Takeko Honma 1
A picture of Ted (Theo) Mittet, 2nd from left, by Takeko Honma, middle, in front of the National Gymnasium

When I first arrived in Japan in 1986, one of the most popular programs on television was “Naruhodo! The World (なるほど!ザ・ワールド),” a quiz program that showcased the beauty, excitement and uniqueness of the places around the world their reporters visited. This was entertainment, so their reporters were often loud and garish, shamelessly interacting with foreigners in goofball English, often emphasizing stereotypical or even non-representative quirks of a particular country or culture. The questions and insights of the reporters often revealed more about Japanese culture than the culture they were trying to represent.

Ted (Theo) Mittet was a 22-year-old American rower who decided to travel Japan after helping his four-without boat win the bronze medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. As explained in Part 1, Mittet made many Japanese friends along the way, who exchanged letters with this young man from Seattle, Washington. Their questions to him said a lot about Japan at the time. Mittet wrote to his family describing the conversations he was having with Japanese all over the country.

I spent last evening with a very good Japanese friend’s family (his father speaks English, as does he) and was treated royally. Sukiyaki and tempura were served in unlimited quantities. After dinner we all discussed love and life and I am amazed at the similarity between East and West. My friend is anxious to learn about Christianity and I am anxious to learn about Buddhism. (He is studying Zen.) I certainly think that Buddhism makes more sense than Christianity. I plan to look into it a little further. – letter from Mittet to family in late October

While coming up the east side of the inland sea I stopped at the town of Niihama where I met three English teachers who asked me if I would speak at their school. I gladly accepted and as a result spent about three hours teaching English conversations to about 150 English students. The school offered me 3,000 badly needed yens, but being a true patriot I could not accept. You might say that it was my donation to the cultural exchange program. I was asked questions about the Beetles, the American date, President Johnson (damn!) and “What you think black man?” It was a wonderful experience and I gained much insight on Japanese life and thought. – letter from Mittet to family in late November

Religion, politics, race – all the things we were taught not to talk about in polite company. But many Japanese knew they had an exaggerated view of the world, and were eager to correct their perceptions. In the case of America, Mittet became their source.

Like the hundreds of others on the US Olympic squad, he got the training from the US State Department about how to conduct oneself properly in a foreign land as a representative of America. But one can argue, based on the letters he received from the many Japanese friends he made during his 2-month travels, Mittet was as much an American diplomat as those who sit in embassies around the world.

When travelling through Ashiya, a city near Kobe in Japan, Mittet met Mikio, a middle-aged man who saw the tall American in a crowded bus, and felt compelled to introduce himself. Like other Japanese energized by the influx of foreigners during the Olympics, and infused with a desire to warmly welcome them, Mikio went up to Mittet in the bus. “I remember first scene when I saw firstly you in the crowded bus,” he wrote in a letter to Mittet. “You are too tall, so you put your head on the bus ceiling. Then I felt too funny. (Excuse me.) But that time, I felt much friendly to you.”

Amazingly, not only did Mikio introduce himself, he invited Mittet to stay at his and his wife’s Eiko’s home overnight, where they ate and talked. But in the letter, Mikio admitted that he was still very curious, his English capability failing him in attempts to ask important questions:

It was first experience for me that I gave a lodge to a foreigner. I doubt I could make a full hospitality to you? It’s most sorry I could speak English very little. If I could speak it more fluently, I wished to ask about America things, and to tell and discuss about several problems of the war, current events and American colored man through all night. And about your life experience and philosophy.

Eiko and Mikio 1
Eiko and Mikio

Even more remarkably, Mikio found Mittet so earnest and trustworthy that he admitted to changing what he felt were prejudicial views of Americans.

I had had a prejudice for American through a few American I know, soldiers and seamen. I have thought American are a spending, war-like, uncultural and bright and cheerful nation. (Excuse me) However general Japanese people don’t think so as me.

I see and tell you, I found mistake. You are wonderful man with wit and culture. If there are many people as you in America, American will develop more and more in future. I hope you become young face of America. My dear Eiko in the room you slept, talk about memory of you.

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Tokyo 1a
Ted (Theo) Mittet in Tokyo, from the collection of Dick Lyon

 

It was as if 1964 was Year 1, and Japan was re-born.

