Airbnb in Hokkaido
Airbnb listings for Hokkaido, Japan

The Silicon Valley home-sharing accommodation business has faced first-mover angst. While customers seeking cheaper, more varied accommodations are using Airbnb more and more, the hotel industry in particular is pushing back, lobbying local governments to put a stop to these unregulated competitors.

Even in San Francisco, its home base, Airbnb faces pressure from the government to prove that the Airbnb hosts are indeed residences of the rooms they rent out, not companies that own various condos or houses and rent out rooms like hotels.

But Airbnb, while it has faced push back from authorities, have just been given a very bright green light in Japan. On Friday, March 10, the cabinet of Prime Minister of Shinzo Abe “approved rules…limiting home-sharing by private citizens to 180 days a year,” according to The Japan Times. Prior to this, hosting a room in your home to rent was essentially illegal in Japan.

The impact will be significant. According to this report, hotel vacancies in Tokyo are currently limited, as occupancy rates in recent years have consistently been over 80%, which has allowed the average daily rate (ADR) to climb significantly. With foreign tourist numbers expected to climb, and with the inevitable spikes in demand for hotel rooms for the World Rugby Cup scheduled for Tokyo in 2019 and the Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in 2020, there is continued fear of angry visitors from outside Tokyo and Japan screaming for hotel rooms, certainly with hopes of less expensive options.

Japan Hotel Performance 2007 to 2015

But also significantly, this is an opportunity to expand the number of accommodations available to travelers in the more remote parts of Japan where corporations are reluctant to invest, as well as put tourist money into the pockets of rural folks whose towns have been hollowed out by loss of youth, and a lack of energy to continue with the labor intensive agricultural business.

Japan hand, Terrie Lloyd, believes Airbnb Japan is going to grow the number of room listings significantly thanks to this law, which is expected to be passed easily in the not so distant future. And he believes the impact will be great:

  • People owning homes in areas under served by hotels (pick almost any countryside area in Japan) will now be able to step into the breech and offer accommodation with little/no development cost. This will significantly increase the flow of tourists out to more remote areas, which of course will be a shot in the arm for local economies.
  • 180 days a year means that the average household out in the countryside could make up to JPY900,000 or so a year (JPY5,000 average per night) that would have been impossible otherwise – and with very little outlay – thus offering a low barrier to entry per household.
  • There will be a regional property boom, at least in those areas which have visually attractive tourist assets, and this will encourage other regions who haven’t preserved their traditions to do more conservation work to pull visitors.
  • There will be a rebuilding boom, as relatives of hospitalized elderly and the recently deceased start to realize that instead of allowing a home to decay into a rotting ruin, it can be restored and rented out to local and foreign tourists.
  • There will be a surge in demand for rental cars, as the proximity of accommodation to the train station no longer determines where you want to travel.
  • There will be a surge in demand for services to maintain rooms and to look after foreign guests.

When I saw the CEO of Airbnb give a talk last year, I remember him waxing poetic about the possibilities for the graying countryside of Japan, where curious foreigners meet elderly entrepreneurs who gain a financial reward, and perhaps a personal reward in opening their homes up to the world.

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President Thomas Bach
IOC President Thomas Bach
In July, 2015, there were only two cities vying for the 2022 Winter Games: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. Just 10 months before, Oslo, Norway, the host of the 1952 Winter Olympics, pulled out of the running. Sochi a year before famously cost $50 billion, and the Norwegian government was expecting the cost for their city to be billions more than they had an appetite for.

That left Almaty, a city generally unknown, and Beijing, a well-known city that gets very little snow.

With the ugly photos coming out of Rio de Janeiro of the crumbling Olympic infrastructure after only some 7 months, more and more city denizens and governments are convinced they don’t want an Olympics in their metropolis. In fact, Budapest, Hungary, which submitted a strong bid for the 2024 Summer Games, withdrew its bid a week ago on March 1.

