Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 3

These are fascinating pictures of Emperor Hirohito and the Empress in the summer of 1964. Taken from the September 11, 1964 issue of Life Magazine, these black and white photos reveal the Emperor to be a somewhat ordinary man, grandfatherly, academic. In fact, the couple looks like they’re having fun looking for mollusks.

The magazine even quotes the Emperor describing the “umi ushi” they found. “This is an easygoing chap, not in the least alarmed at being caught.”

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Americans who saw this set of pictures in Life Magazine were probably surprised to see a totally different Emperor Hirohito. Perhaps their memory of him was a leader who sent suicide dive bombers to attack Pearl Harbor, or drove soldiers to kill themselves in the name of the Emperor rather than be captured by Allied forces. But to see the Emperor at all in the 1960s was due to efforts by the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP), the entity that governed Japan in the post-war years, as well as members of the Japanese government.

After World War II, in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat at the hands of overwhelming American military firepower, one would think there would be too much concern over what to eat, where to sleep, and how they will cope the next day for people to care about the Emperor, and whether the imperial family as an institution should be maintained.

And yet, support for continuing the imperial throne was strong, a survey in October, 1945 revealing “widespread enthusiasm or deep awe and veneration comparable to that of the war years,” according to John Dower in his seminal book, Embracing Defeat. While forceful calls for the dethronement of Emperor Hirohito and elimination of the imperial system in Japan were common in America and other allied nations, the head of SCAP, General Douglas MacArthur, agreed that it was important to keep the emperor in place.

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Dower quoted a memo from Brigadier General Bonner Fellers to MacArthur about the reasons why the Emperor should remain as a symbol of Japan, emphasizing the fact that the Emperor, by going on the radio and announcing Japan’s defeat and need to lay down arms, “hundreds of thousands of American casualties were avoided and the war terminated far ahead of schedule.” in the case of trying the Emperor for war crimes, Fellers argued that “the governmental structure would collapse and a general uprising would be inevitable.”

SCAP was therefore insistent that Hirohito remain as Emperor, and not be tried for war crimes. In place of a deity as the head of Japan, SCAP sought to “humanize” the Emperor. A big part of those efforts were sending the Emperor on tours across the nation to meet the people in 1946. SCAP made sure pictures were taken and film was shot to document the Emperor walking amidst his people, a scenario unthinkable during and before the war years.

Life Magazine_Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince
Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince

Akwasi Frimpong

He slept on the ground of his crowded home as a child, his grandmother working hard to get food on the table for nine grandchildren. Akwasi Frimpong grew up in a village called Kumasi in the Republic of Ghana, and while he aspired to a better life, he probably had no thought of becoming an Olympian in the speed sliding sport of skeleton.

Skeleton Olympic champions have emerged from only 8 countries in the world, including the US, Great Britain, Canada, Russia and Switzerland. Certainly, running full speed into an icy track of twists and turns, head first on a tiny sled, is not the first thing 99.99999% of the world’s population would try to do, let alone think, particularly in a country where the coldest it gets is about19 degrees Celsius.

And yet Frimpong defied the considerable odds, and has put himself in a position to become Ghana’s first ever Winter Olympian representing his country at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in the skeleton competition. To become an Olympian, he has to qualify at the skeleton world cup in mid-January of 2018 by getting into the Top 60 in the world. If he does, he’s going to South Korea.

Perhaps Frimpong’s first big break was leaving Ghana at the age of 8, and move to the Netherlands where his mother had emigrated to. In a more developed economy with more opportunities, Frimpong was shaped by his coach at his junior high school into a track star.

His second big break was having Sammy Monsels as his junior high school coach, a man who competed as a sprinter at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics. According to this article on, Monsels created a vision for Frimpong.

“It was Sammy who really instilled the dream of the Olympics in me. Within two months, I went to the Dutch Junior Indoor Championships and missed out on the 60m final by 0.01 seconds. That summer, I missed out on the 100m final, again by 0.01 seconds… I asked my coach what I needed to do to become a gold medalist. He spoke to me about self-discipline and it all started from there.

Frimpong went on to become the 200 meter Dutch junior champion. But because he was still an illegal alien, he could not benefit from any international competition. What if immigration would not let him back into the country? Competing overseas was too big a risk. And his illegal status stopped him from asking to enter any high school. Fortunately, there existed an institution that looked beyond Frimpong’s legal status – the Johan Cruyff Institute. Named after Holland’s (and the world’s) most famous soccer player, Johan Cruyff, this school is designed to develop the abilities of students, athletes as well as business professionals.

