It was February, 2005. The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation commission was in New York City, checked in at the prestigious Plaza Hotel, overlooking a picturesque Central Park draped in snow. The once-in-a-lifetime Christo and Jean-Claude exhibition known simply as The Gates – massive saffron-colored banners dotting the walkways of the park.
To this IOC commission, the one that would decide whether New York City, Paris, London, Madrid or Moscow would win the right to host the 2012 Olympics, the messaging was consistent. There’s no place like New York City. And there’s no better place to host the Summer Olympics than the Big Apple.
Picture this, they likely said to the commission members:
See the iconic Batman symbol of Gotham City, see the Olympic Rings shining in the New York night.
Imagine athletes of the world floating down the Hudson River in an armada, their procession leading them to the Olympic Stadium on the newly revitalized West Side.
Know that the world’s best athletes would compete in iconic, world-renown venues: basketball at Madison Square Garden, baseball at Yankees Stadium, tennis at Arthur Ashe Stadium (where the US Open is held), soccer at Giants Stadium, the triathlon in Central Park!
How about a closing ceremonies that includes a massive ticker tape parade down Broadway and the Canyon of Heroes.
And don’t forget that New York City is a microcosm of the world. The Statue of Liberty has welcomed the world for over a century. As the NYC2012 slogans stated, “Every Country Gets Home Field Advantage” and “Every Flag Will Wave”.
At this time, I had just moved from Bangkok, Thailand to Tokyo, Japan. My mind was filled with the tsunami that had just hit Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, and my relocation to Japan. I had no idea what was going on in my hometown of New York City. But if I had been aware, I’m sure I would have been on the bandwagon.
I could see that vision. I can still see that vision. It is worthy of New York City.
Robbie Brightwell was a 16-year old student in Shropshire, England, and was straining to keep his eyes open while doing research in his local library when he came upon an old magazine and was struck by a picture of runners in a competition sometime in the late 19th century. As he related in his autobiography, Robbie Brightwell and His Golden Girl, he was surprised to see that in an area called Much Wenlock, not far from his own, there was a sporting event called “The Olympics”.
Intrigued, Brightwell, who went on to captain Britain’s track and field team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, began impromptu research into the Much Wenlock Games, and learned that Baron de Coubertin, at the age of 27, came to Much Wenlock and met an 81-year-old English physician, who planted the idea for what we now recognize as the Modern Olympics.
But as is true with any great endeavor, new ideas and initiatives are often built on earlier iterations. According to The Games: A Global History of the Olympics by David Goldblatt, events held in both England and France could be considered precursors to Coubertin’s Olympics.
The Cotswold Games: In the early part of the 17th century, fairs and festivals were a common part of the English country lifestyle. One of the biggest in England was the Cotswold Games in Chipping Camden, a mixture of fun and sports, contests and gambling. As can be seen in the poster for the Cotswold Games, also known as the “Cotswold Olimpicks”, there was a mock castle created on a hill, in front of which was the main theater for the events. Developed by Robert Dover, a “charismatic and charming man”, the Cotswold Games featured “hare coursing and horse racing, wrestling and shin kicking, stick fighting and hammer throwing.” Dover established this country fair in 1612 and was able to organize the Cotswold Games for about 30 years. Unfortunately for Dover, and perhaps the community of Chipping Camden, the 1630s saw a shift from the hedonistic reign of King James I to a more conservative, puritanical approach of Oliver Cromwell, who overthrew the King in 1645. That put an end to the Cotswold Games.
The Republican Olympiad:When the French monarchy was overthrown in the French Revolution of 1789, leaders of the new republic were excited about change to come. One of the leaders of the revolution, Charles Gilbert Romme, devised a way to update the calendar for a new, enlightened France. With five days added to the year, with the inclusion of another day added to a Leap Year, which would take place every four years. According to Goldblatt, “Romme thought that the lead day might be a good occasion for staging public festivities and games: ‘we suggest calling it the French Olympiad and the final year the Olympics Year.” In 1796, the first Republican Olympiad was held in Paris, where hundreds of thousands came out for games, music, dancing, running and wrestling. Winners of competitions won wreaths of laurels, pistols, sabres, vases and watches. The Republican Olympiad continued for two more cycles, but died out before the start of the 19th century.
