Abe apologizes for costly Olympics stadium fiasco, design rethink | The Japan Times.
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.
In the Tokyo Summer Games of 1964, the stadium was ready in 1963 for a full-blown rehearsal. I’m sure the Japanese will get it done for 2020, but three months is very, very little room for error.
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.”
As Paul McCartney wrote:
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.”
This site gives a detailed explanation and illustration of Tange’s genius use
“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.
We waited on the platform for the arrival of the Shinkansen Nozomi #130 to pull in, and for the cleaning crew to do their magic. The train, as scheduled, pulled in at 16:53. The doors opened, the passengers walked out, and the 56 members of the Central JR Tokaido-sen cleaning crew, clad in pink, streamed into the 16-car bullet train. The train was to depart at 17:10, 17 minutes after arrival, but they had to complete the clean up in 12 minutes.
First they had to forcefully rotate the sets of seats so that they faced the other direction, as the train was now going to head West. Next they had to gather the newspapers and drink cans, sweep up the floor, replace the headrest coverings, check the overhead racks for items left behind, and check the seats for moisture (ie: spilled drinks, excessive sweat, who knows what). On the day I was there, a seat actually had to be replaced as it was too damp.
And then, they’re done and out of the train. a few moments later, after the head of the cleaning crew gives the go ahead, the passengers for Western Japan are allowed on board the renamed Nozomi #53, bound for Hakata. 12 minutes. Done.
On October 1, 1964, 9 days before the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, Japan commenced operations of the fastest train in the world, The Shinkansen, also known as The Bullet Train. As much as the Olympics did, the Shinkansen symbolized Japan’s impressive recovery from bombed-out and destroyed to world class.
In 1964, the Shinkansen ran at a top speed of 210 km per hour and made it from Tokyo to Osaka in four hours. Today, the top speed is now
I am American, but of Japanese ancestry, so when I’m in Japan, I don’t get the “gai-jin” treatment – gawked at, overly praised for rudimentary Japanese, etc.
When Syd Hoare moved from England to Japan to train in judo in the early 1960s, he found the “constant attention” irritating. As he related in his book, A Slow Boat to Yokohama, “Wherever I went I was stared at, which was not that surprising since gaijin were bigger on average, with different color of hair, eyes, and skin.”
Hoare went on to tell this strange-but-true phenomenon where certain Japanese are so un-used to dealing with foreigners that they can’t quite rationalize one who speaks Japanese. Even though Hoare describes an incident from the early 1960s, as you can see in the above video, this brain cramping still occurs with certain Japanese. Both the story below and the video above are hysterical.
One time, when I was in Kyoto, an old shortsighted couple came up to me. The man asked me in Japanese where the Kiyomizu Temple was. Just as he neared the end of his question, his wife noticed that I was a foreigner and began badgering him. ‘Gaikoku no kata desu yo’. (‘He is a foreigner.’) By that time I had told him in Japanese exactly where the temple was. He was trapped between the information I had given him and the warning from his wife. The problem was that one part of his brain was telling him that he did not speak English, while the other half was telling him that gaijin cannot speak Japanese. I repeated the directions and walked on.
Training in the martial arts can be brutal. Olympian Syd Hoare felt this keenly when he moved from his home country of England to Japan to study judo with the very best. Wrenched knees, broken noses, dislocated shoulders, ripped-off toe nails – doesn’t matter. Stay calm, and carry on.
One of the more notorious training routines of judo (back in the day) was to purposely strangle someone to unconsciousness. This was partly done to teach the judoka how to revive the unconscious. It was also done to educate (to not get oneself in a position to be strangled, I suppose).
Hoare, who represented Great Britain at the 1964 Summer Games, wrote in his wonderful book, “A Slow Boat to Yokohama”, how his training in England included the “kata-hajime” strangle technique. Here is a somewhat chilling description.
“Then it was my turn to strangle my partner out but he was one of the fighters. Even as I was putting my hands in place for the kata-hajime strangle, he tensed his neck, preventing me from taking the full position. So, I softly started again, and then locked it on hard and quickly. Immediately he grabbed my hands and tried to tear them away from his throat, but the strangle was on securely. He began to flail around gagging and choking. At one point he arched violently