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 Tasgold 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.

Kristallnacht
The Day after Kristallnacht

Dr. Ludwig Guttmann is the undisputed father of the Paralympic Games.

But in the fascinating fantasy world of “What If” speculation, the Paralaympic Movement may have had a different, perhaps more delayed progression through time had Guttmann met a different fate in the increasingly scary build up to World War II in Germany.

In 1938, Guttmann was the medical director of a Jewish Hospital in Breslau, which at the time was part of Germany. On November 9, German paramilitary and citizens walked unimpeded through cities across Germany smashing the glass windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues. Called Kristallnacht, this pogrom led to the death of dozens of Jews, and the arrest of tens of thousands of Jewish men.

On that Night of Broken Glass, 64 Jewish men were admitted into Guttman’s hospital. While many were injured, some were not and were simply looking for refuge from the violent rampage. According to this interview of Guttmann’s daughter, Eva Loeffler, Guttmann admitted all to the hospital regardless of whether they were injured or not, at great personal risk.

My father said they must all be allowed in, whether they were ill or not and they were all admitted to beds on the wards. The next day the Gestapo came round to see my father, wanting to know why such a large number of admissions had happened overnight. My father was adamant that all the men were sick and said many of them were suffering from stress. He took the Gestapo from bed to bed, justifying each man’s medical condition. Apparently he also pulled faces and grimaced at the patients from behind the Gestapo’s back, signaling to them to pull the same expressions and then saying, “Look at this man; he’s having a fit.”

Poppa Guttman Celebration, Stoke Mandeville.
Eva Loeffler the daughter of Paralympic Games founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann appointed as the Mayor of the Paralympic Village by London 2012

Of the 64, only four were carted away by the Gestapo, the remaining 60 allowed to escape incarceration or death for another day.

Guttmann was Jewish, and thus could easily have been arrested, which would likely have led to death in a concentration camp. But he not only saved the lives of dozens, he saved himself. Despite the fact that he was Jewish, Guttmann was one of the foremost authorities in neuro medicine, and was thus still highly valued by the German government. In fact, in order to exercise influence with a potential ally in the Portuguese, the Nazi regime dispatched Guttmann to Portugal so that he could treat a close friend of the Portuguese prime minister, António de Oliveira Salazar. The German authorities then re-issued Guttmann’s passport (as all Jews had their passports confiscated), and then send him to Portugal.

After finishing his work in Portugal, Guttmann made a significant trip to London, where he met members of the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. This particular group at the time was devoted to obtaining visas for Jewish academics in Germany to come to England. In fact, according to Guttman’s daughter, Loeffler, the society had already sent a visa to the relevant Berlin authorities informing them that Guttmann has already been offered a research post at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. When Guttmann returned to Germany, he was presented with an opportunity that could secure his family’s long-term safety, or accelerate his family’s demise.

It was 1939 and I was six years old. I remember I was abnormally frightened at the time; I used to cry a lot. Even as a small child I picked up the fear and sadness felt by my parents. Although Jews were allowed to take out some furniture, clothes and linen they were not allowed to take any money, gold silver or jewelry. But the official who was supervising us came round the day before and told my mother ‘I shall be an hour late tomorrow’. It was obviously a hint that we might pack what we wanted; but my mother was too frightened to take anything forbidden as she thought it could be a trap.

Dr Ludwig Guttmann 2nd from left
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (2nd from left) with Prof Otfrid Foerster and hospital staff at the Wenzel-Hancke Hospital, Breslau, Germany, 1920s Wellcome Library, London

Fortunately, it was not a trap.

Five years later, Guttmann was asked to run the National Spinal Injuries Center at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, England, which led to his revolutionary work on treatment of the disabled, and the eventual birth of the Paralympic Movement.

But what if Guttmans’s pleas and gesticulations before the Gestapo in the aftermath of the Night of Broken Glass had ended in his incarceration?

What if those 60 Jewish men were not allowed to live another day, to have a chance to survive the war and have families, grandchildren, and great grandchildren?

What if Guttmann was not alive to emigrate to England, and join Stoke Mandeville Hospital?

Would there be a Paralympic Games as we know it today?

Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in Manhattan
Police investigate a pickup truck used in an attack on the West Side Highway in Manhattan_Reuters

On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, Sayfullo Saipov rented a truck in Passaic, New Jersey, and less than an hour later around 3pm was barreling down the scenic Hudson River Bike Path, mowing down runners, pedestrians and bikers alike. Victims and fatalities were found at different points along this 10-block killing spree, finally ending when his truck crashed into a school bus parked outside Stuyvesant High School.

Saipov was gunned down and captured by police who happened to be in that area investigating another incident. By the time the day ended, 6 people were killed on the spot, with two more dying later in the day.

This was the worst terrorist attack on New York City since September 11, 2001.

I feel pained at the loss of life and the inability to make sense of the murderous actions of this terrorist in my home town of New York, the frustration heightened by the fact that Saipov was apprehended outside my high school alma mater. Stuyvesant was only four blocks from the World Trade Towers, and thus ended up serving as a triage center for those injured and dying after the 9/11 attacks. On Tuesday, it served yet again as a backdrop to incomprehensible hatred.

A few weeks ago, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) published their 2017 Safe Cities Index. In the dimension of “Personal Security”, which reflects the level of urban crime, violence or the likelihood of terrorism, New York City ranked 25th out of 60 cities surveyed. After seeing citizens run down on a bike path on a sunny afternoon, one might wonder why that ranking isn’t worse.

terror lower west side Stuyvesant

But on the whole, when EIU looks at all factors of security relevant to big cities, including digital, health and infrastructure safety, New York City ranks fourth safest in the world for cities with populations of 15 million or more.

At the top of the list, as the safest of the biggest cities, is Tokyo. In fact, Tokyo continues as the safest city in the world, maintaining its EIU reign since 2015. With the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the public and private sectors in Japan are both working on measures to improve security, particularly in regards to digital security. While bombs and gun attacks are concerns, even in super safe Japan, great attention is being paid to ensuring Japan’s power grids, transportation systems, and digital platforms are not compromised now, or doing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Japanese are highly detail oriented and biased towards checking and re-checking for points of weakness and flaw, which is something I and many others can take comfort from if we dare to think about how creative and diabolical terrorist and crime organizations can be.

And yet, how do you protect against someone renting a truck and plowing into a crowd?

American Rudy Scholz closes down France_s Henri Galau during the infamous 1924 Olympic Rugby final
Rudy Scholz closes down France’s Henri Galau during the infamous 1924 final

Which national team has been the most successful in Olympic rugby history?

The United States.

Not known for its rugby prowess today, a team from America has taken gold twice in the Olympics. Of course, rugby union was an Olympic event only four times – 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924. After that, rugby did not make an Olympic appearance until the 2016 Rio Olympics. America took gold at rugby’s last Olympic appearance in the 20th century – the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Why rugby no longer made the Olympic list of eligible sports after 1924 is unclear to me. Maybe it was a challenge to amass large teams for overseas competition at the time, as only three teams participated in the Paris Games: host France, Romania, and the United States. The American team was, I believe, primarily a squad of 22 from Stanford University, which had to raise $20,000 to pay for their travel to Europe, their training in England and their time in France.

Another reason may have been that unseemly gamesmanship left a sour taste in the mouths of the IOC.

According to Wikipedia, the Americans apparently were initially refused entry into the country, but still forced their way off their ship. The Americans claim that seasickness and the long trip made them very eager to disembark, while the French immigration officials viewed the Americans as “streetfighers and saloon brawlers.” Indeed there was apparently a fight at the docks between Americans and Frenchmen, getting the rugby rivalry off to a roaring start.

What followed, according to reports, was the following:

  • Games between local French clubs and the visiting American squad were suddenly cancelled.
  • The American team was told to hold their workouts on open lots near their hotel instead of proper fields of play.
  • The Americans were denied permissions to film their first match against Romania under the pretext that a French company had sole rights to film all rugby matches (although they were eventually given permission to do so)
  • And just to sprinkle salt on the wounds, the Americans returned to their rooms to find about $4000 worth of cash and possessions stolen despite a guard being on duty, according to this site.

Apparently, captain Norman “Cleaveland and his teammates were not very happy, and because of their treatment in the press, the American side was now being cursed and spat upon on in the streets of Paris. The American expatriate community in Paris was even staying well clear of them.”

