The Best of Sazae-san

Sazae-san is one of the most well-known comic characters in Japan. Created, written and illustrated by Machiko Hasegawa from the 1940s to the 1970s, Hasegawa’s characters are as much a part of the average Japanese psyche as the Yomiuri Giants, a platter of soba, or Natsume Soseki.

Hasegawa wrote about the everyday lives of an average Japanese family, the Isonos. Her genius was to illustrate normal activities as vignettes, and controversial topics in sweet and innocent frames. I found many examples of this in a recently published book of her cartoons translated into English, called “The Best of Sazae-san – The Olympic Years“. It was a delight to read about the issues the average citizen in Tokyo were dealing with in the 1960s.

Here is one comic strip that deals with an issue linked to the Olympics.

Sazae-san_I'm Against the Olympic Road

 

Cities all over the world were building highways and expanding roads into avenues to accommodate the explosion of automobiles on the road. Tokyo was no exception. And when Tokyo was selected as the host of the 1964 Summer Olympics in 1959, urban planners saw this as an opportunity to transform Tokyo.

One of the roads that passed through a somewhat wealthy, somewhat sleepy part of Tokyo, was called Aoyama Doori (Aoyama Road). Aoyama Doori connected Shibuya and Ginza, and was one of the noisiest and busiest thoroughfares in the city. In addition to the expectation that traffic would get worse was the general expectation that infrastructure changes related to the Olympic Games would accelerate the pace of change and pain. City planners insisted that Aoyama Doori be widened dramatically, from 22 meters to 40 meters.

Watch this video from the 2:15 minute mark to 7 minute 45 second mark to see what Aoyama Doori was like in the early 1960s.

Dealing with the tremendous change was a challenge to the citizens of Tokyo, the most populous city in the world. The change created tremendous stress for its citizens. Hasegawa recognized this stress. But in her sweet particular way, she laced her negativity with sentimentality. Why is Sazae-san’s younger brother, Katsuo against the widening or building of a road in the cartoon? Not because of the impact to people and commerce, but because of the impact on a bird’s nest.

Against the Road Expansion!
“Against the widening of the road!” Screenshot from the EdX video for the course “Visualizing Postwar Tokyo, Part 1”

 

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National Gymnasium Annex exterior 1
The National Gymnasium Annex

I like flea markets so I found myself roaming one in Yoyogi, which happened to be right next to the beautiful National Gymnasium. The site is composed of two complementary structures, the main building where the swimming and diving events were held during the 1964 Tokyo Games, and the Annex, which is where basketball games were held.

After browsing the goods on the crisp winter day two Sundays ago, I thought I’d see up close what I had already written about. The larger structure of the Kenzo Tange-designed buildings was closed. But fortunately, the Annex was hosting an event, the 27th Annual Women’s Gymnastics Club, a free event, so I suddenly found myself in the stadium where Jerry Shipp, Mel Counts, Luke Jackson, Jeff MullinsBill Bradley and Larry Brown, to name a few, won their gold medal for the United States basketball team.

US Men's Basketball team vs Peru_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
US Men’s Basketball team vs Peru_from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

Inside, pre-teen and teenage girls were performing rhythm gymnastics for family and friends, who sat in the dark and intimate stadium, the floor standing in brilliant lighted relief. The Annex seats only 4,000, so I could understand how the basketball games were hot tickets. Of course, the fact that there are only 4,000 seats means there is not a bad seat in the house. You can see that in the pictures.

National Gymnasium Annex pano 1
Panoramic view of the inside of the National Gymnasium Annex

National Gymnasium Annex pano 2

Thankfully, the annex, which is a sixth the size of the national gymnasium, will be one of several sites from the 1964 Games used in the next Tokyo Games. In 2020, the annex will be the site of the handball competition. But since 1964, basketball has become an international phenomenon, and women’s basketball, also growing in popularity, has been added to the mix. With that in mind, basketball in 2020 will be played in the Saitama Super Arena, which has a maximum seating capacity of 22,500 when basketball is in the house.

National Gymnasium Annex 1
Inside the spire of the National Gymnasium Annex

US team

zaha-hadid-japan-national-stadium-0

SIXProposed 2020 Olympic National Stadium Design Dropped Due to Pricetag: The $2 billion price tag for the new National Stadium in Tokyo proved to be too high. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, faced down the president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, and send the committee back to the drawing board. This decision effectively removed the possibility of the stadium debuting for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

No Boston Olympics

FIVE – Both Hamburg and Boston Drop Out: Both Hamburg, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, USA were selected by their respective national Olympic committees to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, but both ended pulling out after referendum votes indicated the Games would not be supported by the cities’ citizens. While the bid for the 2024 Games remain competitive, with Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome still in the running, the reputation of the Games for their high cost, facilities that serve little purpose after the Games, the disruption to business and everyday life to locals, among others, continues to grow.

