followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of relief. But that sense of relief all too often proved ephemeral.

Malnutrition poster 1946_Dower

From John Dower’s Embracing Defeat.

On top of all that, the post-war period saw the return of countrymen and women who served in other parts of Asia in the military or as civilians working in Japanese organizations. From October 1, 1945 to December 31, 1946, about 5.1 million repatriated back to Japan, adding to the misery of Japan that already had too few jobs and too little food for those already in the country.

An early first-hand account was written by AP journalist, Russell Brines, in his book, MacArthur’s Japan, who described a Japan unrecognizable today. Here’s how he described the repatriation of Japanese soldiers and civilians from abroad.

Men, women and children – tired and dirty – plodded off the ship, wound past the American sentry and pushed up a hill toward a weather beaten building. They stood like cattle while doctors deloused them, then walked to the railroad station. As they waited for trains, gloomy and apprehensive, commuters eyed them stiffly before hurrying away. Only relatives gave them a smile or a soft word. They soon learned the rest of Japan was too busy – or just unconcerned – to give them much thought to the cycle of fate that had deposited them like rubbish on their nation’s doorstep.

Jammed, filthy trains took them to all parts of the homeland. Some had been away as long as eight years. They returned to blowsy cities, tiny villages or drab farms; to the narrow, contained life they had left for conquest. Many found stony neighbors, silently condemning them for sharing in defeat or for failing to die, as custom decreed. Others encountered resentment from people miserly over food and patched clothing. Some located only ashes where their homes had been and only vagueness when they searched for missing relatives.

The sifting of lives continues, day by day, behind paper-curtained little homes. Men returned to find their “widows” remarried. Some wives had become streetwalkers, through necessity or restlessness. Women had lost some of their obedience and most of their patience. The fabric of prearranged, loveless marriages was too weak in many cases to survive long separation and irritable reconciliation. For the first time, women became complainants in divorce suits; including one whose husband brought back a native wife and two children from Borneo.

Jobs were scarce, money useless and the new life confusing. Those who returned swaggering, found no one willing to cringe before them, as had subject peoples. Those who came back ashamed and penitent found no pity. Only the opportunists profited, the men who had kept their eyes open to all the sharp practices they saw abroad.

Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 3

These are fascinating pictures of Emperor Hirohito and the Empress in the summer of 1964. Taken from the September 11, 1964 issue of Life Magazine, these black and white photos reveal the Emperor to be a somewhat ordinary man, grandfatherly, academic. In fact, the couple looks like they’re having fun looking for mollusks.

The magazine even quotes the Emperor describing the “umi ushi” they found. “This is an easygoing chap, not in the least alarmed at being caught.”

Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 1

Americans who saw this set of pictures in Life Magazine were probably surprised to see a totally different Emperor Hirohito. Perhaps their memory of him was a leader who sent suicide dive bombers to attack Pearl Harbor, or drove soldiers to kill themselves in the name of the Emperor rather than be captured by Allied forces. But to see the Emperor at all in the 1960s was due to efforts by the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP), the entity that governed Japan in the post-war years, as well as members of the Japanese government.

After World War II, in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat at the hands of overwhelming American military firepower, one would think there would be too much concern over what to eat, where to sleep, and how they will cope the next day for people to care about the Emperor, and whether the imperial family as an institution should be maintained.

And yet, support for continuing the imperial throne was strong, a survey in October, 1945 revealing “widespread enthusiasm or deep awe and veneration comparable to that of the war years,” according to John Dower in his seminal book, Embracing Defeat. While forceful calls for the dethronement of Emperor Hirohito and elimination of the imperial system in Japan were common in America and other allied nations, the head of SCAP, General Douglas MacArthur, agreed that it was important to keep the emperor in place.

Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 2

Dower quoted a memo from Brigadier General Bonner Fellers to MacArthur about the reasons why the Emperor should remain as a symbol of Japan, emphasizing the fact that the Emperor, by going on the radio and announcing Japan’s defeat and need to lay down arms, “hundreds of thousands of American casualties were avoided and the war terminated far ahead of schedule.” in the case of trying the Emperor for war crimes, Fellers argued that “the governmental structure would collapse and a general uprising would be inevitable.”

