My uncle in Tochigi told me that he had a car and its name was Gloria. I had just arrived in Tokyo and my Japanese wasn’t very good, so I couldn’t tell if he actually named his car. As it turned out, he was the proud owner of a Nissan Gloria.
This full-page ad was selling the Gloria, although it was manufactured at the time by a company called Prince Automobile Manufacturers. In 1959, this company presented to Crown Prince Akihito a Prince Gloria in commemoration of his recent wedding to Princess Michiko. This company would go onto become the official vehicle supplier to the Imperial Household Agency.
The car in the ad was the Grand Gloria S44P, which was launched in May, 1964, prior to the Tokyo Olympics. In addition to including electric power windows, it had a large enough engine (2.5 liters) to make the Grand Gloria the first vehicle manufactured in Japan to not be classified as a compact sedan.
The ad states that this car transported athletes, officials and members of the press during the torch relay leading to the opening of the Tokyo Olympics.
In 1966, Prince merged with Nissan Motors, adding Prince’s Skyline and Gloria brands to their range of vehicles.
An Olympian I interviewed told me about a time he returned from the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and gave a talk at a Rotary Club. He spoke about how wonderful the experience was, and how friendly and helpful the Japanese were. The Olympian’s father who was at the presentation had a friend who remembered the Japanese differently, and resented the Olympian’s talk.
1964 was only a couple of decades removed from World War II. For those who served in the Pacific War on either side, atrocities were the product of everyday life, particularly in the latter years of the war.
A book I am currently reading, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North“, tells the story of an Australian POW, Dorrigo Evans, who worked on the infamous “Line”, the construction of the Burma Railway. Hundreds of thousands of slave labor, made up of PoWs and captive Asian civilian labor, perished in the effort.
This Man Booker Award winning novel by Richard Flanagan is extraordinary in its descriptions of the human psyche, not only from the hero’s survivor complex to the sword-wielding, poetry-citing slave-driving commander.
Dorrigo Evans is the surviving protagonist of the novel, and I was struck by this reference to fleeting nature of life and beauty. He and his lover Amy are lying on the beach, an idyllic time prior to the horrors that awaited months later.
Dorrigo held his arm up to the white-streaked sky and thought he had never seen anything so perfect. He closed one eye and with his other watched his finger touch the beauty of a cloud.
Why don’t we remember clouds? He said.
Because they don’t mean anything.
And yet they’re everything, thought Dorrigo, but this idea was too vast or absurd to hold or even care about, and he let it drift past him with the cloud.
It’s August 18, 1945, three days after the Emperor of Japan has declared the war over, and for all to endure the unendurable. The Japanese troops are hiding from the British in a village in Burma. But to show appreciation for a meal and a place to stay, the Japanese sing songs for their Burmese hosts.
At 6’15 of this clip from the 1985 film, “The Burmese Harp” (ビルマの竪琴), the Japanese soldiers go silent and tense up when they hear the approach of other men. Are they British soldiers? Are they Japanese? The oncoming men are singing. It’s “Home Sweet Home” (埴生の宿), a song they know. And it hits them…the song is being sung in English, and the enemy is coming their way.
The soldier and hero of the film is named Private Mizushima, who is holding his harp as his fellow brothers in arms wait anxiously. So what does Mizushima do? He begins to play his harp, accompanying the singing of the British soldiers.
His brothers soon join in. Highly unrealistic and yet wondrous in its effect, they are enemies in the night, blending in English and Japanese, harmonizing in spirit, and feeling intensely that there indeed is no place like home.
The director of “The Burmese Harp” is Ichikawa Kon, the same director of the groundbreaking film called “The Tokyo Olympiad”. The film clip is from a re-make Ichikawa did of his own 1956 version in black and white. There are no subtitles in this clip, but you’ll get the gist.
On this day – August 15 – 70 years ago, the Japanese surrendered and the Pacific War ended
On August 9, a plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, 70 years ago. The primary target of the B-29 carrying “Fat Man” was a city in Kyushuu called Kokura.
Kokura was the location of munitions factories, which had been targets of US bombers in previous days. In fact, the smoke of burned-out factories, as well as the dense smoke from burning coal tar done with purpose by Japanese on the ground, was so bad that the bomber pilots decided to move on to their secondary target – Nagasaki.
And the rest is history.
This last tidbit is tiny in the context of this story. The reason isn’t clear to me, but the sport of Keirin was initiated in the city of Kokura in 1948. Keirin, a bicycle race that takes place on an oval track, was devised to raise money through gambling. According to this article, over 55,000 people came out on a single day to the Kokura Velodrome, raising close to 20 million yen, motivating local governments to arrange similar activities.
Keirin became an Olympic sport in 2000 at the Sydney Games. Racing around a track for 2 kilometers, differentiated by its use of an accelerating motorized bicycle that sets the pace, Keirin has become one of the most popular racing events in the Olympics.
Bjorn Haslov had never been to Japan. His country Denmark (43,000 sq kilometers) is about a ninth the size of Japan in terms of area. But nothing prepared him for the difference in population size.