Japan was young, energetic and full of hope. One of the biggest hits of 1964 in Japan was “Konnichi wa Akachan,” – “Hello, my sweet baby!” – a bouncy, happy tune of fresh starts.

Ted (Theo) Mittet was a 22-year old from Seattle, Washington, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics as a rower on the US Olympic team, and came to Japan with eyes wide open. And he loved it from the start. “Japan is all that I expected and more,” he wrote to his parents a week before the start of the Olympics. “Its people are very friendly to say the least.”

Mittet was on a powerful rowing crew that took the bronze medal in the fours-without competition at the Tokyo Olympics. But while many of his teammates on Team USA went home, Mittet sold his air ticket to the States and travelled Japan. More importantly (to me), he wrote and received many letters. This was a time when people sent telegrams, when long-distance phone calls were expensive, and letters took days if not weeks to traverse the seven seas, pens were our keyboards, while boats, planes and people were our internet.

It was a time when getting a letter from the postman was sometimes a thrill.

I was very glad to see you letter beside my Mother’s Mirror and I cried my father “Received, Received”. My father was glad, too. My mother and brother were glad, too. I cried your letter’s news all over.my friends. I’m afraid you did not write to me soon. But I got your letter. I think happily.

The above was the opening of a letter from a high school student in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture name Katsuhiro Matsuo, overjoyed to get another letter from the young American rower.

Katsuhiro Matsuo
Katsuhiro Matsuo, high school student in Matsuyama, Ehime

Mittet travelled from Tokyo to Yokohama, then on to Kyoto. He passed through Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Beppu, Nagasaki, Niihama and Nara, before heading back to Yokohama and Tokyo. During his 2 months of travel in Japan, he wrote constantly and voluminously to family and friends in the US, as well as new acquaintances he met during the Olympics and his travels. The letters from the Japanese in particular reflect Japan’s excitement and curiosity about foreigners and their desire to welcome them to their country and their home.

In some cases, the Olympics may have given some Japanese the courage to break out of their normal shy shells and reach out to the world. Mittet was the closest to the outside world for these letter writers, and so they made what was likely an extraordinary effort to write letters in English.

Dear Theodore, I know how surprised you are to receive this letter from unknown friend in Japan. You visited Silk Center in Yokohama. Where I was working during Olympic season. You gave me your card. Oh, no. I required you to give it to me. Do you recollect me? If you could, I am glad. Ha Ha. It is difficult for you to recollect me because you met many people, did not you? – Junko Aoki, a student at Kanagawa University in Yokohama

Dear Theodore, You may be surprised to receive this letter from a complete stranger, but I met you at the Toda Rowing Course and talked with you for a few minutes. I gave you a little badge, do you remember me? I’m taking this liberty of writing to you with the sincere hope that you’ll accept me as your new Japanese friend. – Emiko Kobayashi, a high school student from Toda-machi, Saitama

The Tokyo Olympics were a rush of adrenaline for the Japanese, so many of them amazed and happy to be surrounded by so many foreigners from so many different countries. Mittet met a volunteer interpreter named Teruyo Wakui at Enoshima Station, not far from where she worked translating for the sailors competing in the nearby yachting events. Despite her fatigue, meeting Mittet proved to be another rush for this volunteer just after the end of the Tokyo Olympics.

When I happened to meet you at Enoshima station, I was rather tired after twenty days’ work. But I was so glad to meet you and to speak with you. In yachting game, there was no competition as you. Most of all the competitors of yachting were rather gentle and kind, and even the younger men were not as young as you. You are so young and full of dream and curiosity to many things of Japan.

After twenty days in yacht harbor, I suddenly remembered that youth is more wonderful than any other thing in this world. We can do anything without money, as we are young. And I think you have enough courage to do anything that you want, though you say you don’t have courage, but pleasure.

THAT was Japan in 1964.

Aska Cambridge Keeping Up with Usain Bolt in 4x100 Relay
Aska Cambridge Keeping Up with Usain Bolt in 4×100 Relay – click on image to see Olympic Channel’s “Games to Remember”

The Olympic Channel features a video that recalls images and moments from the 2016 Rio Olympics. Entitled “Games to Remember – Re-Experience Rio 2016: The Official Summary of the Rio2016 Olympic Games,” the video runs over 37 minutes long.