Pablo Fanque’s Travelling Circus Royal: As Goldblatt noted, the Olympics were often more often associated with circuses in the 18th and 19th centuries in England. One of the most popular traveling circuses was called Pablo Fanque’s travelling Circus Royal, which offered an “unrivalled equestrian troupe” and ” new and novel features in the Olympian Games.” Pablo Fanque was said to be the most popular circus proprietor in a golden age of circuses in Victorian England, and was quite accomplished not only as an equestrian, but also as a master of the corde volante. But as you may be able to tell, Fanque’s association to the Olympics is peripheral at best. His association to The Beatles may be stronger. The album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” featured a song called “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite“, the lyrics of which are primarily lifted from an 1843 poster marketing Fanque’s Circus Royal.
The Much Wenlock Olympian Games: Dr Penny Brookes of Shropshire, England, agreed with the thinking of the time, that it was important to promote “the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town…by the encouragement of outdoor recreations and by the award of prizes annually at public meetings for skill in athletic exercises and industrial attainments.” The first Much Wenlock Olympic Games were held in 1850. While these Olympic Games were a rural fair, they also had a firm sporting focus. In addition to fun events like wheelbarrow and sack races, both amateurs and professionals competed in cricket, football, archery, hurdling, running, shooting, cycling and a pentathlon. Large cash prizes were awarded.
When Baron de Coubertin, was told about the Much Wenlock Olympic Games, he made it a point to visit and meet Dr Brookes, a seminal act in the origin story of the modern Olympic Games.
The Silicon Valley home-sharing accommodation business has faced first-mover angst. While customers seeking cheaper, more varied accommodations are using Airbnb more and more, the hotel industry in particular is pushing back, lobbying local governments to put a stop to these unregulated competitors.
Even in San Francisco, its home base, Airbnb faces pressure from the government to prove that the Airbnb hosts are indeed residences of the rooms they rent out, not companies that own various condos or houses and rent out rooms like hotels.
But Airbnb, while it has faced push back from authorities, have just been given a very bright green light in Japan. On Friday, March 10, the cabinet of Prime Minister of Shinzo Abe “approved rules…limiting home-sharing by private citizens to 180 days a year,” according to The Japan Times. Prior to this, hosting a room in your home to rent was essentially illegal in Japan.
The impact will be significant. According to this report, hotel vacancies in Tokyo are currently limited, as occupancy rates in recent years have consistently been over 80%, which has allowed the average daily rate (ADR) to climb significantly. With foreign tourist numbers expected to climb, and with the inevitable spikes in demand for hotel rooms for the World Rugby Cup scheduled for Tokyo in 2019 and the Olympics scheduled for Tokyo in 2020, there is continued fear of angry visitors from outside Tokyo and Japan screaming for hotel rooms, certainly with hopes of less expensive options.
But also significantly, this is an opportunity to expand the number of accommodations available to travelers in the more remote parts of Japan where corporations are reluctant to invest, as well as put tourist money into the pockets of rural folks whose towns have been hollowed out by loss of youth, and a lack of energy to continue with the labor intensive agricultural business.
People owning homes in areas under served by hotels (pick almost any countryside area in Japan) will now be able to step into the breech and offer accommodation with little/no development cost. This will significantly increase the flow of tourists out to more remote areas, which of course will be a shot in the arm for local economies.
180 days a year means that the average household out in the countryside could make up to JPY900,000 or so a year (JPY5,000 average per night) that would have been impossible otherwise – and with very little outlay – thus offering a low barrier to entry per household.
There will be a regional property boom, at least in those areas which have visually attractive tourist assets, and this will encourage other regions who haven’t preserved their traditions to do more conservation work to pull visitors.
There will be a rebuilding boom, as relatives of hospitalized elderly and the recently deceased start to realize that instead of allowing a home to decay into a rotting ruin, it can be restored and rented out to local and foreign tourists.
There will be a surge in demand for rental cars, as the proximity of accommodation to the train station no longer determines where you want to travel.
There will be a surge in demand for services to maintain rooms and to look after foreign guests.
When I saw the CEO of Airbnb give a talk last year, I remember him waxing poetic about the possibilities for the graying countryside of Japan, where curious foreigners meet elderly entrepreneurs who gain a financial reward, and perhaps a personal reward in opening their homes up to the world.