SCAP was therefore insistent that Hirohito remain as Emperor, and not be tried for war crimes. In place of a deity as the head of Japan, SCAP sought to “humanize” the Emperor. A big part of those efforts were sending the Emperor on tours across the nation to meet the people in 1946. SCAP made sure pictures were taken and film was shot to document the Emperor walking amidst his people, a scenario unthinkable during and before the war years.

Life Magazine_Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince
Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince
Aileen Riggin 1920_wikipedia
Aileen Riggin at the 1920 Antwerp Games

Belgium put in their bid for the 1920 Olympics in 1912. Little did they know that Archduke Ferdinand would be assassinated in 1914, sparking World War I. Germany overran Belgium, clearly overriding any planning for the Olympics. In fact, the Olympics in 1916 were cancelled.

But when the war ended in 1919, Antwerp was selected to hold the 1920 Summer Games.

Over 9 million soldiers died in World War I. Around 7 million civilians died as a result of the war. The invasion of Belgium by Germany is often called “The Rape of Belgium“, during which over 27,000 Belgians were killed by German soldiers, an additional 62,000 died of hunger or due to lack of shelter, and one and a half million Belgians fled the country.

Aileen Riggin was part of the first ever US women’s team in the Olympics, which competed at the 1920 Antwerp Games. She got to Belgian in the SS Princess Matoika, which was known as the Death Ship as it had transported war dead from Europe to the US. In the book, Tales of Gold, Riggin shared memories that showed the war was still very much in the minds of people living and competing in Antwerp. As Riggin was a 14-year-old girl at the time, I simply cannot imagine how she felt.

“When we were not training, we went on several trips around Antwerp in our truck, and one was to the battlefields. The mud was so deep that we could not walk, so we stopped along the line and bought some wooden shoes and learned how to walk in them. They were not too comfortable but they did protect our feet from the mud. I do not know how we happened to be allowed on the battlefields, because they had not yet been cleared.”

“In places they were still the way they were in 1918, when the Armistice was declared. We even picked up shells and such things and brought them home as souvenirs. There were trenches and pillboxes and things like that scattered about the fields, and we looked into some of them, and they were deep in water. There were some German helmets lying on the field, and we brought some home with us. I picked up a boot and dropped it very hurriedly when I saw that it still had remains of a human foot inside. It was a weird experience, and we were glad to leave. It must have taken them another year to clear off the battlefields from the way we saw them. They were in shambles.”

Aileen Riggin On the Victory Stand
Aileen Riggin on the victory stand, from the book “Tales of Gold”
How a war devastated country could take on an international event while still in a “shambles” is hard to imagine. But the Belgian authorities did what they could, improvising in some ways. For example, the diving competition was held in a large ditch at the base of an embankment, created as a form of protection if a war were to come to Belgium. Riggin, who competed as a diver, describes the venue.

“On our second day in Antwerp an army truck came to drive us to the stadium where we were to swim. Words fail me in describing our first view of this place. I had never seen anything like it. it was just a ditch. I believe they had had rowing races there at one time. There were  boardwalks around the pool – I have to call it a pool – to mark the ends. In the center

Shinjuku After the War
Shinjuku right after World War II

 

“I was born in Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1947. It was a bombed out city, and Shinjuku was a rowdy part of the city – the black market area, an area where prostitutes walked,” recollected gymnast, Makoto Sakamoto. “I remember returnee soldiers with no legs, stumps, playing the accordion, with a jar for money.”

You can see a bit of what it was like in Tokyo in this British Pathe stock film of Tokyo in 1946 – Japanese getting on with their daily lives amidst the rubble.

Sakamoto’s father moved the family to California in 1955, but in those seven years young Makoto lived in Tokyo, his home country underwent a complete overhaul. He grew up under the Allied occupation of Japan, led by General Douglas MacArthur. He could see cottage industries, roads, houses, buildings sprout up around him. He may not have realized it, but the near-dead Japanese economy began to grow at a tremendous pace as the pulse of normalcy and optimism became the steady beat of Japanese society.