I started it, but was only going to watch it for a few minutes. I ended up watching the entire video, a collection of short clips of the events of each of the 16 days. And they are all stunning!

Slow mo, normal speed, tracking shots, overhead shots, long shots, all edited to highlight the aesthetics of epic poetry in motion, to accentuate the limits to which the athletes will stretch themselves, to remind us of the chills we experienced when viewing the very best in the world achieve the highest levels of physical achievement.

Go to this link. If you can, put it up on your big flatscreen TV. And revisit the joy of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Kohei Uchimura from Games to Remember
Kohei Uchimura – click on image to see Olympic Channel’s “Games to Remember”

Over 30,000 people crowded the streets of Shibuya near the famous zebra scramble to dance on August 5, 2017.

Of that huge crowd, in one of Tokyo’s most popular shopping and entertainment centers, 30 members of the Tokyo 2020 team dressed in yukata and happi coats performed a dance that was popular over 53 years ago. Reviving a hit song from that time, the organizers re-released an updated version of “Tokyo Gourin Ondo”(東京五輪音頭), which roughly translates to The Tokyo Olympic Dance Song.

bon odori
Tokyo 2020 Bon Odori in Shibuya

This song by Kouhei Fukuda, amidst the follow up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, helped created Olympic fever in Japan at that time.

It is mid August, in the heat of summer, when families often come together to visit and clean family gravesites. It is also an opportunity for neighborhoods to come together in a bon odori, which you can see in almost any neighborhood in Japan. And anyone can join in the dance.

Watch this video to see how the Tokyo Gourin dance is done.

Starck four piece medal Paris 2024 1

When Emil Zátopek, the Czech distance runner gave away one of his gold medals, he still had three other gold medals and a silver. Australian distance runner, Ron Clarke, a perennial gold-medalist-to-be, had to settle for a gold medal gifted to him, albeit from arguably the greatest distance runner ever.

Zátopek was not one for airs, and may have given all of his medals away if asked. But most Olympians would never part from their hard-won treasure.

And yet, when Olympians win medals at the Paris Olympics, they may have that opportunity.

The Paris Olympic Organizing Committee asked designer, Philippe Starck, to create the medals. Starck, who also designed the relay torch for the 1992 Albertville Winter Games, developed a medal that can be shared, literally. As you can see in the photos and the video, the medal is thicker than the traditional Olympic medal as three sections can be removed from it, each section a medal in its own right.

Starck four piece medal Paris 2024 2

Presumably, the Olympian can keep the entire medal as is, or give the sections away, presumably to family members, strong supporters, sponsors, or close friends. The New York Times recently noted that this could be the way that coaches are finally recognized for their contributions to a victorious Olympian’s achievements as they do not receive medals.

“Today, more than ever, the truth is that you’re not winning alone, so I wanted this medal to reflect that,” said Starck. “If the winner wants to share it, they can share it.”

So at the Paris Olympics, most likely in the summer of 2024, Olympians can share their triumph in a way that is truly unique.

Anton Geesink set the judo world on fire by defeating Koji Sone in the 1961 World Championships. The tall and imposing Dutchman was the first non-Japanese judoka to win in any weight-class in a world championship.

However, Geesink wasn’t satisfied with the way he won. He wrote in his book, My Championship Judo, that he used a “halfway trick” to put Sone to the ground before immobolising him for victory. He felt that despite being the world champion, he needed to continue to improve.

When Geesink visited Japan in 1963 at the invitation of Tenri University, which had some of the best judoka in the world, he learned that Ne-Waza, or ground technique, was the Judo of the future. “In fact, it was the finals of the open weight class competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when Geesink took advantage of a failed Tai-Otoshi attempt by his opponent, Akio Kaminaga. Geesink instead ended up pushing the Japanese to the mat, immediately maneuvering for a Ne-Waza technique Geesink no doubt sharpened at Tenri University.

My Championship Judo cover

 

Geesink wrote in his book that in his time (the 1960s), Ne-Waza, or ground technique, was considered minor by many Japanese judoka purists. “They are – in my opinion – too romantic with their insistence on deciding the contest by a spectacular throw.” But he learned in Japan that for training to be successful, 60% of the time needed to be spent on Ne-Waza, and the remaining 40% on Tachi-Waza.