So like the 2022 bid, now there are only two for the 2024 Games.

This must be causing considerable heartburn for leaders of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The bidding process has resulted not in a celebration of city pride with the hopes of bringing the biggest sports tent their way, but in opportunities for large numbers of people to publicly and loudly proclaim their disenchantment, if not diffidence with having the Olympics in their back yard.

Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Rio Swimming Venue Before and After
Fortunately, the 2024 has two solid prospects: Los Angeles and Paris. As Tim Crow writes in this great article, “And Then There Were Two“,

LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.

Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.

So, as Crow extrapolates, if the president of the IOC wants to avoid further embarrassment of the citizens of the Great Cities open scorn, at least for a while, he may encourage his fellow leaders to decide the next two Olympic hosts when the IOC meet in Lima, Peru in September, 2017. As has been gossiped about for the past several months, Crow believes the IOC will select either Paris or LA for 2024, and the other one for 2028. By so doing, that would guarantee great Summer Olympic hosts throughout the 2020s, as well as avoid unwanted anti-Olympic discussion that would most certainly lead up to the 2028 process, that is currently scheduled for 2021.

Crow also speculates that the IOC may award the 2024 Summer Games to Paris, and the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles. Here are the three reasons why:

  • One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.
  • Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.
  • But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.

That last one is the tricky one. Can the Olympics be saved for the next generation?

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Syngman Rhee Line: a boundary established by South Korean President Syngman Rhee to demarcate the South Korean maritime border, a line disputed by the Japanese government and one that Japanese fishing boats would persistently cross.

Korea and Japan has history. Over 1500 years of cultural exchange, trade and military conflict has shaped an affinity and a rivalry that goes from love to hate and back.

In the days before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, before they would face off in men’s and women’s volleyball, the two nations were facing off in the high seas. On Monday, October 7, 1964, according to The Japan Times, a Japanese fishing boat was stopped by a South Korean patrol ship. The Korean authorities were attempting to stop the Japanese boat from fishing in what South Korea claimed were their territorial waters.

The seven Japanese fishermen were escorted onto (taken prisoner by?) the South Korean patrol boat. Apparently the seas were rough, and the two boats collided, creating damage to the fishing boat. Eventually, the 77.5 ton fishing boat, named No. 58 Hoyo Maru, sank.

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Japan Times, October 6, 1964

The Korean boat also suffered some damage and apparently a Korean coast guard was sent to do repair work, according to The Yomiuri. The man fell into the water, but was fortunately picked up by another Japanese fishing boat close by. A second Korean coast guard was in a boat looking for the first one and found him being cared for (captured?) on the Japanese boat, and boarded (was taken prisoner by?) the Japanese boat.

Which set up the “prisoner exchange”.

When the Japanese realized that the Koreans were holding 7 Japanese fishermen at the same time the Koreans realized that the Japanese were holding 2 Korean coast guard personnel, they probably thought they had spent enough time in the tense choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean. A trade was made and all parties went to their respective homes.

But this maritime battle would continue for another year, until the approval of the Japan-Korea Fishery Agreement in 1965. Until that time, nearly 4,000 Japanese had been arrested and over 300 Japanese boats by South Korean authorities. Additionally 44 people had died in these fishing conflicts.

The Japanese men’s and women’s volleyball teams handily defeated their South Korean opponents, but you can bet the fans and the teams in those matches were a tad more pumped up to sink the players on the other side of the net.

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Representatives of various National Olympic Committees are given tours of 26 Olympic venues, including Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo on Monday. | PHOTO COURTESY OF TOKYO 2020 / UTA MUKUO / VIA KYODO
When you think about the number of events in an Olympic Games, and the varied types and sizes of venues required for a mega-sports event like the Olympics, one wonders why we would saddle an emerging economy with such a beast of a logistics and budget burden. Sochi, Rio and Athens are recent examples of this challenge.