US Women Celebrate 2015 World Cup Victory

FOURUS Defeats Japan to Win Women’s World Cup: US had beaten Japan in the Olympics, but Japan was the reigning World Cup Champion. US goes into Rio with hopes of winning their fourth consecutive Olympic championship. The US team currently has 11 Olympians who only know gold: Christie Rampone in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Abby Wambach in 2004 and 2012, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Amy Rodriguez, Hope Solo in 2008 and 2012, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn in 2012.

See this link for 13 through 15, 10 through 12, and 7 through 9.

 

Tokyo Olympics with Rafer Johnson
Thomas Tomizawa with the NBC News team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Rafer Johnson seated.

My father was a member of the NBC News Team that covered the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He’s far left, and that’s Rafer Johnson, Rome decathlete champion, seated, also a member of the news crew. The crew are wearing protective masks, being cheeky. They probably saw a lot of Japanese wearing these masks in and around town.

In modern-day Tokyo, men and women routinely wear masks during hay fever season to avoid the pollen, or during the fall and winter months to avoid giving others their colds. But I now realize that in 1964, the reason for wearing the masks was different – the air back then was filthy. Routinely in these crisp winter days, we have perfect views of Mt Fuji. Back then you couldn’t see it for the pollution. In the 1960s, Tokyo was a year-round cloud of dust. Here’s how writer, Robert Whiting described it in the Japan Times: “Tokyoites dwelled under a constant cloud of noise, dust and pollution as the city struggled to rebuild itself from the wreckage of the American B-29 Superfortress bombings.”

The dust, the noise, the smells, the ever-changing skyline and the disorientation with unprecedented change – for many, the transformation of Tokyo was overwhelming. What took the West a couple of generations to do – moving from agriculture to manufacturing – Japan was trying to do much faster. While the pace of change was exciting to many, giving them hope after post-war desperation, the 1960s was also a period of confusion and alienation for those coping with life in the most crowded city in the world.

 

Documentary Tokyo
Screenshot from NHK documentary, Tokyo.

 

I took an EdX MOOC course called Visualizing Postwar Tokyo under Professor Shunya Yoshimi of The University of Tokyo in which he highlighted the stress people in Tokyo were under due to this change. He shared the opening minutes of this NHK documentary called “Tokyo”, by director Naoya Yoshida, which shows the crowds, the noise, the traffic and the construction through the eyes of a woman whose father was killed in the Tokyo firebombings and mother who ran away from home.

As the woman says in the documentary, “Tokyo, unplanned and full of constructions sites, is no place for a human being to live. Only a robot with no sense could live in this rough, coarse, harsh and dusty city that doesn’t have any blue skies. Many people complain like this. But I disagree. I think this city is just desperately hanging along, just like me.”

As Professor Yoshimi said, “the woman in this film is a symbol of the isolation in the big cities.”

But again, rest assured. Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world, and today, is arguably, the cleanest.

Mt Fuji from Roppongi
The view from my office.
Stadion St Moritz_1928 and Present Day
Stadion St Moritz, home of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics – Top – 1928, Bottom – Present Day

He was 13 years old and was visiting the site of the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, as he did every winter as a child. An Olympian from those 1948 Games happened to be there, under whose tutelage Rolf Sachs had his first opportunity to go careening down the icy corridor of the bobsleigh track.

Sachs, a renown Swiss artist and designer, would continue to visit St. Moritz in the winters into his adulthood and would always see a large pink building, abandoned, built for the 1928 Olympics. And while many saw the empty pink structure as perhaps an unwanted feature of the snow white background of the winter playground, Sachs envisioned a fascinating place to reside.

rolf sachs
Rolf Sachs

According to this short film by Matthew Donaldson, Sachs asked if he could buy and convert the Stadion St Moritz, and was essentially told “yes” if he could get through the paperwork. In addition to renovating the building into a winter home, he continued to build the only natural bobsleigh course in the world.

Sachs, whose father’s influence made him a purveyor and creator of art, believes his bobsleigh course is also the biggest art sculpture in the world. Not only that, superior to all other bob sleigh courses, this one has no negative environment impact.