Konjiki Tsukasa was on October 10. So he thought it would be great to get married on October 10. And since the Olympics were in town, why not get married at the National Stadium on October 10, 1964, the opening day of the Tokyo Olympics.
His fiance, Masa Akimoto, agreed.
But first they had to get tickets. According to an article in The Yomiuri on October 11, 1964, the couple had 70 friends apply for opening day tickets, perhaps the hottest tickets ever to go on sale in Japan at the time. The system at the time was to apply and get your names thrown in a lottery. Fortunately, two of their friends landed them a ticket each.
But now, in addition to a ticket for the priest, they needed two witnesses. Instead of trying to find two more tickets, Konjiki called the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) many times to try to convince them to find two people who already had tickets to the Opening Ceremonies to be their wedding witnesses. According to an October 5 Yomiuri article, JTB personnel did not initially take the requests seriously, suspecting a possible scam. But Konjiki persisted, and finally convinced JTB to find two people who happened to be seated near Konjiki and Akimoto. JTB then provided an extra ticket for the priest.
Wearing red blazers with the Olympic emblem, likely similar to what the members of the Japanese Olympic team wore, the party of five entered the stadium at 10 am, about 5 hours prior to the start of the Games, and got hitched. They then proceeded to wait patiently, got to their seats for the Opening Ceremonies, and had one of the memorable wedding days a Japanese couple could possibly have.
That was one way to get in to see the Opening Ceremonies. The Yomiuri explained on October 11 another way…which did not end well. I’ll just let you read the report about these two students:
Two youths without tickets so eager to see the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games that they hid themselves in National Stadium before the event, were arrested before the start of ceremonies by patrolling policemen.
A 19-year-old boy from Tsuabame, Niigata-ken, whose name was withheld, entered the stadium Thursday (two days before) wearing a fake press armband, after showing a business card of a Niigata Nippo newspaper reporter.
A second youth, Shuro Iino, 21, freshman a Waseda University, was discovered hiding in a toilet at 11:15 pm Friday, after climbing over a fence.
It was the morning of October 8, two days before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Top Swiss cyclists Hans Lüthi and Heinz Heinemann were on the Koshu Highway in western Tokyo getting some training in when a truck, entering from a side road, hit them.
Lüthi had contusions on his left arm and his chest, waist and thighs, while Heinemann, a veteran of the 1960 Rome Olympics, had contusions on his waist, legs and hands. Doctors at the Jinwakai Hospital in Hachioji, according to The Yomiuri of October 9, 1964, were quoted as saying “Heinemann’s injuries would require one week’s medical treatment and Luthi’s three weeks’ treatment.” The article also said that they “might be unable to participate in the Olympic events.”
As it turned out, the men’s individual road race took place on October 22, two weeks after the accident, and both Lüthi and Heinemann were able to compete. While the records of who was in what place and when they finished in this 194-kilomter race is unclear for this particular event, according to this site, Lüthi appears to have finished in 16th in a field of 107, not far off from legend-to-be Eddy Merckx . Heinemann finished 63rd.
If one believes what one reads in the press at the time, every single Japanese in Tokyo took it upon themselves to be the perfect ambassador to any foreigner they came upon. Thus the truck driver, one Katsu Wada, might have been mortified that he was the one who may have ended the Olympic dreams of these cyclists.
As you can see in the above photo, Wada publicly showed his contrition.
But as The Yomiuri article goes on to say, it may have been the Swiss who were in the wrong. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, “the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee (TOOC) had approved an advance schedule for practice by Olympic cyclists to enable police to impose restrictions to protect cyclists from vehicles. According to the schedule, Olympic cyclists were to practice on the road race course on eight days, October 2, 4, 5, 6, 12, 14, 19 and 22 under police protection, said the MPD.”
When you think about the number of events in an Olympic Games, and the varied types and sizes of venues required for a mega-sports event like the Olympics, one wonders why we would saddle an emerging economy with such a beast of a logistics and budget burden. Sochi, Rio and Athens are recent examples of this challenge.
While Japan was an emerging economy in 1964, its economy was booming and could absorb the massive change and cost with ease. And when we look at the Paris and Los Angeles bids for 2024, one gets the sense that they are at an advantage due to their already massive and modern infrastructure along with its varied and numerous sports facilities packed into their metropolitan areas.
