He had recently arrived that first week of October, 1964, and was feeling crappy. Peter Snell was not peaking in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I had a form of claustrophobia for the first few days in Japan,” wrote Snell in his autobiography, No Bugles No Drums. “The weather wasn’t too good, it was a strange country with a vast population and I was feeling depressed. I spent the fourth day in bed with a slight temperature and a very sick feeling. I was able to jog the fifth day and eventually got back on to my schedule but at this stage John (his teammate) was going particularly well and I was finding it hard to keep up with him.”
And yet, the 1960 800-meter champion at the Rome Olympics went on to achieve legendary status at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: not only becoming one of four Olympians ever to win back-to-back 800-meter Olympic championships, but also being the only Olympian since 1920 to win gold in both the 800-meter and 1500-meter distances in the same Olympics.
The Japanese were buying televisions, this magical device that brought the world into their homes. And with the Tokyo Olympics arriving in October, 1964, sales for color television were soaring like their pride in hosting the Olympics.
The Tokyo Games had a massive impact on the psyche of the Japanese – no event in the history of Japan was viewed as much by as many people. Reports of television ratings in Japan vary wildly depending on the source. One source explains that over 75 million people watched some part of the Olympics over the two-week period, for a rating of 97.3%. That’s amazing since the population in Japan at the time was about 100 million.
Another source explains that three of the four highest rated programs in Japan in 1964 were related to the Olympics:
15th NHK Red and White Song Battle (NHK General, December 31) 72.0%
Tokyo Olympic and Volleyball Women’s Final “Japan vs Soviet Union” (NHK General, October 23) 66.8%
Tokyo Olympics Closing Ceremony (NHK General, October 24, 16: 52-18: 20) 63.2%
Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony (NHK General, October 10 13: 43-15: 20) 61.2%
But I suspect this list from Wikipedia is misleading as it focuses on ratings for one channel. The number one program, the annual new year’s eve programming (Red and White Song Battle) was broadcast only on NHK. But the Tokyo Olympics, on the whole, was broadcasted on multiple channels, sometimes up to five channels covering the same event. That was the case for the Opening and Closing ceremonies, as well as the highest rated event during the Olympics – the women’s volleyball final – when the Japanese defeated the Soviet Union to win gold.
One can say, with little exaggeration, that nearly everyone in Japan was watching that match.
Think about that – when was the last time an entire nation’s eyes were watching the same exact thing, united in their attention and feelings? In recent years, I can think of only moments of disaster and distress: 9.11 in the US or 3.11 in Japan.
In terms of uplifting moments, never was Japan more united, or prouder, than at 9 pm on October 23, 1964, when the final point sealed the victory for the Witches of the Orient, as the women’s basketball team was affectionately called.
I must admit. I believe I felt a bit of that unity and pride 55 years later, in September and October 2019. The Rugby World Cup is currently being held for the first time in Asia, and the host country, Japan has the only Asian representative in the tournament.
Japan kicked off the tournament on September 20, 2019, defeating Russia 30-10. The television rating was 18.3%, attracting a peak of 26 million viewers. On September 28, Japan pulled off an upset, upending Ireland 19-12, igniting celebrations across the country, and sending ratings higher with 29.5 million viewers. As excitement and expectations noticeably grew among casual and non-rugby fans, viewers of the Japan-Samoa match on October 5 climbed to 47 million.
With three wins in hand during the tournament pool plan, a Japan victory against Scotland would send Japan into the Top 8 for the first time. Nervous but hopeful, over 54 million people were tuned into to watch, attracting a peak rating of 53.7% at the end of the match, when Japan realized their dream of advancement into the elimination round.
Alas, the Brave Blossoms could not survive the South African python that squeezed the life out of the Japanese ruggers. Ratings during the course of the match suffered as viewers realized that the impossible dream was indeed just a dream.
But the dream is the thing. Japan was living a dream vicariously through the incredible energy and surprising skill of the Brave Blossoms – these upstarts turned world beaters.
Is the 2019 Rugby World Cup a sign of things to come? Will the 2020 Tokyo Olympics raise expectations of triumph and pride? Will Japanese heroes emerge to capture the imagination of children and adults across the nation? Will the Olympics unite Japan in a way that exceeds the unity inspired by the Japanese ruggers?
There is little doubt in my mind – the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will bring the nation together.
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the kayakers and canoeists landed at Haneda Airport like most other Olympians, but then were whisked off to Sagamihara, about sixty kilometers west of Tokyo. The competitions for the canoeists and kayakers were to be held at Lake Sagami, a man-made reservoir in an idyllic setting developed for tourists.