While Japan was an emerging economy in 1964, its economy was booming and could absorb the massive change and cost with ease. And when we look at the Paris and Los Angeles bids for 2024, one gets the sense that they are at an advantage due to their already massive and modern infrastructure along with its varied and numerous sports facilities packed into their metropolitan areas.

Tokyo has that advantage as well and was able to propose in its bid that 90 percent of the sports venues would be within 8 kilometers of the Olympic Village. Tokyo2020 has framed the physical footprint in an infinity loop which encloses two areas: the Heritage Zone and the Tokyo Bay Zone. The Heritage Zone represents facilities that are in and around the area of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Shinjuku – Yoyogi area. That would include the location of the National Stadium, both then and in 2020. The Tokyo Bay Zone is primarily reclaimed land about 3.2 km southeast of central Tokyo. This will include the site of the Olympic Village in Harumi.

On February 10, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee hosted visitors from the National Olympic Committees from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand. For three days they got a guided tour of 26 of the approximately 40 venues planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And the reviews, apparently, are good.

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Heritage and Tokyo Bay Zones
Here are a few comments from Luke Pelligrini, the acting general manager of games support and operations for the Australian Olympic Committee:

  • Across all the NOCs in the bus yesterday, everyone was saying this is going to be a good games. Everyone is confident that it’s on track, ahead of the game at the moment and will continue to be.
  • (Some of the venues) looked like they could run sporting events next week. The taekwondo and fencing venue (Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture) literally looked like it could stage sporting events next week if it needed to. The 1964 stadiums for table tennis, the water polo, they look ready to go now. In that respect, we are thrilled. We don’t see anything, 3½ years out, that is a concern to us. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the experience
  • The most impressive thing is how central 70 percent of the venues are. We were amazed at the location of the Olympic village literally being downtown. That is a fantastic opportunity for our athletes to experience the games and also Tokyo. It is a very central location to get to the venues for all our athletes.

Here is a great video explaining the venue locations planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

fidel-castro-in-1964
Fidel Castro, southpaw, throwing a pitch in 1964

Fidel Castro has passed away. But his legacy for the love of sport continues.

Cuba has the 65th largest GDP in the world today. It has the 78th largest population in the world at 11.2 million people. And yet, in the Americas, only America and Canada have garnered more total Olympic medals than the small island nation of Cuba. Incredibly, in the period from the 1976 Olympics in Montreal to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Cuba finished in the top 11 medal count. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, only the United Team (the former Soviet bloc), the United States, Germany and China got more than Cuba’s 31 total medals.

Clearly, this Caribbean nation has punched way above its weight class, and not just in boxing where Cuba is most famous. In 20 Olympic Games, Cuba has won 79 gold medals, 67 silver medals and 70 bronze medals in judo, athletics, wrestling and of course baseball. By comparison, India, which has a population over a hundred times larger, and the fifth largest GDP in the world, has competed in four more Olympics than Cuba, and yet has totaled only 28 medals.

And according to articles after President Castro passed away on November 25, 2016, Castro had a hand in turning Cuba into a sports power – and it doesn’t appear to be via state-sponsored doping systems. According to this article, sports became a social phenomenon due to state-sponsored institutions.

After Castro entered Havana on Jan. 1, 1959, the revolutionary government approved and implemented a nationwide plan to improve the nation’s sports practice, resulting in free and universal access to sports schools for every citizen.

In 1961, Cuba created the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation which was placed in charge of promoting sports for children, adults and even the elderly on the island. The state-run program was also charged with improving the quality of service in its sports facilities, manufacturing its own equipment and conducting research in sports science.

fidel-castro-at-basketball-clinic

But Cuba’s biggest sports cheerleader was, according to the New York Times, was el presidente himself.

“I think Fidel Castro legitimately liked sports,” said David Wallechinsky, the president of the International Society of Olympic Historians. “One got the sense with East Germany, for example, that it really was a question of propaganda and that government officials didn’t have that obsession with sport itself that Fidel Castro did.” Whatever hardships they endured, Cubans could take pride in their sports stars.