He remembers watching his brothers in foot races, encouraging him to eat cheese so that he would have the power to run with them. He remembers getting cleaned up in the public baths with his mother. And he recalls their home in Shinjuku, before they moved out to a better part of Tokyo, was very near the Musashino-kan, a movie theater in that still exists in the heart of Shinjuku. The business of movie theaters were booming in Japan, and was a reflection of a growing consumer class, as well as a need to escape the stress of re-building their homes and a nation.

Years later, Sakamoto would return to Tokyo as an American citizen to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. He came back to a gleaming, modern city. The American occupation had ended in 1952. The Korean War had kickstarted the Japanese post-war economy as the American military procured a lot of materials and goods from Japan for its war effort in Korea. By the time 1964 Olympics rolled around, Japan was the pleasant surprise of the East, a land of industry, modernity and quiet cool and exoticism.

Sakamoto-khun arrives in japan
17-Year-old Makoto Sakamoto returns to Japan representing the US Men’s Gymnastics team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Here is more British Pathe footage of Tokyo in the 1950s. It shows a rising middle class, businessmen at a restaurant, women working at a rubber boots manufacturer, children doing their morning exercises on the school grounds, as well as men and women in suits and dresses walking along wide sidewalks.

Sakamoto attended school in Los Angeles where he would emerge as America’s top gymnast. At the Tokyo Games, he finished 20th overall, best on the US team, but in no position to muscle past the great competitors from Japan, Russia and Germany. He would continue to be America’s best gymnast through 1972, and would go on to be assistant coach to the US men’s gymnastics team that finally won gold in 1984.

But in 1964, Sakamoto was back home, competing only 2 kilometers from where he was born. “I remember walking down a cobblestone road, going to the public bath with my mother,” Sakamoto told me when reminiscing about his childhood. “My mom would look up and say, ‘there are a lot of stars tonight. It will be a beautiful day tomorrow.’”

From the back cover of a special magazine on the Olympics, called
From the back cover of a special magazine on the Olympics, called “Tokyo Olympiku Special Edition, Tokyo Shimbun”

“The rising sun, the flames of the Olympic torch and the green grass of the stadium – what you saw in black and white in Rome, you can now see in color!” According to this ad, for about JPY200,000 you can be the proud owners of a 1964 Toshiba Color Television! The ad goes on to claim how America is buying up this TV due to its “wonderful” color technology.

By 1964, Japan’s economy had grown so robustly that 90% all households in Japan owned all of the so-called “three sacred treasures” – a television, a refrigerator and a washing machine. But of course, it was time to get an upgrade on that black and white clunker that was so 1950s, and buy a 1964 Toshiba Color Television!

The phrase, “three sacred treasures” (三種の神器 Sanshu no Jingi / Mikusa no Kandakara), is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the three items (a sword, a mirror and a jewel) that were brought from the heavens and granted to the first Emperor of Japan (a very long time ago). It is said that these items actually exist and the presentation of these treasures to a new emperor is still a significant part of the ascension ceremony.

1912_Summer_Olympics_poster

Going au natural was considered not only natural, but beautiful, in ancient Greece. The nude athlete is a powerful image in Greece. It is said that when a runner named Orsippus of Megara lost his loincloth in the midst of a sprint, he was said to run even faster, gaining him victory and fame. Running naked became a competitive advantage.

As archaeologists like Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered the site of ancient Troy in the late 19th century, captured the imagination of people the world over, the thinking and customs of the ancient Greece became idealized. The nude athlete in particular was de rigeur in posters advertising the early Olympic Games.

1920 antwerp olympics poster

In fact, from 1912 to 1936, the male body was the main feature of the Olympic poster, with the 1912 Stockholm Olympic poster being the most, how shall we say, intriguing, showing that there’s a lot you can do with a ribbon. And after World War I ravaged Europe, the Olympics came to Antwerp, Belgium in 1920, where the poster also employed a fully nude man, private parts covered this time by a swirling towel.

1924 Paris Olympics poster

The French were not so revealing, but the poster for the 1924 Paris Olympics did emphasize the bare chests and midriffs of virile young men ready to go into athletic battle. The poster for the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics was less suggestive, but still featured a yearning half-nude man.