To Andras Toro, it was dreamlike:
Lake Sagami was a magical place with all the oriental beauty we had only seen before in magazines…the morning mist that rose along the shoreline was beautifully surreal.
It was the perfect setting for Cold War intrigue.
Since the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Toro and his friends in the Honved Canoe Club in Budapest had given serious thought to defecting from their country, as long as it was under the hammer (and sickle) of the Soviet Union. In fact, many of his friends did indeed defect, taking advantage of their participation at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
But Toro didn’t go to Melbourne. And his bronze medal finish at the 1960 Rome Olympics only fanned the flames of his desire to win in Tokyo. Competing in the individual 1,000-meter event, Toro had his sights set on the gold. But he also smelled an opportunity—that if he did not win a medal, he would seriously consider defecting to the West.
Just saying that you want to defect, however, doesn’t make it happen. There is no defector’s manual. Who do you contact? What country would take you? How do you avoid the ears and eyes of your country’s minders? Toro spoke almost no English. Who would he even start this conversation with?
And yet, when you want something, as Paulo Coelho famously put it in his novel, The Alchemist, “all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Off the foggy banks of Lake Sagami, the universe began to conspire for Andras Toro.
In the tiny community of Olympic canoeists and kayakers emerged quite unexpectedly a friend of Toro’s, Andor Elbert. Friends since their teenage years in the Honved Canoe Club in Budapest, Elbert had defected to Canada eight years prior, and was representing Canada at the 1964 Olympics. Toro, shielded behind his Hungarian minders, was of course never informed that a defector had made the Olympic squad on another nation’s team.
Then an American kayaker named Bill Smoke entered the picture. He was at Lake Sagami to compete for the US Olympic squad, but he was also looking for talent. Smoke lived in Michigan, famous for its lakes and love of boating of all kinds, and he hoped to find someone who could build canoes and kayaks so that he could start a business back home.
Smoke walked over to the Canadian dorms looking for someone who spoke English and happened to have that conversation with Elbert. Smoke wondered if Elbert knew anyone in Canada who might be willing to help him out. As a matter of fact, Elbert did know someone, but he wasn’t from Canada.
Elbert told Smoke that his friend Toro was not only good at designing and building boats, he was also hoping to defect from Hungary. Smoke in turn talked with US teammate and then-girlfriend, Marcia Jones, who was in Japan also competing in individual canoeing. She turned out to be a key connection, as her mother was Mary Francis, an attorney, one of two women to graduate from the University of Michigan Law School in 1929. She was also sympathetic to people who had to leave their home countries.
Jones said that when she was ten, they had a DP, or displaced person, couple from Latvia stay with them. “The government brought them over here,” she said. “My mother sponsored them. They lived at our place. They went to our schools. She wanted to help them out. She was a very generous person and we could afford to help them.”
When Jones told her mother about Toro, Mary Francis got to work, contacting the US Embassy in Tokyo to seek their help. According to Smoke, who eventually married Jones, his future mother-in-law was not someone you could say no to easily. Francis was able to set up a meeting for Toro at the Embassy.
So very suddenly, all of the pieces fell into place. Toro was ready to defect, resigned to most likely never seeing his family and home country ever again, but with hopes of starting anew in a new land. All that remained, strangely enough, was for him to lose.
In 1959, when Tokyo was awarded the XVIII Olympiad by the IOC, Seiko’s President, Shoji Hattori, was determined to make Seiko the official timer of the Olympic Games. In 1960, he sent a telegram to one of his watch design section managers, Saburo Inoue, with instructions that would forever change the fate of the Japanese watch company—”Intend to handle official timing duties. Go to Rome Olympics in August and observe timing procedures.”
Inoue was deeply skeptical of the idea, and for good reason. “I’d never seen timing devices for the Olympics,” he said. “I didn’t know how they used their stopwatches, or what types they would need. We couldn’t do computer simulations, so we had to work out every single thing by trial and error.”
But again, as explained in the 2012 The Daily Telegraph article, ignorance proved to be bliss.
In those days, it was the prerogative of the local organizing committee to select the company that would supply the timers, and it was likely they would choose the tried-and-true Swiss watchmakers—Omega or Longines. Up till then, they were the only firms trusted with ensuring accurate times in Olympic competition.
In contrast, Seiko’s experience in building timers specifically for sports was zero. Such was the confidence of Hattori and Japan at the time—that anything was possible if they tried.