But of course, during Cuba’s hey day in the 1970s and 1980s, in the heat of the cold war, Castro could not help but use Cuba’s great sporting achievements as a tool in the battle for geo-political mindshare. Of course, as the Times points out, propaganda is often just propaganda, a smokescreen behind which you hide the uglier shades of truth.

Yet it was primarily baseball, along with boxing and other Olympic sports, that came to symbolize both the strength and vulnerability of Cuban socialism. Successes in those sports allowed Mr. Castro to taunt and defy the United States on the diamond and in the ring and to infuse Cuban citizens with a sense of national pride. At the same time, international isolation and difficult financial realities led to the rampant defection of top baseball stars, the decrepit condition of stadiums and a shortage of equipment.

fidel-castro-and-teofilo-stevenson-in-1984
Fidel Castro boxing great, Teofilo Stevenson in 1984

So for every great sporting star who remained in Cuba, like three-time Olympic heavyweight champion,Teófilo Stevenson, or Javier Sotomayor, still the world record holder in the high jump, there have been many who defected, often to their neighbor to the north, the United States.

What does the future bring? Will the recent thawing of relations initiated by presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama continue to allow greater travel and expanded opportunities for cross-border business and cultural exchange? Or will President-elect Donald Trump reverse the thaw? Will that have any impact on sports in Cuba?

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Carmelo Anthony in Santa Marta, a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Carmelo Anthony is a New Yorker, now playing for my hometown team, the New York Knicks. I’m proud that he is a Knick, but as I grew up a St Johns Redmen fan, and he led Big East rival Syracuse to an NCAA championship, I wasn’t an immediate fan.

When Anthony joined the Knicks after essentially demanding a trade from Denver, I looked on the deal with tremendous skepticism. The Knicks have floundered in the Carmelo years, although that floundering began way before he arrived. Skepticism has turned to apathy, and my expectations for my Knicks have dropped.

But my respect for Anthony has continued to climb. He has been a proud Olympian, representing the US men’s basketball team a record four times, helping the US to three gold medal championships in the past three Olympics. More importantly, Melo has been willing to speak out on social matters important to him, an uncommon trait for well-paid athletes.

During the Rio Olympics, a day after Ryan Lochte told the world that he and fellow swimming teammates were held up at gunpoint at a Rio gas station, Carmelo Anthony was visiting one of the more notorious favela in Rio, Santa Marta. Favela are where the poorest of the inner city in Brazil live, their lives influenced by the vice of the drug trafficking economy.

Anthony, with a few friends, went with cameras, and without security to hang out with citizens of Santa Marta. It was a couple of days after the USA defeated France by a unexpectedly slim margin, and a day before their opening match in the knockout round with Argentina. The US team’s mission was far from complete, but my guess is that Anthony worked this out with the coach so that he could fulfill a dream to visit a favela. He admitted that he had seen the film, City of God, dozens of times, and as a child of the inner city growing up in Baltimore, he wanted to see what life was like in Santa Marta.

“This was on my bucket list, to be honest with you; specifically to go to the favelas — forever,” said Anthony, staying on a nearby cruise ship with his teammates. “I just always wanted to see and experience that. Growing up in Baltimore, and knowing what that was like, in my own favela, you know what I mean? So I wanted to go and experience that for myself. I wanted to touch that.”

carmelo-anthony-favela

One of the more powerful images in social media during the Rio Olympics was Carmelo Anthony sitting in a plastic chair in the middle of the favela, his blaring red clothes and cap in contrast to the multi-colored canvas of the favela apartments behind him. What he wrote below his Instagram picture was a statement of empathy and ease, one that I’m sure enamored him with many in Brazil.

“I discovered that what most people call creepy, scary, and spooky, I call comfy, cozy, and home.”

This image and statement was in direct contrast to the image painted by Lochte, who reinforced the perception that Rio was a scary, violent place. You can see how people quickly picked up on the contrast between Lochte and Anthony here.