Then, there are the prudish Americans, who featured a man of chiseled musculature, but whose torso was covered by a white t-shirt.

The Germans in 1936, the Brits in 1948 and the Finns in 1952 all did variations on a theme with the male body, until the Aussies came along and changed the look and feel dramatically. They removed the human, and replaced it with, what looks like a card, or invitation to the Olympic Games.

Nude guys were no longer a thing.

1932 Los Angeles Olympics poster

My Kamekura Yusaku original 1964 Poster

Yusaku Kamekura designed a series of four posters for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The first one was printed in 1961, a simple yet powerful construct of red circle on white, balanced in the bottom half of the poster with the Olympic logo and the words “Tokyo 1964” in gold.

I finally secured one of these vintage posters last week. It is striking in its simplicity. And it struck a chord with the Japanese as well.

While the “Hinomaru” flag has represented Japan on ships and in international events since the late 19th century, the red circle on white was only made the national flag by law in August 1999. Due to the powerful connection to the Japanese state in the war years, the occupying leadership group overseeing Japan’s occupation after the end of WWII – The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers or SCAP – restricted display of the hinomaru significantly.

But in 1961, as Tokyo Olympic fever was beginning to rise, Kamekura released his red-circle-on-white poster on Japan. He claimed that his design had nothing to do with the Japanese flag. According to the article, Rebuilding the Japanese Nation at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Satoshi Shimizu quotes Kamekura as saying:

I drew a large red circle on top of the Olympic logo. People may have considered that this large red circle represented the hinomaru, but my actual intention was to express the sun. I wanted to create a fresh and vivid image through a balance between the large red circle and the five-ring Olympic mark. I thought that it would make the hinomaru look like a modern design.

In my view, it’s a lame explanation as the hinomaru is also a representation of the sun. To say the red circles on the poster and the flag are different is confusing. To most people, what the Kamekura’s fist ’64 Olympics poster represented was Japan’s traditional flag. In fact, as Japan continued to step out of the shadow of post-war subjugation, symbols of Japan’s past continued to make a comeback, as explained by Christian Tagsold in his article, “The Tokyo Olympics: Politics and Aftermath.”

The restoration of national pride that was staged in 1964 involved the deliberate rehabilitation of classical national symbols, especially the tennō himself (the emperor), the hinomaru (or Rising Sun) flag, the kimigayo (“His Majesty‘s Reign”) anthem, and the army. The method of their revival was to free them of their wartime associations and present them instead as symbols of peace. This was made possible by embedding them in the Olympic Games’ own narrative and by introducing new national symbols.

The power of the red-circle-on-white symbol was felt in Okinawa, a part of Japan that had been placed under American military control after the war and was still a US territory in the 1960s. The American government routinely denied requests by schools for example, to fly the hinomaru flag.

My Kamekura Yusaku original 1964 Poster 2

And yet, there was, apparently support by the Japanese public for an eventual return of the Okinawan islands to Japan. And since he Okinawa Athletic Association, was recognized as a part of the japan Athletic Association, the Torch Relay Special Committee that the torch relay should take place in all Japanese prefectures, even former ones like Okinawa., according to Shimizu. In fact, they made Okinawa the landing place for the Olympic flame after it completed its Southeast and East Asia journey.

When the Olympic flame arrived in a plane at Naha Airport in Okinawa from Taipei, the headlines claimed that the torch had arrived in Japan. Thousands of torch bearers had signed up to carry the torch for five days in Okinawa, and all of the torch bearers in Okinawa and throughout Japan would be wearing Kamekura’s design on their white tank-top shirt.

In addition, when the first runner pulled into Ounoyama Athletic Stadium after securing the flame at Naha Airport, 40,000 spectators were there to cheer him on, witness the lighting of an Olympic cauldron, the hoisting of the Hinomaru flag, and the playing of the national anthem, Kimigayo.

It would take another 8 years before Okinawa was returned to Japan by the United States, but in 1964, it appears, that thanks to the power of the Tokyo Olympics, and perhaps Kamekura’s famous first poster, the hinomaru flag and Kimigayo had been returned to Japan amidst the golden glow of the Olympics.