Without assurance of a contract for the Olympics, Hattori asked his three group companies to work on Olympic-related projects: large clocks, stopwatches, crystal chronometers, and a new idea, a device that could print the times of competitors right after the end of a race. They were called printing timers, and this revolutionized the way results of competitions were determined.
In only two years, Seiko was producing sports stopwatches that passed the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Technical Committee. In a track and field competition in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the IAAF was witness to a successful test, as the Japanese-made stopwatches proved accurate and reliable.
Seiko had already successfully developed quartz technology for small watches, and used this crystal technology for long distance races, like the marathon among others. Developing this quartz technology was key to developing Seiko wristwatches of the future that would stay accurate over longer periods of time.
More significantly, perhaps for the athletes, was Seiko’s development of the printing timer, a machine that would electronically time and print the results of an event, up to 1/100 of a second for track events.
This machine had a significant impact on a high-visibility competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics—the women’s 80-meter hurdles final.
On October 19, at the National Stadium, Karin Balzer of Germany and Teresa Cieply of Poland settled into their starting blocks. When the pistol shot rang, an electric signal was sent via wire to a printing timer, as well as a signal to a camera that would take special photo finish pictures, and a signal to a large spectator clock that set the second-hand in motion.
In a stunning finish, Balzer, Cieply, and Australian Pam Kilborn hit the tape seemingly in a dead heat, all three timed by officials at 10.5 seconds. Despite numerous officials with hand stopwatches that measured in tenths of seconds, officials could not determine a winner.
The officials preferred not to hand out three gold medals, and fortunately, had a fallback plan—the latest timing technology from Japan.
When the runners arrived at the goal, a picture was taken by a slit camera, manufactured by Japan Photo Finish Co. Ltd. After thirty seconds, the image’s negative was transmitted as a reflected image, and converted in three minutes to a positive print. The information from Seiko’s printing timer was integrated into an image noting times in hundredths of seconds. The photo would show not only the athletes, but time, and thus the order in which they finished.
Thanks to the printing timer, it was revealed that Balzer completed the race in 10.54 seconds, 0.01 seconds ahead of Cieply, who was also only 0.01 seconds ahead of Kilborn. While the IAAF officially recognized times to the tenth of a second, in this case, they accepted the recorded electronic time to the hundredth.
The printing timer contributed mightily to the evolution of timed sports, and led to the creation of the famed, global printing company—EPSON—its name a simple mash-up of the words “son of electronic printer.”
Below is the singer, Chiharu Ts’baki and the guitarist Steve Myers, performing “Konnichi was Akachan” (which means “Hello, My Baby!”) at my book launch party on October 10, 2019, the 55th anniversary of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games.
The sense of optimism at the time was powerful, as Japanese adults who made the Olympics possible, and who cheered on and welcomed athletes from all visiting nations, were alive at the end of the Pacific War, when all they and their families knew was poverty, homelessness, hunger, and disease, at least for those in the burned out rubble-strewn cities of Japan.
The Japanese rebuilt the nation and were rightly proud to bring to the world the most logistically demanding global event of its time. And on that beautiful Autumn day on October 10, never was the nation prouder. Japan was akin to a newly born baby, smiling into the eyes of her mother, as in the song.
The person who wrote the lyrics to “Konnichiwa Akachan” was Rokusuke Ei. He also wrote the lyrics to a 1961 song that was very popular during the Olympics, not only to the Japanese, but also to foreigners visiting the country. The song was sung in Japanese, and still sold over 13 million copies worldwide, hitting number 1 on the pop charts in the US, Canada and Australia.
This song was known in Japan as “Ue o Muite Arukou,”(上を向いて歩こう) and its catchy melody made singer Sakamoto Kyu a global star, and made Japan relevant to the world. To the rest of the world, it was known as “Sukiyaki,” the idea of a British music promoter who thought that the Japanese dish would make more sense to the Western world. You can’t argue with success.
If you understand the lyrics,“Ue o Muite Arukou” sounds like a love song, or one of unrequited love. But Rokusuke Ei wrote not about love, but about defeat.
Ei participated in the anti-government protests against Japan’s signing of the Mutual Treaty of Cooperation and Security with America. And after the government signed the treaty, American soldiers and military bases were allowed to remain in the country. Ei was sad, and wrote that famous song, reflecting a more complex relationship Japan had with the West, particularly the United States.
If the Olympics came to Tokyo in 1968, it’s likely that the clamor of anti-government protests in Japan would have created tension if not trouble during the Games.