Anthony walked around, played basketball with the neighborhood kids, and brought smiles to people in the favela. I think that when stars combine acts of unexpected kindness with a consistent articulation of their values, you get a more authentic view of them as people. So now I’m glad and proud that Melo is a member of the New York Knicks. There’s more to life than winning championships. (But I wouldn’t mind if he does.)

The flag of the rising sun
Went up the main mast.
It is no longer a dream.
On the scoreboards for each nation
Japan’s points are rising fast.
Gloriously, truly gloriously
Several Japanese flags are fluttering
Against Los Angeles’ blue sky.
My body shakes with emotion.
Tears of joy well up in my eyes.
Victories extol victories.

Sayoko Ishikawa, “Hirugaeru Nisshoki,” Rafu Shimpo, August 11, 1932 (a newspaper in America for Japanese)

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My grandfather and grandmother, Kiyoshi and Fumi Tomizawa
My grandfather was 53 when the Olympic Games came to Los Angeles in 1932. He was an Issei, a Japanese who emigrated to the United States in 1903. After graduating from Miami University of Ohio in 1908, he went on to become the director of the Japanese YMCA in San Francisco.

He was proud of living in America and contributing to his community through his service in the YMCA, but it was not easy for Japanese at that time. The passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 put a ban on immigration to America for essentially one race – the Japanese. This dispelled hope for many Japanese issei, like my grandfather, of ever becoming accepted by the rest of American society, let alone gaining citizenship. But my grandfather never gave up hope, and during the Great Depression, he helped raise funds to establish a building that would become the home of the Japanese YMCA in 1936. (The Buchanan YMCA still stands today.)

During the difficult times in his quest to develop the YMCA building, I am sure he was lifted by the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. After all, the Japanese team exploded for 18 medals, including 7 gold. The Japanese were particularly strong in swimming events, as swimmers took two thirds of all medals for Japan. In one instance, Japan swept the podium, going 1,2,3 in the men’s 100-meter backstroke.

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An AP article from August 13, 1932 proclaimed the following: “With the swimming championship beckoning to the sturdy sons of Nippon, Japan stood on the brink of its first Olympic team title today in the finals of the international aquatic carnival.”

No doubt Japanese communities all across America were following the exploits of the Japanese team in Los Angeles with tremendous pride. Julie Checkoway, author of the brilliant book, The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory, stated that the achievements of the Japanese at the 1932 Olympics not only transfixed the Japanese in America, they transformed them.

Both Issei and Nisei in California had spent more than $100,000 on tickets to watch events, and again and again they saw the Japanese flag rise over the stadium, an image filled with symbolism. The Japanese sports commentators had even ventured to say that the sporting world of the West was now firmly at the feet of the Empire. After years of being second-class citizens, experiencing prejudice, alienation and racism, those of Japanese ancestry in California and across the US were buoyed with pride. Suddenly, too, other Americans had a new vision of Japan as both friendly and competent, and it seemed as though the tide might turn on the Mainland and a wave of acceptance might come. Famously, one Nisei in Los Angeles told the story that since the Games, white men no longer literally stoned him in the street, and he could look, he said, into his reflection in a shop window and feel, for the first time, respect even for himself.

soichi-sakamoto

Checkoway’s book was a biography of swim coach Soichi Sakamoto, who would go on to become one of America’s most successful and revolutionary swim coaches. Sakamato was an elementary school teacher in Hawaii, who in 1932 did not know how to swim. In his time away from teaching he oversaw the safety of children playing in plantation irrigation ditches. He looked at their joyful faces, many of them of Japanese descent like himself, and began to have a thought. Maybe these kids had the talent too.

Riding the excitement and pride of a new bar set by the Japanese team in LA, Sakamoto allowed a dream to take form in his heart. As Checkoway wrote, “Soichi Sakamoto had no good reason to do it, not right to, no knowledge of how to, but he called out to the children, nonetheless, ‘How ’bout I teach you something about swimming, eh?'”

