I love etymology – the origins of words. Some people say that the classic American phrase – hunky dory – originated in Japan, although there are multiple explanations for this expression.
The etymology of the athletic discipline, the steeplechase, apparently has a clearer history – a traditional race in Ireland where horses or runners raced from church to church, jumping over narrow streams and low stone walls.
In 1964, the Belgian, Gaston Roelants, was the best steeplechaser in the world. The European Champion, Roelants came to Tokyo as the favorite, and he didn’t disappoint. He won the finals of the 3,000-meter race over hurdles and puddles in 8 minutes and 30.8 seconds, an Olympic record at the time.
There is relatively little video on the 1964 summer games on the internet, but thankfully you find nuggets, like this amateur film of Roelants running in the Tokyo Olympics. Roelants is at the head of the pack.
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
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.
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.
This was my father’s identity card for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Through his work for NBC News, and NBC’s sustained relationship to the Olympic Games, I was a fan of the greatest sports competition in the world. I was only one years-old at the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games, and of course remember nothing of it. But come 2020, when the Summer Games return to Tokyo, I will be there.