Frimpong’s third break was to have a neighbor who cared. The neighbor was a writer, and she wrote so persuasively, even explaining Frimpong’s illegal status, that the Johan Cruyff College took a chance on the Ghanaian. Frimpong enter the school and earned his school’s international student of the year award. The award was to be presented in Barcelona, Spain, but because Frimpong was too scared to leave the country, Johan Cruyff himself flew to Holland just to present the award to Frimpong.

Eventually, in 2008, at the age of 22, Frimpong became a Dutch citizen. He got an athletic scholarship to study in America at Utah Valley University, and dreamed of making the Netherlands track team for the 2012 London Games. But he was not able to qualify, hampered by an injury.

Entering the second half of his 20s, his dreams of running track in the Olympics was fading. But he got a visit from the Dutch bobsleigh team, and was asked to try out as their brakeman for a World Cup race in Utah. Frimpong showed enough promise that he progressed to make the Netherlands national bobsleigh team. Unfortunately, his results were just under the cut, and Frimpong missed out on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

At the age of 28, failing to make both a Summer Olympics and a Winter Olympics, Frimpong could have ended his pursuit of an Olympic Games. And that’s when he discovered skeleton. And for some reason, this sport clicked.

I set myself the goal of becoming the first African to win a medal in Winter Olympic history. I knew it would take me four to six years to become really good, so initially my target was the 2022 Games. But when I started racing in 2016, I surprised myself. A lot of coaches said that I was sliding like someone who had been doing the sport for several years.

And so Frimpong is at the door of his long journey to make the Olympics. If he does qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, he will be first black skeleton athlete in Olympic history.


Note on February 2, 2018: On January 15, 2018, he got his wish and is headed for the Olympics.

Geesink vs Kaminaga 2_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
From the book, “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”



3人の柔道家・中谷 雄英、岡野 功、猪熊 功が3日ほど前に3階級で金メダルを獲得していたにも関わらず、今回、無差別級日本代表・神永 昭夫が、果たしてオランダ代表アントン・ヘーシンクを倒せるのか否か、それは半信半疑といったところだった。







女子バレーボール監督大松 博文は、この挑戦を受け入れ、数年をかけて、選手達の体格故の弱点や強さスピードを如何に補うかに取り組み、そして難易度の高い技の習得や根性を選手たちにたたきこんだ。そして日本代表は、ソビエト連邦代表にストレートで勝利し、ようやく日本国中が安堵と歓喜に満ち溢れた。15-11,15-8,そして一進一退の攻防の末、15-13で最終セットを奪取した。

Japan's Women's Volleyball team victorious 1964_Bi to Chikara
Japan’s Women’s Volleyball team victorious from the book, Bi to Chikara





For English version of October 23, 1964: How Judo and Volleyball Transfixed and Transformed Japan within the Span of a Few Hours.

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A late night bit of ramen or oden at a yatai in Japan.

The kindness the Japanese had for visiting foreigners during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is legendary. I’ve written about how lost traveler’s checks were returned to a British journalist, how JTB saved the vacation of an Australian couple, and how Japan Self Defense Forces came to the rescue of the Netherlands’ Prince Bernhard, who lost his tobacco pouch.

All Japanese were united in ensuring that visiting foreigners left the country believing that Japan was the friendliest country in the world. Of course, in a society built on trust and assumptions that all people are intent on doing good, free riders and scam artists may sometimes think they are the one-eyed-king in the country of the blind. But if you’re going to cheat in such a society, you better be good.

An article in the October 3, 1964 edition of The Yomiuri tells the story of a scam artist wannabe who failed in his scam, but perhaps gained food for thought. Saburo Komuro walked up to a food stall outside in Kamata, and sat down for a hot bowl of “oden” on a cool October evening. He proceeded to mumble his way in explaining that he was in fact an Olympian on the Chinese Olympic judo squad.

Free Olympic Oden Leads to Arrest_The Yomiuri October 3 1964
The Yomiuri October 3 1964

Of course, the Japanese owner of the stall was very proud to be serving a visiting Olympian, and began to “lavish beer and oden on Komuro,” with complements. How could this food stall owner know that there were no judo competitors from Hong Kong or Taiwan, the only countries at the Tokyo Olympics related to China? Komuro was likely very pleased with himself, enjoying a lovely feast of boiled eggs, fishcakes, daikon in a warm broth, while bringing joy to this hard-working food stall owner.