Since there were only three teams, there were only three rugby matches actually played at the 1924 Olympics: France vs Romania, US vs Romania, and France vs the US. Both France and American handled Romania handily. So the press quite happily had their dream grudge match, a finals between the US and France. Here’s how this article describes the setting:

May 18th started as another hot day in an unseasonably warm string of spring days in Paris. A crowd of between 35,000 and 40,000 people gathered for the rugby final and the awarding of the first medal of the 1924 Olympic Games. As the team entered the stadium from a tunnel, they noted that the Olympic officials had elected to install a tall wire fence around the stadium to restrain the crowd. The American side wore white uniforms, blue belts, and white stockings hooped with red and blue. An American shield was sewed to the front of their jumpers. Wearing white shorts and blue stockings, the French took the field in their famous blue jumper badged with a cock.

All in all, a fairly normal start….except perhaps for the tall wire fence. Very quickly in the match, one of the speedy French players, Adolphe Jauguery, was flattened by an American winger named “Left” Rogers. Jauguery was taken off the field, unconscious and bleeding, and the crowd quickly turned on the Americans.

In the end, Team USA won the gold medal in a hard-fought match 17-3. The American press in Paris, were of course sympathetic and supportive of their American boys.

The headline for this Associated Press report from May 18, 1924, was “Americans Win Double Victory.”

The American Olympic Rugby football team won two great victories today at the Colombes stadium. The first was their defeat of France in the Olympic Rugby match, 17 to 3. The second was a victory over themselves in not losing their tempers under great provocation from what was termed by spectators as unfair and unjust a crowd as ever attended a sporting event. The American players were booed and hissed throughout the game, at the raising of the American flag on the Olympic flagpole was the occasion for a demonstration of booing and catcalling and the strains of the American national anthem were almost drowned out by the din raised by the seemingly infuriated spectators.

And just in case Americans weren’t outraged enough, here is the kicker. Not only was the unsportsmanlike conduct by the French in the battle on the pitch, the American claimed the same was true in the stands.

A fist fight then broke out in the stands and degenerated into a battle royal in which gold headed canes were freely used. The Americans were outnumbered and furthermore, they carried no canes with which to retaliate. When the police managed to disentangle the combatants, B. F. Larse of Provo, Utah and Gideon William Nelson of DeKalb Ill, two American students in Paris, were found to have been knocked out. Both men had to be carried out of the stand. Nelson was unconscious for an hour. When he recovered, it is said, he began looking for a bewhiskered man who carried a heavy cane.

Fake news, perhaps, but kinda fun.

The fear is palpable.

As mentioned in a post previously, France, Austria and Germany are giving serious consideration to not attending the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea due to concerns of North Korean terrorism, or even North Korean ballistic missiles launched during the Games.

The aggressive tone of words exchanged recently between the leaders of North Korea and the United States have done little to calm the nerves of South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese alike, let alone athletes expecting to attend the Games that start on February 9.

So how do you solve a problem like Korea?

Well, if they join you, they can’t beat you.

Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik
Ryom Tae-Ok (left) and Kim Ju-Sik (right)

On September 29, Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea, performed well enough at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Obertsdorf, Germany, which also served as a qualifying event for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. As the New York Times explained, the pair took sixth place in the tournament, but “more important, they finished third among a subset of pairs from countries seeking five available Olympic spots.

In other words, they didn’t necessarily squeak in, or get favorable treatment to earn a spot.

While the final decision is up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to approve their entry to the Olympics, they have up till now funded the pair’s training in Canada, under Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte. It would be hard to imagine the North Korean OC deciding not to give the go ahead after training these promising skaters overseas, seeing them improve significantly from their top 15 finish at the world championships last year, to cracking what is arguably the top ten in the world.

If Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik and other North Korean athletes and coaches are in PyoengChang next February, that may put the athletes, coaches and officials of other countries at ease. The thinking of some is that the North Korean leader may be less likely to attack South Korea if he is cheering on his countrymen and women south of the border, according to the New York Times.

“It’s kind of an insurance policy to have them there,” said Ted Ligety, a two-time gold medalist in Alpine skiing from the United States.

“North Korea is my biggest worry,” Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon Province in South Korea, where the 2018 Olympics will take place, said in a recent interview. “It’s not because of North Korea making an impact on the Olympics, it’s that if North Korea can participate, then it will make a great contribution for our goal of hosting a Peace Olympics, and it will be a great selling point.”