Here is how Geesink explains a particular Ne-Waza technique – the Kesa-Gatame:

My opponent is recumbent on his back. I am at his right side, my right leg stretched forward, resting on the outside of the foot. My left leg is bent, so that I sit in what one might call a hurdling posture (think of hurdle-racing). My right arm passes around his head, so that I can hold his upper-arm with my right hand. With my left arm I lock in his right arm, which is gripped around my body. My armpit presses against his wrist and with my left hand I grip him precisely under his elbow. Consequently my opponent’s right arm forms a right angle; his elbow sticks out.

Kesa Gatame_My Championship Judo
Kesa Gatame, from the book, “My Championship Judo”

By concentrating my full weight on his trunk, resting only on the outside of my right foot and on the sole of my left foot, so that my buttocks have no contact with the ground, it has become impossible for him to move. If my opponent should succeed in resting the back of his head on the ground, he might be able to develop enough strength to free himself from my immobolising hold. To prevent this, I draw my right arm so tight that his head is moved forward, away from the ground. He has now become quite helpless, immobolised.

And when that actually happened in the finals of the open weight class at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when Geesink immobolised Kaminaga in this Kesa-Gatame hold, an entire country fell into collective shock.

Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 1_My Championship Judo
Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 1, from the book “My Championship Judo”

In the second half of the 1950s, Anton Geesink made a commitment to improving his judo technique by training in Japan for 3-month periods. One of the techniques he learned in Japan was Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi, which literally means blocking, propping, lifting and pulling. Geesink called it the Lifting Leg Block, and it became yet another weapon in the Dutchman’s arsenal.

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, that is the technique Geesink used to handily defeat Ted Boronovskis of Australia in the semi-finals of the open weight competition.

Here is how Geesink explained this technique in his 1966 judo manual, My Championship Judo.

From Shizen-Tai I firmly advance my right foot to my opponent’s left leg and place this foot against the inside of his left foot almost as if I am trying to lift his leg. My opponent’s natural reflex will then be to raise that leg. My first aim has been attained: he has shifted his full weight on to one leg (his right) and on that leg I am now going to concentrate my attack. (in the picture) you can see how I have moved in; my body strongly inclined to the right, my right foot on the inside of his left foot; he has instinctively lifted his left foot (Picture 1).

Pressing my body tightly against his, I now raise my left arm towards me, thus pulling him forward, and – as with any other throw – place the elbow of my right arm against his left side. At the same time I put my left sole against the outside of his right ankle, my leg being practically straight. Thus his full weight is shifted towards his toes and he is, therefore completely off balance. By pulling my body still a little further to the left and by continuing to prop his right foot with my stretched left leg, I can easily bring him to the ground (Picture 2).

By developing the techniques of Okuri-Ashi-Harai, Uchi Mata, and Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi, Geesink became a well-rounded judoka. This development in technique, combined with his strength, led to a thunderclap heard throughout the judo world in 1961. Geesink became the first non-Japanese in any weight class to win the world championships. He did so in the open weight class by defeating some of the strongest Japanese judoka: Akio Kaminaga, Hitoshi Koga, and Koji Sone. And yet Geesink felt he still needed to evolve. See part 4 for why and how he developed his Ne-Waza capability.

Sasae Tsuri Komi Ashi 2_My Championship Judo
Picture 2

National Stadium design_Kengo Kuma 2

Two curious notes about the new national stadium being built for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics:

The national stadium will be used only for soccer and rugby after the 2020 Games. The insight I may have gained from this Japan Times article is that multi-purpose stadiums – ones that might hold a wide variety of events like concerts and sports of different field configurations – can rack up costs due to field re-configurations that outweigh the variety of events that can be held at the stadium.

Having a steady stream of only soccer and rugby events is seen as a more financially beneficial strategy for the stadium.

And yet, for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the national stadium will be very multi-purpose. The intent was to hold track and field events as well as the soccer finals. But as this second Japan Times article indicates, the soccer finals, ironically, may be moved from the national stadium.

The finals is scheduled during the daytime of the final day of the 2020 Olympics. Fears of holding the soccer finals during the heat of day, the time consuming re-configuration required from field events to soccer, as well as a possible overlap with the end of another marquis event – the marathon may push the soccer finals to another stadium.

Fortunately for the organizers, they still have three years to figure this out.

