I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many Olympians from the 1964 Summer Olympics, over the phone, but yesterday I met in person with my very first oversees interviewee, Mr Makoto Sakamoto. Mako-san was visiting Tokyo, and it was a tremendous honor to meet the highest scoring performer on the US Men’s Gymnastics team in 1964.
Born in bombed-out Tokyo Japan, Mako-san left for the United States with his family when he was 7. At the age of 16, he got his US citizenship. At the age of 17, he was recognized as the country’s best gymnast, and represented America in the country of his birth, competing with the very best in the world, finishing 20th overall in the individual competition.
The world of men’s gymnastics at that time was dominated by countries like Japan, USSR,
Yugoslavia and Italy. The US was competitive, but not considered a threat.
But in 1984, a team whose head coach was Melbourne and Rome Olympian, Abie Grossfeld,
Keum Dan Shin, the North Korean star of the women’s 400 and 800 meter events had only precious minutes before the North Korean team got on a train to Niigata, to a boat to North Korea. Her father, Mun Jun Shin, who was separated from her daughter during the Korean War, was hoping to take advantage of the Olympics to see her daughter compete over the two weeks of competitions. Unfortunately, after 14 years of separation, they were only allowed to share several minutes together. “My daughter gave me ginseng as a gift, but the best gift for me was the warm, warm tears she shed when she recognized me,” according to a report in the October 15 1964 Japan Times.
Keum Dan Shin, the unofficial world record holder in the women’s 800 meters, and her father were caught in the middle of a geo-political conflict. On October 4, 1964, the North Korean team arrived in Tokyo to participate in the XVIII Olympiad. On October 8, they made an about face and returned to North Korea, only two days prior to the start of the Summer Games. The International Olympic Committee had already disqualified
So thought French track star, Michel Jazy. In 1964, when all one might hear and read about is whether the US or USSR would dominate in the medals race, Jazy dreamed of a new power, one formed of the united states of Europe, a vision hatched from the ruins of World War II, when leaders looked for ways to avoid all together the devastation of extreme nationalism.
Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany signed The Treaty
of Rome which established the European Economic Community in 1957. Jazy extended that thinking, and imagined a time when Europe would be the dominant player in the grandest of the global sporting competitions.
Sports Illustrated described this point in their October 5, 1964 issue.
Michel Jazy, the French distance runner, could see medals practically pouring from heaven as he explained his enthusiastic endorsement of a proposal that a European juggernaut be formed from countries in the Common Market, ostensibly to challenge Russia and the U.S. for team points—points that are unofficial and contrary to the best Olympic intentions. “A European team,” said Jazy, “would be world-beaters!”
Luke Jackson was a center and instrumental member of the US Men’s basketball team in Tokyo. In this picture from Beaumont Enterprise, Jackson shows what the best in the world play for.
“I had one thing in mind – to win the gold medal representing my country,” Jackson told me in an interview. ” When they call your name and the anthem is playing, you are just so touched when you receive the medal for your country. I cried like a baby. I love my medal. It’s beautiful.”
Luke Jackson went on to a career in the NBA right after the Tokyo Olympics,
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?)
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.
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.
1. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” The Beatles
2. “She Loves You” The Beatles
3. “Hello, Dolly!” Louis Armstrong
4. “Oh, Pretty Woman” Roy Orbison
5. “I Get Around” The Beach Boys
6. “Everybody Loves Somebody” Dean Martin
7. “My Guy” Mary Wells
8. “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” Gale Garnett
9. “Last Kiss” J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers
10. “Where Did Our Love Go” The Supremes
No surprises. But according to swimmer Dick Roth, gold medal winner of the Men’s 400 meter individual medley race in Tokyo, the song he remembers from that time is Lonnie Donegan’s “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose it’s Flavour?”
The journalism of the 1960s had a bit to be desired at times. UPI used the indelicate way of asking why so many smaller, less developed nations were participating in the Tokyo Olympic Games. It wasn’t a quote – it was UPI editorializing quite matter of factly – “why do the losers bother to come”? Burma, Malaysia, Pakistan, Mali, Senegal, Mali – in fact 20 new nations were participating in the Olympics for the first time in 1964. The answer given in the article by the chef de mission of Burma – “We’re here to learn”. Good answer.
Hosting the 1964 Olympic Games was hugely significant for Japan as it returned to the global stage as a peaceful, economically confident nation. It was also a massive undertaking, with some estimates suggesting Tokyo spent the equivalent of its national budget on a major building program that transformed the city’s infrastructure–a far cry from plans for a slimmed-down 2020 summer games. – Wall Street Journal