If the Games came to Tokyo in 1960, it’s likely that the Japanese economy in the 1950s, while accelerating, would not have been robust enough to support the organization of the Games for the summer of 1960.
In other words, 1964 was the perfect time, the right time. And after the successful completion of the 1964 Olympics, they were often called the Happy Games, and in retrospect, the Last innocent Games.
Two of Rokusuke Ei’s most popular songs captured the mood of the time, and are, in my mind, intertwined with the joy and wonder the Japanese had for the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo.
Here again are Chiharu Nacitas and Steve Myers with their beautiful rendition of “Ue o Muite, Arukou.”
As I sit at home this quiet Saturday morning, Tokyo braces for the mighty hurricane Hagibis.
As Forbes claims, Hagibis could be as powerful as Hurricane Sandy, a category 2 storm that resulted in 2 billion dollars worth of damage to the East Coast of the US in 2012.
Today is October 12, 2019. For all the amateur and professional weather prognosticators who are fretting about the potential heat wave during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, to be held from July 24 to August 9, calm down.
So many have said, “Why didn’t they schedule the upcoming Olympics in October like they did in 1964?” They could have. But for financial reasons outlined in this informative New York Times article, they didn’t.
So imagine the Olympics taking place in mid-October, on a day like today. What would have happened?
Well, the organizers couldn’t have predicted that.
If the third day of the Olympics fell on October 12 like today, the organizers would have to cancel surfing, rowing, beach volleyball, skateboarding, shooting, archery, field hockey, softball, tennis, sailing, canoe slalom, road cycling, soccer, and equestrian dressage because they are outdoor events. But they would also likely cancel all of the indoor events as well, which include volleyball, fencing, gymnastics, table tennis, badminton, taekwando, swimming, weighlifting, baseketball, handball, judo, and diving because of the risk of harm and delay to spectators, organizers and athletes getting to and from venues.
Hurricanes aside, yes, it will likely be hot during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Most athletes and organizers will do the cost-benefit analysis in their heads, weighing their options, as they did regarding the more fearsome Zika Virus scare prior to the Rio Olympics. My guess is that even the marathoners and triathoners, who could be affected by the heat, will decide to go to Tokyo for the Olympics. I’m sure the organizers will go overboard on creating cooler environments (although I doubt they can bring down the summer water temperature of Tokyo Bay for the triathletes.)
At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the weather was actually far from beautiful Autumn weather. The temperatures ranged from 14.6 C (58.2F) to 21.7C (71F), and was basically cool, cloudy and rainy almost every day. The road cyclists could see their breath in the hills of Hachioji, the runners in the Stadium had to run through rain and sometimes muddy conditions on certain days.
And smack dab in the middle of the Tokyo Olympics, everybody in Japan were deeply concerned about radiation poisoning. Communist China decided to detonate its first atomic bomb as a test, on October 16, 1964. The only nation to have an atomic bomb dropped on its soil, organizers and citizens alike were concerned about radiation fallout blown on the winds over the waters that separated the two countries.
Predicting the unpredictable – it’s cool if you can do it. I wouldn’t bet on it.
So for those who are sure what the weather will be like in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9 – here’s hoping you had nothing great planned outdoors today.
The Tokyo Organizing Committee sent emails today (October 2, 2019) to people who signed up for the Tokyo2020 Paralympic ticket lottery found out whether they were lucky or not. I had already struck out twice in the ticket lottery for Olympic events, so I was not optimistic.
As it turned out, my email went straight to the junk folder so I didn’t notice it until the evening. And the contents weren’t junk!
“We are happy to inform you…..”
That’s all I needed to know. When I went to the website, signed in, and saw what I won, it was kind of depressing at first. All the events I wanted started with the word “Sorry”. Tickets for the first six events I applied for were not available.
But as I scrolled all the way to the bottom, I saw that I had attained tickets for great events: the opening and closing ceremonies.
Koji Gushiken, 5-time medalist at the 1984 Olympics, including men’s individual all around
Takemoto was an inspiration to them all. Appearing at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympics, Takemoto amassed 7 medals, and 7 medals in World Championships in 1954 and 1958, helping the Japan team to a team silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. When he finished his Olympic career, helping his team to the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics, he helped ignite a 16-year stretch of absolute dominance for Japanese men’s gymnastics, as Team Japan took gold from Rome in 1960 to Montreal in 1976.
And he won that gold medal at the age of 41.