But sometimes, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

A person who was actually Chinese sat down at the oden food stall. When told that he was sitting next to an Olympian from China, he immediately began talking in Chinese to Komuro, who of course couldn’t understand a word. It quickly dawned on the food stall owner that this was no Olympian sitting in front of him, only a fraud. A fight ensued, and in a weird twist, Komuro took off to the police box to explain how he had been wronged, only to be arrested.





Help! By John Lennon and Paul McCartney



1964年、ザ・ビートルズはアメリカを席巻する。彼らの前途は、そしてどこまでも続くその成功は、誰からの助けも必要としていなかった。彼らの記者会見からもわかる事がだが、彼らの宿泊先での悪ふざけ、エド・サリバンショーへの出演や、ワシントンDC・フロリダへの旅といったリバプールから来たこの4人の若者は、アメリカ人が一緒に街へ繰り出したいと願う友の様な存在であった。ロン・ハワード監督の映画、「The Eight days a Week」に映るのは、ジョン、ジョージ、ポール、そしてリンゴの4人が、共に過ごす時間を心から楽しんでいる姿である。

The Beatles Landing at Haneda Airport







 1964年、ブルガリアの走り幅跳び選手として東京オリンピックに参加していたダイアナ・ヨーゴバは、私に宛てた手紙の中でこう話している。きつい練習の合間に取る休憩時、彼女は女子寮の中にあったミュージックホールへ行き、好きな音楽を聴いた。彼女のお気に入りの一つが「With the Beatles」というアルバムで、これは1963年11月に発売されたものであった。傍らで行われている生け花レッスンを横目で見ながら、そこから漂う花の香りを楽しみつつ、彼女はお気に入りの曲を聴いた。All My Loving, Please Mister Postman, Hold me Tight, I Wanna Be Your Man.








Security at the Budokan



For English Version of The Beatles Eight Days a Week: The Fab Four and the Olympics in 1964, Transitioning from Joy and Purity to Cynicism and Insecurity

Life Magazine_30October1964_3

I recently bought a copy of Life Magazine’s October 30, 1964 edition, featuring a young Don Schollander staring off into the distance, his four gleaming gold medals draped around his neck. (Read about that here.) But equally interesting to me were the ads in the magazine, a time capsule containing artifacts of a consumer goods era long gone.

Polaroid: Polaroid saw the future was in instant images. Why wait days to get your print photos when Polaroid could do it in 60 seconds? Polaroid is still around, albeit more as a novelty. Although you can’t tell in this ad, this Polaroid Color Pack Camera expanded like an accordion, and appears very popular amidst the biggest names in rock and roll according to this site. Polaroid’s brand and IP is now owned by “The Impossible Project,” an organization dedicated to keeping Polaroid’s instant film legacy and business alive, a decade after Polaroid gave up on instant film cameras.

Life Magazine_30October1964_1

Encyclopaedia Britannica: Did you own a set of that massive collection of Western-centric knowledge? My family did. I remember chucking it into a dumpster as we cleared out the detritus of 20th century knowledge management, replaced ruthlessly by the Internet. The last paper version of this massive set of tomes – all 32,640 pages – was published in 2010.

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Yellow Pages: This was a directory of telephone numbers and addresses amassed by AT&T, a tome published every year to help find the contact information of a business in your area. This tome too is now a relic of the past – see Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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Admiral: In the early 1960s, Admiral was one of the leading names in electronics, famous for their televisions, radios and record players among a vast lineup of products. In their heyday, Admiral helped lead the transition from vacuum tube technology to transistors. Today, Admiral is still around as a television brand marketed by a company based in Taiwan. More interestingly, vacuum tube amplifiers today are all the rage.

Life Magazine_30October1964_6

Winston: I had thought that you couldn’t advertise cigarettes or tobacco products in American magazines, so I thought I’d highlight this antiquated ad for Winston Filter Cigarettes, with its iconic slogan, “Winston tastes good…like a cigarette should!” That ad made Winston the best-selling cigarette in the world in 1966, two years after this ad. While advertising tobacco products on the television and radio was banned in America in 1971, apparently, companies can still advertise tobacco products in magazines and newspapers. However, tobacco companies can get significant blow back if they try.