1964 Paralympics_poster

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics ended on October 24, 1964 to universal praise. On November 12, 1964, the Thirteenth International Stoke Mandeville Games for the Paralysed, otherwise known as the 1964 Summer Paralympics, also ended in success, and arguably with greater impact.

The Tokyo Paralympics helped maintain momentum, as the number of nations grew from 17 to 21, events from 57 to 144, and participants from about 180 to 375. As D. J. Frost wrote in his excellent paper entitled, Tokyo’s Other Games: The Origins and Impact of the 1964 Paralympics, “they were widely hailed as a success and credited with giving ‘hope, courage, and self-confidence to Japan’s physically disabled’.” The 1964 Paralympics raised awareness significantly for people around the world, particularly in Japan, and added to the tremendous global goodwill developed via the organization of the Olympic Games a few weeks before.

Incredibly, in contrast to the five years of planning and organizing devoted to the Tokyo Olympics, the Tokyo Paralympics came together quite suddenly, with an official organization to plan and execute the games coming together only in 1964. While the Paralympics and Olympics are a joint deal for host cities today, that was not the case in the 1960s. When the first Paralympics were held after the Rome Olympics in 1960, Frost wrote that “a mere handful of people in Japan were aware of their existence.” In other words, the idea of organizing an international competition for disabled athletes prior to 1962 was essentially non-existent. Frost tells the incredible story of how very quickly, how a small group of people established new organizations, created public awareness, built consensus among local and national leaders, raise funds and then actually run the event.

Again, citing a good chunk of Frost’s research, here is the timeline of disabled sports in Japan, which demonstrates the sudden alacrity with which Japan made the 1964 Paralympics a reality.

September 1960 – A Lone Japanese Meets the Father of the Paralympics: At the 1960 Rome Olympics, there were over 160 athletes, and likely dozens if not hundreds other Japanese scouting out the Rome Games in search of information and ideas to prepare them for their own Games in 1964. But there were zero representatives from Japan at the 1960 Paralympics in Rome, which was held in mid-September. The closest there was to a Japanese representative was Hanako Watanabe, the wife of the head of the Rome bureau for the Kyodo News Agency. Watanabe did have an academic background in labor and welfare policy, but more importantly, she had access to the father of the Paralympic movement, Ludwig Guttmann. It is said the two met and talked about the possibility of holding a similar event in Japan after the Tokyo Olympics.

1964 Paralympics_dartchery
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency

February 1961 – The First Major Document in Japanese on Disabled Sports: Matao Okino, the director of the Japanese branch of the World Veterans Federation (WVF), received materials about disability sports from the head office in Paris. Interested in bringing greater attention to the topic in Japan, Okino joined with Masatora Hieda, the head of the National Disability Rehabilitation Training Centre, to translate the materials and prepare a 157-page booklet, titled ‘Sports for the Disabled’.

April 13, 1961 – An Influential Workshop: Two emerging experts appeared at a workshop on disability rehabilitation training, where Okino gave a talk entitled “Elevating Sports for the Disabled in Japan,” while Watanabe shared her experiences in Rome during the Paralympics. According to Frost, Watanabe’s influence was not insignificant. Hieda acknowledged that Watanabe’s introductions to Guttmann, to labor and welfare experts, and to media via her husband, were key to building this ragtag network of disability sports community.

May, 1961 – The First Official Organization Devoted to Disabled Sports: Okino meets Guttmann at an international congress for the WVF in Paris. This leads to an agreement to form an official organization to promote disability sports in Japan. This group, the Association for the Promotion of Sports for the Disabled, was formed in August, and was made up of representatives of 24 groups related to disabled people. However, Okino and his colleagues were still not quite confident they could organize a Paralympics in Japan, and few concrete actions resulted.

October 22, 1961 – The First Disabled Sports Competition in Japan: All movements need a spark. Arguably, the spark happened away from the ivory towers of Tokyo, in the fields of Oita, Kyushu in Western Japan. Dr. Yutaka Nakamura, and a local government official, Atsushi Hirata, organized Japan’s first competition for disabled athletes. Their success, while not highly publicized, became the model for a practical application for the thinkers in Tokyo.

