Japan TImes, October 11, 1964
Japan TImes, October 11, 1964

Tokyo was beaming in the coming-out party of the ages, the opening ceremony of the XVIII Olympiad, framing Japan as the rising star of Asia.

500 kilometers away in Osaka, the Nankai Hawks won the seventh game of the Japan Series over the Hanshin Tigers. The MVP of the series – Joe Donald Stanka.

Joe Stanka of the Nankai Hawks
Joe Stanka of the Nankai Hawks

I am a big baseball fan, but I drew a blank when I heard that name. Stanka graduated from Oklahoma State University and then spent a good part of his career in the minor leagues. He had a short turn in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, appearing in two games, 5.5 innings and had a 1-0 career record. Then he took off for Japan, signing with the Nankai Hawks (currently known as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks) for the start of the 1960 season.

In 1964, when baseball was merely an exhibition sport in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Joe Stanka had one of the greatest records in a baseball championship series you could imagine. In the seven-game series, he started four games and went 3-1, with three shut outs. In a word, he was dominant. Based on his 26-7 season, he went on to take MVP League honors, the first non-Japanese ever to receive that honor.

Stanka made $35,000 playing in Japan, and enjoyed his work-life balance. “There are six teams in the our league and three of them are in Osaka where we live,” he said, explaining why he likes to play ball in Japan. “I’m home most of the time.”

American pitcher Joe Stanka argues call with umpire after he thought he tossed strike to Giants Sadaharu Oh. The catcher is Katsuya Nomura, the Hawks triple crown champion.
American pitcher Joe Stanka argues call with umpire after he thought he tossed strike to Giants Sadaharu Oh. The catcher is Katsuya Nomura, the Hawks triple crown champion.
Japan Times, October 11, 1964
Japan Times, October 11, 1964

I was one. Exactly.

The day the Tokyo Olympics began.

It was a moment

of Pride

of Joy

of Hope

for all Japanese.

Roy around 1 years old, the only nude photo of him on the internet
Roy around 1 years old, the only nude photo of him on the internet

The song, “Konnichi wa, Akachan,” (“Hello, My Baby”) was one of the most popular songs of the time in Japan, and it’s cheerful melody and lyrics or promise represented the mood of the country when Japan welcomed the world.

Michiyo Azusa’s song sold over a million record from its debut in July 1963, written by the singer/composer duo who brought you the equally popular hit, Sukiyaki.

“Hello, my baby, it’s your life!

Hello, my baby, it’s your future!”

Japan was re-born, rising, literally, from the ashes of a tragic Pacific War. And in only one generation , Tokyo was bringing the hot spotlight on Asia for the first time with the debut of the biggest sporting spectacle in the world – the Olympic Summer Games.

The Olympic torch relay passing through Bangkok, Thailand.
The Olympic torch relay passing through Bangkok, Thailand.

The 1964 Tokyo Games were the first Olympics to be held in Asia, and not only was Japan busting with pride, so was a good part of Asia. Thus it was decided that the tradition of transporting the Olympic flame to the host country should include a roadshow through Asia.

“It was the first time the Olympics were held in Asia,” Charanjit Singh told me. “And during that period the Japanese just rose to the occasion. There was so much devastation (after the war),” explained the captain of the Indian field hockey team. “But instead of giving up, they built it back up themselves. The Olympics were a very good show there, and it showed the world that Asian people can do it very well, like the rest of the world.”

From August 21 to September 6 the torch wended its way through Eurasia, first from Greece to Istanbul. After a day in Turkey, the flame hopped on a plane to Beirut, Lebanon, and then to Teheran, Iran. The course continued on to Lahore, Pakistan, New Delhi, India, Rangoon, Burma, Bangkok, Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Manila in the Philippines. What I learned was that the sacred flame traveled by plane from point to point – which in hindsight makes total sense but removes the romance of this lonely flame traversing thousands of kilometers by foot.

Picture of Sacred Flame readied for travel.
Picture of Sacred Flame readied for travel.

In the end, the Sacred Flame traveled a total over 16,000 kilometers, about 95% by air. Are spirit-infused flames eligible for mileage points? Did they offer the flame a cool welcome drink?

(All pictures in this post including the ones below are from the “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964: The Official Report of the Organizing Committee”)

UPI_1October 1964
UPI_1October 1964

You’re sound asleep, you’re jarred awake by an abrupt shaking of the bed, and suddenly your senses dial up to 100.


That’s how many of us experienced Tokyo at 5:49 Saturday morning. It wasn’t a rolling “uh-oh-something’s happening” kinda tremor. It was a thumper, the kind where your abode goes vertical, and your heart stops oh-so briefly.

Power forward on the US Men’s basketball team, Luke Jackson, recalls an earthquake in the early stages of his stay in Tokyo. It was 4:14 a.m. on September 30, 1964 when an earthquake rattled the city. “The bed started to move across the floor. I didn’t know what was going on. I was told that it was an earthquake. You lose your equilibrium.”

Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986
Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986

The Olympic Village in Tokyo in 1964 was very popular. The athletes appreciated the well-manicured greenery, the ample and delicious food, the abundance of bicycles that got them around, and the light-touch security. It felt truly like a village.

Before the Pacific War, the area of the Olympic Village was a Japanese military field, where soldiers would practice and conduct parades. The US military converted the area into housing for American military families during the post-war occupation, and they called the area Washington Heights.

Washington Heights
Washington Heights

The inside of these homes, furnished with American white goods and furniture for the convenience of the American families, were a revelation to the Japanese. Emerging out of a devastated industrial and urban wasteland, the typical Japanese would look at these homes with their huge refrigerators, spacious living rooms, and modern look as a vision of a future Japan.

And what happens when you have a concentration of thousands of Americans in the middle of a highly congested Japanese metropolitan area? You get Americanization. Not far from the Washington Heights area is Omotesando, the road currently famous for being the Champs d’Elysee of Tokyo, and the entry way to Harajuku, a global mecca today for fashion-conscious youth. In its hey day,

An ad for the Prince Gloria, from the magazine
An ad for the Prince Gloria, from the magazine “Olympic Tokyo Taikai Tokushuu No. 2_Tokyo Shimbun”

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.

the narrow road to the deep north cover

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.

Is it reference to Basho? This was one of

It’s corny. It’s unrealistic. It’s moving nonetheless.

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.

burmese harp 1985The 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