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On a Penn Club Japan tour of Meiji Jingu.


Olympians in 1964 remember Meiji Jingu as their neighborhood forest. The shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji was a wooded area next to their Olympic Village in Tokyo, where athletes like Peter Snell would maintain their condition with a run.

I was fortunate to enjoy a walking tour of Meiji Jingu (aka Meiji Shrine) through my university alumni group on a beautiful autumn Saturday morning recently. We were led on the tour by a Shinto priest at Meiji Jingu, Taisuke Kadosaki, who provided a wonderful description of the shrine’s history and customs as we ambulated through what is often called the lungs of Tokyo.

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Here are a few of the fun facts gained on the tour:

  • Omotesando: a street akin to the Champs-Élysées in Paris or 5th Avenue in New York, Omotesando leads up to Meiji Jingu, and literally means “the entrance of the path to the shrine.”
  • 80,000 Shinto Shrines in Japan: Most shrines in Japan are over a thousand years old. Meiji Jingu is yet to turn 100.
  • Kami: Shinto shrines are places to pay respects to “kami,” translated as a mixture of such words as spirit, angel, or deity of nature, things or people. There are kami for the wind, for rice, for rivers and for emperors. For example, famed anime character Totoro is a tree kami. The kami at the heart of Meiji Jingu is Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912.
  • Not Quite Nature’s Handiwork: In 1916, work was begun for a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji after his death. Over 100,000 trees from all over Japan were transplanted in a desolate part of Tokyo called Yoyogi. In other words, the woods inside Meiji Jingu – a symbol of Japan’s love for nature – is completely man made.

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    Pointing to Amaterasu, the Sun kami.
  • Sake and Rice: On the shady peaceful dirt path through the woods on the way to the shrine halls, you see barrels of sake on your right and casks of wine on your left. Sake is made from rice, a staple of Japan, and was granted from the sun kami, Amaterasu at the beginning of time. Rice and rice wine are two key offerings to “kami”. The casks of wine represent the modern era Emperor Meiji helped usher into Japan.
  • Red Wine: In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Emperor Meiji opened up Japan to the West with treaties, Western clothes, and wine. In fact, when his doctor informed the Emperor that he had diabetes and should diminish his sake intake, the good doctor recommended red wine in its place. Once the wineries of Burgundy in France heard about that, they sent bottles of their best red wine to Emperor Meiji every December.
  • A Most Popular Place After New Year’s Day: In 1920, Meiji Jingu welcomed 500,000 people when it opened. Every year, 10 million people visit Meiji Jingu, the first 3 million in the first three days of the year coming to make wishes for the new year.

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  • 100th Birthday: In 2020, Meiji Jingu will have its 100th birthday. It is currently going through a renovation, the most apparent part is the re-plating of the copper rooves of the shrine’s halls. What most people will remember are light green rooves, the product of copper oxidating over decades. The very day of our tour, the roof of the main hall was uncovered, displaying a bright and shiny copper finish.
  • Put Your Name on Meiji Jingu for 3,000 Yen: If you want to help finance the renovation of Meiji Shrine, you can donate JPY3,000 for a copper plate that will adorn the roof of one of the halls of the shrine. On one side of the plate, you can write your wish for the future and your name.
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My tiny bit of Meiji Jingu.

One of the wonderful insights shared by Kadosaki-san on the tour was about the Japanese, and whether they are religious or not.

“Many Japanese will say, ‘I’m not religious’. But in reality,” Kadosaki-san told us, “our daily lives are very close to Shinto.” He then cited several examples:

  • Children dressed up for Shichi-Go-San and new-born babies are brought to shrines to celebrate their growth and health
  • Cars are brought to shrines to be blessed.
  • Weddings are held at shrines. In fact, eighteen wedding ceremonies were scheduled the day of my tour.

Kadosaki-san also explained that from the moment the sun rises, people are sweeping the shrine grounds, cleaning floors, and wiping rails and handles. Washing the hands and rinsing the mouth inside the shrine grounds is also a custom. If you assume Japan is a culture of cleanliness, it’s possible this culture emerged from the practices and beliefs of the shrine.

If you’re in Japan, or planning a trip, you may want to visit peaceful and rejuvenating Meiji Shrine, or one of the other 80,000 shrines in Japan.

For a more detailed explanation of Kadosaki-san’s description of Shintoism and Meiji Jingu, click here.