March, 1962 – The Lions Club and Asahi Shimbun Offer Their Weighty Support: Now that people in Japan could see what a Tokyo Paralympics might look like, supporters began to emerge. Susumu Iimuro, a leader of a large volunteer service organization called Lions Club International, joined hands with Muneyoshi Terada, an official of the Asahi Shimbun Social Welfare Organization to announce that they would be very supportive if Japan hosted the Stoke Mandeville Games, which was then the official name of the Paralympics. They announced “across-the-board support.” Terada then led the creation of a concrete plan to bring the Paralympics to Japan, the decision to establish a preparatory committee, and then consensus-building meetings with relevant officials in the Health and Welfare Ministry.

May 10, 1962 – A Committee is Finally Formed: The Preparatory Committee is formed, made up of 21 individuals, who go on to make one of the more important decisions they will make: selected Yoshisuke Kasai, the then chairman of the Association for the Promotion of Social Welfare, to lead this committee. Kasai is generally recognized as a powerful driving force in realizing the 1964 Paralympics.

May 30, 1962 – Lions Club Leads the Fundraising: The Preparatory Committee asks the Lions Club to help them raise funds, and resolves to send Japanese disabled athletes to the annual Stoke Mandeville Games in London.

1964 Paralympics_prepping for the Games
Preparatory work for the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics

July 1962 – The First Japanese Disabled Athletes in International Competition: Two men from Oita prefecture are sent to England to participate in the International Stoke Mandeville Games, the first Japanese to do so.

August, 1962 – The Crown Prince Supports: Of all the acts and decisions made towards building awareness about the disabled in society and the impact sports can have on the health of disabled athletes, one of the strategically important ones was involving the Crown Prince of Japan, Akihito, and his wife the Crown Princess, Michiko. The fairy story of a commoner meeting the Crown Prince on a tennis court, leading to a royal wedding covered feverishly by the media, was still strong in the hearts of the Japanese. So when the Crown Prince met with members of the preparatory committee, and stated afterwards that he hoped that the Paralympics would become a reality in Tokyo in 1964, media coverage and subsequently favorability by the public towards the Paralympics grew. Riding the wave of support, Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda pledged government assistance.

May 13, 1963 – It’s Official: The Health and Welfare Ministry approved the incorporation of a newly formed committee, the Organising Committee for the Paralympic Games in April, and a few weeks later, on May 13, Kasai sent a letter to Guttmann and his fellow committee members of the Stoke Mandeville Games of their intent to host the 1964 Stoke Mandeville Games in Tokyo, after the Tokyo Olympics.

At that stage, once the plan was in place, superior Japanese skills in execution took over, ensuring that the five-day event from November 8 to November 12, 1964 took place flawlessly.

Garcetti Bach Hidalgo
Eric Garcetti, IOC President Thomas Bach, and Anne Hidalgo

Most Olympians who do not win a gold medal are happy to receive a silver or bronze medal. But in the dramatic selection process, in which IOC members choose an Olympic host city through a series of votes that thousands of people in candidate cities watch with hands clasped in prayer, there has been no silver medal.

Years of planning and millions of dollars spent in putting together a powerful bid can go to waste as a city’s mayor watches powerlessly in a winner-take-all vote by the IOC.

But this year, the mayors of the two top bids for the 2024 Summer Olympics, Anne Hidalgo of Paris and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, have an opportunity to do something that no other mayor has had: to choose when their city holds an Olympic Games. The choices, albeit, are not that broad – the IOC voted on July 11, 2017 to accept the bids of both Paris and LA for 2024 and 2028.

The bids of both cities were too strong to drop either of them. And the fear of having fewer cities bidding down the road was too great, as cities like Hamburg, Rome and Budapest pulled themselves out of the campaign to host in 2024. They withdrew primarily due to growing local unpopularity of hosting expensive big-tent events. For those reasons, the IOC decided – yes, we have two gold medal winners.