For Japanese in Japan and in the United States, the 1932 Los Angeles Games were a revelation and inspiration. I’m sure my grandfather took heart. The mayor of Tokyo certainly did. He had an idea – how about bringing the Olympics to Tokyo.

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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike in Rio, accepting the Olympic Flag in the closing ceremonies of the Rio Olympics.

The Rio Olympics were coming to an end, but there was still one thing left to do – hand the Olympic flag over to Japan. And there she stood on stage, to the left of IOC President, Thomas Bach, waving the flag, and accepting the heavy responsibility of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Japan is very much a man’s world, particularly in Japanese politics and government. So it was a powerful image to see Yuriko Koike, elegant in a cream and gold-colored kimono, representing Japan on the biggest sports stage in the world. While the world awaits to see whether America will elect its first female president, Tokyo has already gone ahead and elected its first female governor.

A former journalist who speaks Arabic, Koike was elected to an Upper House seat in 1992 for the Japan New Party, which no longer exists. After serving 8 terms, she was tapped to be the Environment Minister from 2003 to 2006 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. In other words, Koike is an experienced politician.

And yet, when the former Tokyo governor, Yoichi Masuzoe, reluctantly resigned due to his personal use of public funds, Koike’s own party did not race to support her. Suspecting that support might not come her way, Koike declared her candidacy for the governorship, much to the anger of the LDP. Her party’s lack of support was not an issue as Koike won the election in a landslide on July 31, 2016.

She ran on a platform that included a call to revisit the Tokyo 2020 budget. But her opening salvo was directed at the planned move of the famous fish market in Tokyo from Tsukiji to Toyosu, 2 kilometers south of the current site. Toyosu would apparently have more room for expansion, as well as more modern facilities. The new site was previously the home of a large gas processing plant, the grounds of which had become heavily contaminated.

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The Tuskiji fish market in Tokyo

Thus the condition for approving the move to Toyosu was to ensure no traces of contamination. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was charged with removing 2 meters of soil, decontaminating it, and then placing another 2.5 meters of new soil to ensure that the food, 1 million tons of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, could be stored, prepared and sold in total confidence of safety. This work was completed in 2014 at a cost of about JPY86 billion (USD800 million).

When the new governor asked for confirmation whether these safety measures were carried out or not, she learned that the space underneath the five main structures on the site, over 30% of the entire site, did not have the required 4.5 meters of decontaminated and fresh soil underneath them. Instead of soil, hollow spaces were created underneath the buildings.

Here’s how this editorial from The Japan Times interpreted the situation: “Whatever the explanations may be, the metropolitan government lied to the public in that its website stated that the whole site was covered with clean soil to block the effects of toxic materials.

This is an example of Koike’s reporter’s instincts to challenge authority and uncover unjust practices. Already she has challenged previous administrations in the Tsukiji Market relocation. What else will be uncovered? Will anyone be held accountable? What will happen to Tsukiji Market?

Who knows. But right now, the right questions are being asked. What are the implications for the 2020 Olympics? Perhaps, a bit of the same…..

On October 10, 1963, I was born.

One year later, on October 10, 1964, Tokyo was reborn.

Japan was on the rise in the early 1960s and the XVIII Olympiad provided an opportunity for Japan to show the world that it was not only back on its feet, but sprinting!

To recall the energy, ingenuity and enthusiasm of Japan that October in 1964, here is a wonderful gallery of pictures from the Yomiuri Shinbum Group.

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The famed National Gymnasium, designed by Kenzo Tange, under construction

Chapter One: Tokyo Reborn: See the Olympic venues under construction.

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Testing the Seiko timing system that automatically captures swim finish times

Chapter Two: Made in Japan: See the emergence of Seiko and IBM, taking Japan and the Olympics to the next level of technological achievement.