Will other North Koreans qualify? Will the IOC and the various international sports federations ease up the standards to allow borderline North Korean athletes to compete? Will it matter?

anti terror drill in Tokyo
A police officer practices disposing of a bag supposedly containing an explosive during an antiterror drill at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on Monday. Photo: KYODO

On September 25, police ran a simulation based on a scenario – what if terrorists planted a sarin gas bomb in an office building during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

About a thousand people were involved in this massive drill to see whether anti-terrorist plans on paper have any founding in reality. The drill was held not far from where the new national Olympic stadium is being built in Tokyo. Some 800 people were evacuated from the area and a bomb disposal team, using a robotic arm, successfully removed a bag that was said to hold a bomb.

These kinds of drills are important to gauging feasibility of anti-terrorist plans and readiness of relevant security and safety groups. But when it comes to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, which is to commence on February 9, there are nations that are beginning to think no anti-terrorist plans or level of readiness of security personnel that will comfort them.

Thanks to the belligerent talk and the test launches of ballistic missiles by the North Korean government in recent months, France and Austria are saying they may turn down their invitation to the upcoming Winter Games, as quoted here.

  • We will never put our team in danger. If it gets worse and we do not have their security confirmed, our French team will stay here. – Laura Flessel, Sports Minister of France.
  • If the situation gets worse and the security of the athletes is no longer guaranteed, we will not go to South Korea. – Karl Stoss, the head of Austrian Olympic Committee.

Germany is also reportedly mulling a decision to not send their athletes to South Korea.

Hideko Maehata after winning gold in Berlin
Hideko Maehata waving to the crowd after winning gold in Berlin

It was a slight, perhaps. The first and most famous of films about the Olympics – Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, entitled Olympia, did not include the winner of the women’s 200-meter breast stroke. That’s because the winner was a Japanese, Hideko Maehata, who beat out a German named Martha Genenger.

But that’s OK. When Maehata returned to Japan after her gold-medal winning performance in Berlin, she was a national celebrity. Eight other Japanese won gold medals at the Berlin Games, but they may not have gotten the media attention that Maehata did. As Robin Kietlinski explains in her seminal book, Japanese Women and Sport, national radio was bringing the world to all of Japan, led by Nihon Hoso Kyokai, or NHK. Established in 1924, Maehata’s race was one of the first events to be covered live, broadcasted to Japan via satellite.

And according to Kietlinski, they had the man who brought the excitement of the moment alive for Japanese listeners – Kasai Sansei – whose shrieks of excitement and shouts of “Maehata ganbare” brought the swimming stadium of the Imperial Sports Field in Berlin to the homes of people all across Japan. In this NHK documentary, Maehata’s cousin, Tomizo Hase, was asked about his recollections of listening to that famous radio broadcast:

We were all nervous, out palms sweating. We said to each other, we really hope she wins. There were about 10 people inside and many more outside. What a heavenly feeling it was. Some of us cried in joy, saying she’s done great.

In her book, Kietlinski provides a transcript in English of that broadcast. To listen in Japanese and get the sense of excitement Japanese felt in 1936, go to the 25 second mark of the video below.

Maehata and Genenger are side by side. Ah, Maehata pulls ahead! She’s in the lead! She’s a little bit ahead. Fifty meters down. 100 meters down. Fifty meters left to go. Maehata is a little bit ahead! Ah, Genenger is coming. Come on, come on! Maehata is in danger, she’s in danger! Go for it! Maehata go for it!

They turned, the swimmers just now turned and Maehata holds onto a slight lead. C’mon Maehata. Go for it! (Repeated four more times) Forty meters left to go. (Repeated four times) Maehata is ahead! Maehata is ahead! Genenger is coming. It’s just a very small lead by Maehata. Go for it Maehata! (Repeated four times) Twenty-five meters left to go! Maehata’s lead is small, it’s very small! Maehata! Go for it Maehata! (Repeated eleven times)

Maehata is in the lead! (Repeated six times) Five meters left to go! Four meters left! Three meters, two meters. Maehata is ahead! Maehata has won! (Repeated eighteen times) By a small margin Maehata is the champion! Thank you Ms Maehata, the Japanese flag will fly today. Thank you! For the first time in the history of women’s swimming the Japanese flag will fly.