According to this BBC article, “The IOC wants….the cities to reach an agreement on who hosts in 2028 by then.” And if the two cities don’t agree to who hosts in 2028, then the IOC reverts back to the original plan of voting death-match at the 131st IOC session on September 13 in Lima, Peru.

Most pundits are saying that a likely scenario is Paris going first. Both cities have many of the major venues and much of the critical infrastructure in place, unlike Rio and Sochi in recent years. But Paris does not yet have an Olympic Village, and keeping the property available for the building of the Village for a period beyond 2024 would be difficult, Paris organizers say.

According to this ESPN article, the mayors Hidalgo and Garcetti understand that this is a historic moment, when the mayors have the decision in their hands, and that they are willing to work together to make it work.

The IOC is lucky in the sense that it wound up with two 2024 bid committees capable of cooperating and a pair of mayors who have an established relationship. What if the only cities left standing had come from countries with hostile relations or diametrically opposed forms of government? How likely is a repeat of this juxtaposition of two urban areas capable of handling and absorbing the unwieldy event and possibly — an important qualifier — emerging without serious post-Games issues?

Nike Cortez and Onitsuka Tiger Corsair
Nike Cortez and Onitsuka Tiger Corsair

Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, co-founders of Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) had thrown down the gauntlet. Despite being in a successful relationship since 1964 with Japanese sports shoe manufacturer, Onitsuka Tiger, and in the middle of an exclusive 3-year agreement to market the increasingly popular Onitsuka Tiger sneakers in the United States, the relationship in early 1973 had disintegrated.

At the end of 1971, BRS produced and sold sneakers under its own brand – Nike, thus challenging the integrity of their agreement with Onitsuka. But it was BRS which fired the first legal shot, filing a suit against the Kobe-based manufacturer, Onitsuka Company. As explained in Sneaker Wars Part 8, Knight and Bowerman believed that Onitsuka had breached their agreement by soliciting other distributors in America before the end of their agreement. Onitsuka then countersued claiming that their trademarks were violated and that they did not solicit other partners in the US until after BRS began marketing Nikes.

According to Kenny Moore in his book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, BRS and the leaders of Nike were facing an existential crisis. “If Onitsuka won, BRS would lose the exclusive right to sell the shoes Bowerman had designed. ‘This lawsuit,” Bill said, ‘is win or die.'”

Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman

You can read up on the details of the trial in Moore’s book and various articles on the internet. In the end, a federal judge ruled in Blue Ribbon Sports’ favor, although allowing both companies to market the same shoes in the US, under the condition that BRS had the right to sell them under the trademarked names, including the Cortez, according to this article in The Oregonian.

In the end, Onitsuka Company agreed to pay BRS an out-of-court settlement to end their legal conflict. It took a while to agree to an amount acceptable to both parties, but they finally did. When it came time to sign the agreement and receive payment, Phil Knight and a member of his company’s board, Doug Houser, went to meet the lawyers from Onitsuka company. Houser went on to explain the bizarre interaction that ensued:

The Onitsuka lawyer explained the unorthodox payment method as the result of the difficulty of transferring money out of Japan. He encouraged Knight and Houser to sign some documents.

“And I said, ‘Is that X dollars?'” Houser said.

“And they gulped and said, ‘Well no. It’s illegal to bring that much money out of Japan. And we couldn’t’ bring it all. That’s all you get. But it’s a lot of money and you ought to sign.’ They knew we were desperate and needed money badly.

“But it was grossly unprofessional. Grossly wrong. Morally wrong. Everything about it stunk.

“And Knight said, ‘Eff you. We’re out of here.’

“And we left the conference room and went out into the lobby, punched the elevator button and just like in the movies, just when the elevator opened, the conference room door opened and they hollered, ‘Don’t leave. We’ve got the rest of the money.’

“So we went back into the conference room, they opened a door to an adjoining conference room where there was a second steamer trunk and they said, ‘Now sign the papers.’

After they had officials from BRS’ bankers count the money to assure that their agreed-upon amount was paid in full, Knight signed the papers that brought an end to their legal conflict, and breathed new life into BRS. From that point on, Nike, the goddess of Victory and an emerging brand, began to spread her wings and fly.