From the film,

From the film, “Walk, Don’t Run”, filmed on location during the Tokyo Olympics

Today, the taxi driver in Tokyo, and Japan for that matter, is polite, knowledgeable, chatty and silent as you wish, and above all else, safe. As visitors realize their first time in Tokyo, you pay for this.

But in 1964, apparently, taxi drivers had a public relations issue. Sports Illustrated described taxis in Japan in their October 19, 1964 issue as “those four-wheeled hearses operated by frustrated Kamikaze pilots”.

Remember, the Tokyo Summer Games were held only 23 years after Pearl Harbor, so I wonder how much emotional baggage was packed inside that moniker. This is typical of the patronizing tone of the American journalist at the time. “(Taxi drivers) do not speak much English, and very little Japanese for that matter. All of them were hired 30 minutes ago and have no idea how to find the Imperial Palace. But they can all find the Olympic Village. In fact, they take every pale-faced passenger there, whether he wants to go or not.” (October 2, 1964).

“Everyone who goes to Tokyo must, sooner or later, find himself in a battle of nerves with the famous Tokyo cab drivers. (Bill) Lied had his experience and he isn’t likely to forget it. ‘The Japanese taxi ride isn’t to be forgotten,’ he said. ‘The Tokyo residents call the taxi drivers the Kamikaze Squad (on the wings of God) – and so they are’,” as the Wagner College Wrestling Coach explained to The Star-Ledger (November 6, 1964).

Not all was bad. Taxis were cheap, some 30 or 40 yen per trip, so at 360 yen to the dollar, that’s 8 to 11 cents a ride. And there were, of course, conscientious taxi drivers. As is cited in the book, “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad”, some taxi drivers tried to reverse the bad PR with PR of their own, placing signs in their vehicles in English that read, “I Am Not a Kamikaze Driver.”

As for me,

On September 30, 1964, the film crew was far removed from the hustle and bustle in Tokyo, as the organizers raced to ensure that everything was ready for the start of the Olympics on October 10. This crew was instead shooting a scene for a film at the Oh River in Fukushima, directed by Koji Wakamatsu.

Two prisoners, recently escaped from a prison, were wading across the river, handcuffed Actors Drown_Japan Times_1October1964together. As The Japan Times of October 1, 1964 reports, one of the actors, Shinobu Takasuga “stumbled and fell, pulling (Sanzo) Akaozeki with him, and the two men were swept downstream. The river current was unusually strong, the eyewitnesses said.”

Apparently, the 28-year old director, Wakamatsu jumped in the river along with three others with the hopes of saving the two actors, but they had to be rescued themselves 100 meters down the river. As of that writing, the bodies still had not been found.

While Wakamatsu would go on to have a long career as a film director, this was a dark time at an early stage in his career. The title of this unfortunate film? “Misjudgment”.

Japan Times, October 8, 1964
Japan Times, October 8, 1964

Nicola Zappeti, recently released from prison, found himself in Tokyo in the late 1950s with nothing but a notion that Japan needed a pizzaria. And so he cajoled enough friends and acquaintances to provide him with funds to start an Italian restaurant, despite the fact that the only thing he knew about the restaurant business was that he liked Italian food. From nothing, Zappetti created a culinary icon, explains author and old Japan hand, Robert Whiting describes in his book, “Tokyo Underworld – The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan“.

“Nicola’s was still the attraction. It now occupied an entire newly constructed three-story concrete building with forty large tables, two blocks from its original location and a stone’s throw from the opulent new Hotel Okura, modeled after an ancient Kyoto palace and adjudged to be the finest hotel in the world. The restaurant had made Roppongi synonymous with pizza.

tokyo underworld“Although Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko had subsequently curtailed their pizza-eating excursions to concentrate on the task of producing an heir to the throne, Nicola’s remained a Who’s Who of Tokyo and international society. On any given night,

Life Magazine, 11 September 1964
Life Magazine, 11 September 1964

“Bowling is the hottest new sports fad in Japan, and Tokyo has the biggest bowling center in the world, with 120 lanes. This monster, the Shinagawa Bowling Center, is open until 3 in the morning. It attracts, in addition to serious bowlers, a good many beatniks and nightclub hostesses after the clubs have closed. Other bowling lanes where a little English is spoken include the Tokyo Bowling Center, right next to Meiji Olympic Park, Tokyo Bowl at Tokyo Tower and the Korakuen Bowling Arena in Korakuen Park. Reservations are necessary, especially at night. All of these places have restaurants and bars, but the food is not recommended. Bowling costs a steep 60¢ to $1 a line.” Sports Illustrated – July 6, 1964

I went to a birthday party at this bowling alley last April. I bowled one of my best games ever – 158.

Prince Bernhard at the 1956 Melbourne Games
Prince Bernhard at the 1956 Melbourne Games

There are many stories of Japanese going beyond expectations in helping foreigners in need, but this story was above and beyond the call of duty. Prince Bernhard of Holland lost his Dunhill tobacco pouch while observing equestrian events in Karuizawa. That’s when a platoon of Japan’s Self Defense Forces sprung into action, combing the entire 33 kilometer equestrian course, finding the royal pouch in under 60 minutes. “They are quite wonderfully organized,” he said, referring to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces men. “They are really worthy of a gold medal.” (Did he really say that?)

Japan Times, October 22, 1964
Japan Times, October 22, 1964

Prince Bernhard was not a man of insignificance. He established the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. Unfortunately, he was forced to step down from the WWF after being implicated in the notorious Lockheed scandals, accepting a million dollar bribe in exchange for influencing Dutch aircraft purchases. Lockheed also helped bring

One of the things that has not changed in Japan since 1964 is how people outside Japan view the Japanese. No matter where you go, people will say the Japanese are kind, courteous, helpful and respectful. One can argue that the reason the Japanese behave this way is because they truly care about this perception, and will work hard to ensure this view. This UPI report from January 2, 1964, 10 months before the commencement of the XVIII Olympiad, describes this mindset.

The major worry of government, civic and business leaders is not the unfinished projects. It’s the impressions of the Japanese people which the visitors to the games are likely to take home. Will they remember the Japanese as dignified, cultured and courteous, or as a people beset with social ills.

The answer? The former.

UPI, January 2, 1964
UPI, January 2, 1964
From The Japan Times, October 8, 1964
From The Japan Times, October 8, 1964

My wife just yesterday found a bag sitting on a shelf on top of an ATM machine, and she brought it to the local police station. The person who lost the bag, which contained a wallet, will be relieved that he/she lives in Japan. There is no other major metropolis in the world where you can expect a lost valuable returned.

Three days before the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, a high school teacher carrying the tickets targeted for students in his school, simply lost them while buying a box of cigarettes. They were returned right away to a local police station, but one can assume this teacher nearly had a heart attack. Moral of the story – smoking is bad for your health.