“It’s fantastic to see that it was the first bob run and the last one that is still natural,” Sachs says in the film. “If I imagine the environmental impact of an artificial bob run, not only to run it, but to see in the summer these huge concrete walls, it’s really a joy to see how they built this in three weeks, and at the end of the season, it just melts away.”

sisyphus
Sisyphus

We’re only 8 months away from the launch of Olympiad XXXI. Olympic infrastructure plans are generally on time. Brazilians are generally excited. But the economy is taking a distinct dive.

Unemployment at nearly 10%, despite all of the Olympic-related construction, is the highest it has been in six years, when Rio was awarded the Olympics. Inflation is around 10%. The real has devalued by a third. Brazil’s credit rating dropped to “junk” status in September. And while international athletes will be flowing into Brazil next year, international investment has been flowing out of Brazil. This, as well as the plummeting price of oil in this petro-economy, have contributed heavily to the shrinking of the Brazilian economy again this quarter, the ninth quarter in a row.

The once booming member of the so-called BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is experiencing one of its worst economic crises in a while. How is this impacting the upcoming Olympics? There was a brief social media uproar when Rio Olympic officials announced the need to cut 30% of their budget, including air conditioning in the rooms of the Olympic Village, a decision that was quickly reversed after athletes balked.

It’s unclear what those cuts will impact, but big issues continue to concern…issues that will cost the country not only in expense but also in emotional well-being.

In addition to security in the areas of the Olympic activities, security along Brazil’s massive borders is a “big concern”, as a government auditor revealed “flaws” in the plans to control the 17,000 kilometer border that runs through remotes part of the Amazon and touches 10 other countries in Latin America.

The Associated Press has continued to test the waters planned for Olympic events and have found that “high viral and in some cases bacterial counts are found not just along shorelines where raw sewage runs in, but far offshore where athletes will compete in sailing, rowing and canoeing.” According to this AP article, Rio won the Olympic bid with a promise to clean up the city’s waterways, but “Brazilian officials now acknowledge that won’t happen.”

Garbage on the shore of Guanabara Bay_1June 2015
Guanabara Bay

 

On top of that, unprecedented levels of corruption in the government-

Amazon-Jungle
Travel information to the Amazon: 4 hour direct flight from Rio, followed by either a 3 hour car journey or a short sea plane flight to the lodge.

If you’re going to fly all the way to Brazil for the Rio Olympic Games next August, you might as well spend a little getaway time and explore the areas outside Rio de Janeiro. Here is a list of 7 great destinations in Brazil.

Iguassu-Falls
Travel information to Iguassu Falls: 2 hour direct flight from Rio, followed by a 25 minute transfer.
Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo, speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce
Yoichi Masuzoe, Governor of Tokyo, speaking at the American Chamber of Commerce

Yoichi Masuzoe was in his first year of high school, and a competitive sprinter in the 100 meters, running it in 11 seconds. And he remembers watching the Tokyo Olympics on television. And like the uplifting spectacle of the wedding between Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko in 1959, the Olympics raised the spirits of a nation, including the future governor of Tokyo.

On September 24, 2015, Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, gave a talk for the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan called “City for the Ages: The Magnetism of Tokyo in 2020 and Beyond.” I had never seen the Tokyo governor speak before, but he was definitely in full pitch mode, charming the packed room with the greatness of the food and drink in Japan, which almost everybody in the audience already had an appreciation for. It was the governor’s vision of Tokyo as a pedestrian and biker paradise that raised eyebrows and hopes.

He remembers the brightness of the Tokyo Games, but he also remembers the dust of the construction and the shadows created by the highways that started to snake through the city. He bemoaned what he called the “motorization” of Tokyo, how the smaller rivers were filled by rubble from the war, covered over by roads. As governor of Tokyo, what he pledged to the audience was a drive for the “de-motorization” of Tokyo. He said he would push for a significant increase in bicycle lanes, as well a plan like Boris Bikes in London. He said he would push for the elimination of the highways he believes blight the center of the city.

The Edobashi Interchange 1964, from
The Edobashi Interchange 1964, from “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

He said that the city of Tokyo today, with its highways, its loss of riverways, and its roads packed with cars, was due to an infatuation with money. Making money is important, he emphasized to the chamber of commerce members. But he emphasized that the pursuit of money should not come at the expense of time – time to enjoy a cup of coffee in a more pedestrian-friendly Shibuya, time to have a satisfying family life and a successful career, particularly for women, time to walk, bike and even boat around the safest, cleanest metropolis in the world.

It’s a lofty vision. It’s an Olympian vision. Will the Tokyo governor get us there? Visit us in 2020 and see for yourself!

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The canoeists were most outspoken about plants that tangled with their oars and rudders

Source: Canoeists at Olympic test event complain about ‘red and brown’ polluted water, weeds at Rio 2016 venue