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Traditional happi coats were distributed to Olympians.

Chapter Three: “Omotenashi”: See the myriad ways in which Japan made visitors welcome, and gape with admiration.

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Japanese athletes training hard.

Chapter Four: International Sports Festival: See how the Japanese athletes trained and groomed for their big coming out party, and how overseas athletes were welcomed to Japan.

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Yoshinori Sakai lighting the Olympic cauldron on October 10.

Chapter Five: Olympic Flame: Follow the torch, and see how Japan celebrated one of its greatest. proudest days of the Showa Era.

Thanks to those Tokyo Games 52 years ago, October 10 was declared a public holiday in Japan – Sports Day – and has become a time of the year when schools all over Japan put their children through a variety of sporting activities, with their proud parents cheering them on.

It’s a day of health.

It’s a day of sport.

It’s a day of pride.

I think I’ll keep it as my birthday.

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Ollan Cassell signing the 1964 Tokyo Olympics poster in Rio; from the collection of Ollan Cassell

The doomsayers had their say – the Rio Olympics, under the crushing weight of the poor economy, scandals, environmental and health scares, worries of security, would fail.

Ollan Cassell has seen it all. As a member of the 4X400 US men’s track relay team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as well as in his role as the executive director of the Amateur Athletic Union, the American governing body for 17 sports in his time, Cassell has been to every Olympics since 1964, excepting the Athens Olympics in 2004.

So when he arrived in Rio, he read all the stories about the problems. He certainly noticed the empty stands. And he put up with the traffic snarls that paralyzed the city during the Games. But Cassell knew that once the Games started, the problems would fade to the background.

The org committee was broke, the country is in a mess. They threw their president out. They didn’t have the finances to get things done. But like all the other Olympics, for the athletes with medals on the line, they‘re ready to compete. Regardless of what the situation is, once the Olympics roll around the athletes are ready. The athletes are focused on competing and wining regardless of what’s going on. When the lights go on, and the gun goes off, the press writes about how great the games are.

And what was the most amazing event Cassell witnessed? “The most spectacular event I saw in Brazil was that 400 meter world record (set by Wayde van Niekerk). I couldn’t imagine anyone could go 43.3 seconds. It’s like going 21.5 for two 200s!”

There were of course fears of security. Cassell was in Mexico City when hundreds were killed as government troops thwarted an anti-government protest prior to the start of the 1968 Olympics. Cassell was in Munich when Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli Olympians and coaches in 1972. But Cassell felt safe in Rio de Janeiro. Accompanied by his daughter, Cassell played tourist and was comforted by the presence of security.

 

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Ollan Cassell at Christ the Redeemer; from the collection of Ollan Cassell

 

As was true with the world cup in Brazil, there were about 75000 to 80000 soldiers. I felt safe. No one in my group had been robbed or held up. The military was patrolling all the time. When you went out into the streets, sightseeing, you would see the military trucks with open beds and machines guns driving through the area. It was like an armed camp, but you felt safe. They had barriers in the sightseeing areas, big steel barriers the kind police use when they want to direct car and foot traffic into certain area. They were imposing. But that’s been true at all the Games. In London, they had barriers to make sure you went where they wanted you to go.

As for the environmental or health issues, to Cassell, it wasn’t an issue. “I didn’t hear of anyone getting sick because of the water. And I saw only one mosquito, which my granddaughter killed.”

But perhaps, one of the most satisfying parts of an Olympian’s life is to re-connect with the Olympian fraternity.

It’s a special feeling – being an Olympian. There are so few of us compared to the population of the world. In Olympic Villages there are about 10,000 Olympians, which is a select group. In the United States, there are about 5,000 living Olympians, with quite a few in their 90s. So it’s wonderful to see old friends and Olympians at these events.

To read about Ollan Cassell and the history of international sports from the 1960s to the 1990s, read his absorbing book, Inside the Five Ring Circus: Changing Global Sports and the Modern Olympics.

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