Japanese American gymnast, Makoto Sakamoto was a 13-year old in Los Angeles, after moving there from Tokyo, when Japan won their first team gold in Rome. Sakamoto, who was in Tokyo and attended the 100th anniversary of Takemoto’s birthday, told the attendees that he and his older brother had a copy of Takemoto’s book on gymnastics, and that they read every page and followed every line in the book like it was gospel.
Sakamoto would go on to make the American men’s gymnastics team and compete at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as well as serve as assistant coach to Team USA men’s gymnastics team that won gold at home in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
The taxi driver couldn’t help it. He started talking about Japan’s incredible upset over Ireland in rugby on Saturday. Then he talked about the Japan women’s volleyball team come back win over Serbia a day before that. And how about those Japanese boys in Doha at the World Track and Field Championships? He said that if he could, he would be ditching the taxi and watching sports all day and all night.
Something’s in the air in Japan.
The 2-month 2019 Rugby World Cup taking place in Japan is a huge hit – stadiums are packed with fans from all over the world. And Japan, which entered the tournament ranked ninth in the world, pulled off an incredible upset of second-ranked Ireland, which set the country on fire. As The Guardian put it:
Japan have done it again, this time against the team ranked No 1 in the world two weeks ago. The World Cup hosts came from nine points down to win after playing with pace, skill and fervour that the humidity and time could not dim. Such was the thunderous roar when the final whistle sounded it would have caused the nearby Mount Fuji to wobble.
Over the weekend, Japan watched the Japanese women’s volleyball team win the last three games of an 11-game FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup. They had fallen into a funk and ran their record to 3 – 5, losing to regional rivals China and South Korea, but defeated Serbia, Argentina and the Netherlands in the final three days to take fifth place in the tournament.
Like the rugby matches, all games were on national television, and the volleyball arena in Osaka was packed with enthusiastic, cheering fans.
Unfortunately, Japan’s sprinters were all eliminated in the semi-finals. But that did not dampen the mood of a nation electrified by the accomplishments of their national teams over the weekend.
Japan’s rugby team showed that on your home turf, anything’s possible. Japan’s volleyball team showed that on their home court, they can be as dangerous as any other team – in fact they took number 2 USA to five sets last week.
Japan’s athletes are competing at the highest levels. They look to smash their record of 16 gold medals at an Olympics at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
There’s something in the air. And to the Japanese, it’s a tailwind, and it’s just beginning to build.
It’s amazing to think – over one third of all 44 venues for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics are in the Tokyo Bay, landfill property developed over centuries, but particularly over the past 100 years.
According to Associate Professor Robin Kietlinski of LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, 16 venues for the Olympics will be held in what had been previously the open waters of Tokyo Bay.
In a talk Dr. Kietlinski gave on Friday, September 27, 2019, at the newly opened Japan campus of Temple University, she explained how the physical landmass of Tokyo along the Western edges of Tokyo Bay began to grow when Edo was established in the early 17th century as the de facto capital of Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate. But in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, and the firebombings of Tokyo during World War II, rubble was poured into the western and northern shores of Tokyo Bay.
Around the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when the engine of the Japanese economic miracle was really beginning to rev, the waste produced by the tremendous growth in population, industry and consumerism was growing faster than they could manage it. Tokyo waterways were polluted and odorous. The landfill in Tokyo Bay became the dumping grounds of Tokyo, and ran rampant with rodents and flies. As I wrote in this blog post on Yumenoshima, site of Olympic archery next year, the Self Defense Forces had to be called into exterminate the fly infestation.
Today, as Dr. Kietlinski explained, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has built waste processing plants that pulverize and incinerate waste. All of the incinerator ash is then used for landfill in Tokyo Bay, continuing plans to increase the terrestrial space in the bay, according to this explanation of waste management from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Here is a list of all of the venues, including the Olympic Village, that sit in the middle of Tokyo Bay. You can see get more information on the Olympic venues here.
Aomi Urban Sports Park – 3×3 basketball, sport climbing
Ariake Arena – volleyball
Ariake Gymnastics Center -gymnastics
Ariake Tennis Park – tennis
Ariake Urban Sports Park – BMX, skateboarding
IBC/MPC (International Broadcast Center/Main Press Center)
Kasai Canoe Slalom Center – canoe (slalom)
Odaiba Marine Park – marathon swimming, triathlon
Oi Hockey Stadium – field hockey
Tatsumi Water Polo Center – water polo
Tokyo Aquatics Center – swimming, diving, synchronized swimming