Tokyo has that advantage as well and was able to propose in its bid that 90 percent of the sports venues would be within 8 kilometers of the Olympic Village. Tokyo2020 has framed the physical footprint in an infinity loop which encloses two areas: the Heritage Zone and the Tokyo Bay Zone. The Heritage Zone represents facilities that are in and around the area of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Shinjuku – Yoyogi area. That would include the location of the National Stadium, both then and in 2020. The Tokyo Bay Zone is primarily reclaimed land about 3.2 km southeast of central Tokyo. This will include the site of the Olympic Village in Harumi.
On February 10, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee hosted visitors from the National Olympic Committees from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand. For three days they got a guided tour of 26 of the approximately 40 venues planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And the reviews, apparently, are good.
Here are a few comments from Luke Pelligrini, the acting general manager of games support and operations for the Australian Olympic Committee:
Across all the NOCs in the bus yesterday, everyone was saying this is going to be a good games. Everyone is confident that it’s on track, ahead of the game at the moment and will continue to be.
(Some of the venues) looked like they could run sporting events next week. The taekwondo and fencing venue (Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture) literally looked like it could stage sporting events next week if it needed to. The 1964 stadiums for table tennis, the water polo, they look ready to go now. In that respect, we are thrilled. We don’t see anything, 3½ years out, that is a concern to us. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the experience
The most impressive thing is how central 70 percent of the venues are. We were amazed at the location of the Olympic village literally being downtown. That is a fantastic opportunity for our athletes to experience the games and also Tokyo. It is a very central location to get to the venues for all our athletes.
Here is a great video explaining the venue locations planned for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
It was the middle of winter, and yet on January 1, 1964, Tokyo was hot! In fact, the way the foreign press described it, Japan was running a temperature!
“Japan Feverishly Prepares for the 1964 Olympic Games” – AP, January 1, 1964
“World’s Biggest City Suffering Olympic Fever” – UPI, January 2, 1964
Here’s how the major American news services – AP and UPI – explained the state of Tokyo only 10 months before the opening of the XVIII Olympiad:
A strange fever previously unknown in the Orient is gripping Japan. Symptoms include intense worry and a driving compulsion to build things. It’s called Olympic fever. Japan is lunging helter skelter toward that magic day when the 1964 Olympic games open in Tokyo. (AP)
The entire city is afflicted with “Olympic hysteria”, from the prime minister whose political future hinges on the games to the man in the street who curses the inconveniences he has to put up with for the Olympics: the high prices he has to pay, the scaffoldings he had to duck, the torn-up streets around which he has to detour. (UPI)
Again, this was 1964, less than a generation removed from the devastating effects of the Pacific War. Indeed, Tokyo was still emerging (and groaning) from the physical and emotional remains of war rubble, at least as the AP described it:
Tokyo essentially is a city just 18 years old, built on piles of ashes and rubble left by American bombers during World War II. Tokyo has grown haphazardly since 1945, with small, almost ramshackle, houses springing up in disorderly profusion along twisting, narrow streets. Trains are overcrowded. Prices are high. The city chronically has been short of housing, water – just about everything today’s tourists wants and expects. The population has grown so much (to more than 10 millions) that the city fathers have pleaded with the youth of Japan to stay on their farms in the villages and not come to the big city. But on they come, crowding in where there is no room.
While it might be hard to imagine today in Tokyo, where large-scale construction is on the whole, relatively and remarkably quiet and unobtrusive, it was for Tokyo denizens in the early 1960s, the bane of their existence. And safety was at times taken for granted, according to AP:
Tokyo, the largest, noisiest, most crowded city in the world, is getting a needed facelifting. The roar of new buildings and bridges going up – and occasionally falling down – fills the night and day. Bamboo scaffolding is everywhere and thousands of workmen clamber up and down, painting and plastering, putting finishing touches on new hotels, restaurants and night clubs.
At least two major Olympic construction projects have collapsed – an elevated expressway and the steel frame roof for a swimming pool. One person was killed and 25 were injured…. In an editorial titled, “no Fun and Games,” Yomiuri declared inexperienced workmen are being used on many Olympic projects and elementary safety precautions are being ignored.
We are three years away from January, 2020. Will history repeat itself? Will Tokyo be an overcrowded, noisy, chaotic city creaking its way to the Opening Ceremonies on July 24, 2020? I doubt it. Will Tokyo again be gripped in Olympic fever? Most definitely yes.