Uchi Mata 1_My Championship Judo
Uchi Mata 1, from the book, “My Championship Judo”

In part one, we learned that Anton Geesink started his journey as a championship judoka by mastering leg work that resulted in swift victories. But in 1952, he realized that his opponents were preparing for Okuri-Ashi-Harai or De-Ashi-Harai legwork techniques. Opponents learned to keep their legs spread further apart so that Geesink would have greater difficulty planting his left foot over their right foot to start the process.

But when the legs are spread apart, the judoka is, according to Geesink, more vulnerable to a quick over-the-thigh throw, or the Uchi-Mata technique. In his 1966 book, My Championship Judo, Geesink explains the footwork required to throw his opponent, “wind-mill” like, to the mat.

From Shizen-Tai I again more in obliquely with my right foot, my right hand high on my opponent’s left lapel, my left hand on his right sleeve at elbow level. Turning backwards to the left I next draw my left foot to the right, in such a manner that the back of my body is against the front of my opponent. Meanwhile, I have with my left hand pulled him well towards me and against me, and slipped my right arm under his left arm-pit, as with Tsuri-Komi-Goshi (picture 1).

With a slight give in my knees, I now – from a supple, strong position – perform my Uchi-Mata. No sooner have I adjusted my left leg, than I swing my right leg forward and upward in order to make again – by speed and impetus – a sweeping “wind-mill” of it. In doing so, I stand somewhat springily on my left forefoot, my knee slightly bent. My opponent has now completely lost his balance because I have pulled him with me as I bend obliquely forward. My sweeping “wind-mill” straight back between his legs, and the movement of my trunk, which simultaneously bends forward – nose pointing to the ground – bring my opponent to the ground with an enormous sweep (picture 2).

Uchi Mata 2_My Championship Judo
Uchi Mata 2
Okuri Ashi Harai 1_My Championship Judo
Okuri Ashi Harai 1, from “My Championship Judo”. Geesink is the judoka in the background.

In 1964, when judo debuted at the Tokyo Olympics, it had already built up a strong international following. Still, the Japanese were the dominant competitors by far, and Japan was the mecca for judoka around the world.

The Judo community at the time was aware of the rise of Dutch judo giant, Anton Geesink, because of his surprise victory at the 1961 Judo World Championships in the open weight class, the only non-Japanese to ever win an international title at the time. But Geesink’s victory at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics let the entire world know that judo was very much an international sport.

After winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Geesink put his energies into coaching others in judo. He wrote a book in Dutch called “Mijn Judo,” in 1966, which was translated into English the same year. I recently got a hold of that book, My Championship Judo, and saw that Geesink’s development as a judoka was a series of building blocks of techniques he learned throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

“My Championship Judo” is predominantly a training manual, explaining and showing in detail the key judo techniques. But at the end of the book, Geesink talks about how his development went through different phases of focus: Ashi-Waza (leg work) to Uchi-Mata (over-the-thigh throw) to Sasae-Tsuri-Komi-Ashi (which Geesink called “Lifting Leg Block”), and Ne-Waza (ground work). This four-part series will share Geesink’s insight into each of those techniques.

When Geesink was a teenage judo sensation in the Netherlands, he loved his leg work. He said that he played a lot of football where legwork was important, where speed and mobility were vital to success. Thus Geesink believed, is why he developed his Okuri-Ashi-Harai technique, a throw under the category of Ashi-Waza (leg technique), so early in his career.

Okuri Ashi Harai 2_My Championship Judo
Okuri Ashi Harai 2, from the book,”My Championship Judo”

Here’s how he explains the Okuri-Ashi-Harai technique in his book, My Championship Judo:

To perform Okuri-Ashi-Harai I have put my left leg closely round my opponent’s right leg in order to get my foot against the outside of his ankle. As he has not drawn his legs together, he can turn his right foot so far that my foot gets only as far as his instep. Now Okuri-Ashi-Harai has become impossible and I again product a combination. I quickly take my foot off his instep, place it about 2 inches in front of his toes and keep tugging at him, so that his full weight is transferred to his right leg. (See picture 1.) I have acquired a splendid position for O-Soto-Gari. I raise my right foot high to the front (picture 2) and with a terrific sweep of that leg I shear my opponent backwards of his feet (picture 3)

Okuri Ashi Harai 3_My Championship Judo
Okuri Ashi Harai 3