“I was surprised,” Haslov told me. “My country had around 4 to 5 million people at that time.
When you are coming from a small country like Denmark you have no idea what it is like to live in a country of 100 million. The train system was fantastic, and worked perfectly all the time. But it took me 15 minutes just to change platforms because there were so many people.”
Fortunately, Haslov competed on the water where he won gold as a member of the Danish coxless four rowing team.
On land, nobody was spared the mass of humanity in Tokyo. My father was a journalist in Tokyo in the late 1950s. In June of 1957, he wrote this dispatch for the Louisville Times about the consequences of jamming too many people in one place.
Tokyo, Japan — Jiro Matsushima, a skinny accountant, stood 25 minutes without once shifting his feet while waiting for a bus that would take him home. When the bus came, he sprang into action, ramming his way past other homeward -bound Japanese. Matsushima and his brief-case barely made it inside the bus before the door closed in front of a frail old kimono-clad woman. In this jampacked city, two of your most valuable assets are patience and sharp elbows. Matsushima has both.
The whole metropolis, on a giant scale, sometimes resembles the crushing scene of a department store bargain-basement during an annual sale. Waiting in lines and bulling through throngs have become a way of life. If you think Louisville is suffering from growing pains, take a look at Japan’s capital city:
In recent years, Tokyo has grown at the rate of 250,000 to 300,000 a year. Because of high birth rates and migrations into the city from other prefectures, there are now about 8,350,000 persons in Tokyo.
Babies are born into crowded hospitals, children attend overflowing classes, breadwinners work in cramped offices, and the oldsters have hardly enough room to die. The last statement is no exaggeration. Most of the public cemeteries are filled up. One city-operated cemetery had a little space a few weeks ago, but there so many applicants that a drawing had to be held.
That is only one of the things which caused Tokyo Governor Seiichiro Yasui, in commenting on the state of the city to say, “Overpopulation is an evil. Tokyo is overpopulated.”
Paul Maruyama grew up in Tokyo with three other brothers who were always fighting each other. His mother, a Seattle-born Nisei, was fed up and said, “if you’re going to fight, then fight at the dojo.” She dragged the brothers to a neighborhood judo dojo, where the brothers all started their journey to black belt. For Paul, his journey would continue as member of the US Judo Olympic team in 1964, and Head Coach of the 1980 and 1984 US Judo Olympic Teams.
Competing at the Olympic level is a challenge. But Paul Maruyama readily acknowledges that his efforts and accomplishment pale in comparison to those of his father.
After the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria, where the Japanese had a significant colonial population. The Soviet army captured Japanese Imperial Army soldiers and sent them to labor camps in Siberia, while non-combatant Japanese who were in many cases pioneer families who volunteered to cultivate farmlands in Manchuria, were trapped on the Asian continent, denied exit by the Soviet Union.
Maruyama’s father, Kunio Maruyama, had made his way to Japan with two other men, Hachiro Shinpo and Masamichi Musashi. As Paul Maruyama describes in his book, Escape from Manchuria, the three men maneuvered covertly out of Manchuria. They were on a mission to inform the government in Japan that some 1.5 to 1.7 million Japanese were unable to leave the former Japanese colony, where thousands were dying daily due to disease and starvation, as well as at the hands of Soviet soldiers, and revenge-seeking Chinese and Manchurian mobs.
The three then had to convince the head of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), General Douglas MacArthur, that an urgent rescue was needed. It took over two years, but by August 1948, three years after the end of the second world war, American warships had repatriated over a million Japanese. So many more remained – children abandoned or taken in by Chinese families, Japanese women married to Chinese and their children who were not considered Japanese citizens, as well as men who were imprisoned in Siberia.
What a legacy! Think about it. The greatest growth in Japan’s
Old residences for US military families were knocked down as another physical remnant of the American occupation disappeared. And up rose a structure, often cited as one of the most beautifully designed for an Olympic Games – the National Gymnasium. In 1964, 11,000 spectators would watch swimming and diving events in the National Gymnasium, that, from the outside appears to uncoil and breathe, and from the inside inspires the awe of the great cathedrals of Europe. Danish diver, Soren Svejstrup wrote me about the first time he entered Kenzo Tange’s dream building. “When we arrived the first day at the pool, into this wonderful building, our coach said, ‘This is the place every swimmer and diver want to be buried when the time comes’.”
The first reaction of Dutch swimmer, Ada Kok, who won two swimming silver medals in this building was, “Wow! We looked up, completely flabbergasted. It had an Olympic size pool, and yet, once inside, it felt really cozy, and so typical Japanese with its breathtaking roof.”
Two-time gold medalist, American Donna de Varona said she would kid the Princeton basketball star, Bill Bradley, about the size of the annex, which was the smaller Tange version of the National Gymnasium and where the basketball games were played for a maximum of 4,000 spectators. “That basketball arena was so small and our swimming stadium was big and beautiful, state of the art and breathtaking.”
“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.