British Guiana_Opening Ceremonies_Martin Dias
British Guiana marching in the Opening Ceremonies. Is Martin Dias the second man (holding the flag) or the third one? My guess is that the 2nd one is the weightlifter, and the third is a member of the NOC. (From the book Tokyo Olympiad 1964 – Kyodo News Agency)

The first medals won at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were in weightlifting, held in the first few days of the Games. On October 11, Aleksey Vakhonin of the Soviet Union won the bantamweight (56kg) title, lifting his left leg stork-like in his final lift, putting an exclamation mark in a thrilling finish.

But it was the eight-place finisher who may have lifted, figuratively, way above his weight. Martin Dias was the sole representative of his country, British Guiana, at that time, still a colony of Great Britain. As journalist, Roy Moor of the Daily Mail wrote in an article entitled “The One-Man Team,” Dias had to overcome significant obstacles in his home country and in Tokyo to get to eighth place.

In the early 1960s, British Guiana (today known as Guyana) was in the throes of socio-economic chaos – race riots, worker strikes – that created challenges for all citizens, as Moore explained, let alone those who were entertaining trifling thoughts of joining the Olympics.

They were anxious days in British Guiana in the months before the opening of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Internal political differences had led to wide-spread sniping in the country, and athletes training to win places in their national Olympic team risked coming under fire if they ventured out on fitness runs. These were not ideal conditions for building world­ beaters for Tokyo-nor, for that matter, for raising funds to send athletes half-way across the world in search of Olympic glory. But the brave little British Guiana Olympic Commit­tee were determined not to let the internal upset stop their country from being represented in the Games. With the aid of a few sports socials, jumble sales and collecting boxes, they managed to raise sufficient money to send one competitor to Tokyo.

Dias was that one man. Known as the Mighty Midget, bantamweight weightlifter Dias won bronze at the 1962 Commonwealth Games, gold at the Central American and Pan American Games in 1963, and so was an easy choice amidst the number of world-class sportsmen able to train, let alone compete, during those challenging times in British Guiana.

According to this site, Dias was not arriving in Tokyo under ideal conditions. While most athletes would arrive at least a week in advance, giving themselves a chance to overcome jetlag, get accustomed to their surroundings and train in prep, Dias arrived on the day of the opening ceremonies after a series of flights that took him from NY, to San Francisco, to Honolulu and Tokyo, marched in the parade of athletes, and then had to get ready for his competition the next day.

The battle of the bantamweight weightlifting competition was really between Vakhonin, Imre Foldi of Hungary, and Shiro Ichinoseki of Japan, but Dias held his own, but not without drama. As Moor explained, Dias weighed in a half-pound overweight, so just before going into competition, he had to sit in a sauna to work off that weight. Drained somewhat from the rush to lose weight, generally uncomfortable in the cold of Tokyo compared to the heat of British Guiana, Dias still represented his nation well. Of 24 competitors, Dias ended up in 8th place. And Moor wrote that he could have finished as high as sixth, if not for some in-competition controversy, and a severe lack of funds.

Had it not been for an unfortunate experience at the start of the press series, Dias might well have finished in the top six. Judges refused his first press of 221 lbs. and coach Ronald Blackman wanted to protest, but had not the thousand Yen (£ 1 sterling) needed to make an official protest, and he could not find an interpreter in time to help him get the money. This so upset Dias that he was not at his best for the next attempt, and failed. But he succeeded with the lift at the third attempt – only to have it turned down again by the judges. This time coach Blackman had the money ready for an immediate protest. And the protest was upheld. The success of the appeal so heartened Dias that he went on the equal his personal best for the snatch with 225 lbs. and exceed his best jerk with 292 lbs.

It would take two more years before British Guiana would gain its independence, another 16 years before Guyana would celebrate its first and only Olympic medal – a bronze medal for Michael Anthony in boxing. But in 1964, according to Moor, Dias “had won the hearts of many sports lovers in Japan, and proved to the world how worth-while it is to send even a one-man team to the world’s greatest sporting festival-the Olympic Games.”

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When I was younger so much younger than today

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

Help! By John Lennon and Paul McCartney

In 1964, Japan was younger, so much younger than today. They were bursting with energy, building a new, modern country, one the world would soon see during the Olympics to be friendly, proud, caring, technologically advanced and joyful.

In 1964, the Beatles invaded America, their dream destination, their exuberance boundless – needing absolutely nobody’s help in any way. From their press conferences, to their hotel escapades, to their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, to their trips to Washington DC and Florida, the four lads from Liverpool were the four mates Americans wanted to hang out with. And as Ron Howard’s film – The Beatles Eight Days a Week – shows, John, George, Paul and Ringo sincerely enjoyed hanging out with each other.

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The Beatles Landing at Haneda Airport

I watched this film last week. I can’t say if it was a great film or not. But Howard rightfully kept all the attention on the Beatles and their music. As a lifelong fan, I could not help but smile incessantly throughout. The film, particularly the first half that focused on 1964, was a portrait of The Beatles as the personification of joyfulness.

The Beatles did not relegate their time to the US only. As it turned out, the record deals they agreed to actually paid them little, so they needed to tour to earn themselves the riches they deserved. In 1964, they premiered in the US in February, and then in the middle of the year, went on a 27-day tour of Denmark, Holland, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, where they performed in a total of 37 shows. Then in August, they returned to the US and powered through a 30-concert tour in 23 cities. Everywhere they went, they were mobbed.

the-beatles-ascending-the-stage-at-the-budokanAs brilliant author, Malcolm Gladwell, explained in Ron Howard’s film, The Beatles were a phenomenon that rode the wave of a new global teen culture, driven by the popularity of the Fab Four. When Olympians the world over gathered in Tokyo in October, 1964, the majority of the Olympians, many teenagers or only years removed from that age group knew The Beatles, and sang their songs.

Diana Yorgova, a Bulgarian long jumper who participated in the 1964 Tokyo Games, wrote to me that she would take a break from the intensity of her training by going to the music hall, a place inside the women’s dormitory. She would listen to the music she liked, and one of her favorite albums was “With the Beatles“, which had come out in November, 1963. While watching ikebana lessons nearby, and taking in the sweet fragrances of the flowers, she would listen to her favorite songs: All My Loving, Please Mister Postman, Hold Me Tight, I Wanna Be Your Man.

Ada Kok, a Dutch swimmer who won two silver medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 100m butterfly and 4x100m medley, was also a Beatles’ fan. In the confines of the women’s dormitory, she told me that the Dutch and the Australians had a particularly raucous party after the swimmers celebrated their medal hauls. Kok said they celebrated by singing Beatles songs the entire time.

But alas, all good things….

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics is considered the last pure Games, the last innocent Olympics. Security was not an issue, doping was not so prevalent, the under-the-table sponsorship payments were not so obvious – a good time was had by all.

But the roiling geo-political and social undercurrents were just getting noticed. And as we saw at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, with the massacre of hundreds just prior to the opening ceremonies, and the murders of 11 Israelis by Palestinian terrorists inside the Olympic Village at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the world had made its transition from joyfulness and purity to cynicism and insecurity.

But now those days are gone, and I’m not so self assured.

In 1966, The Beatles came to Tokyo, playing four shows on June 30 and July 1. After the amazing reception that foreigners got during the Olympics in October 1964, one would think the most popular people in the world would get the very best of welcomes from the Japanese. But as the Howard’s film showed, The Beatles walked into an ambush.

Scheduled to play the Budokan, opened in time for the Olympics, the Beatles would be the first musicians to perform there. The increasingly vocal right wingers in Japan did not take kindly to a group of foreigners coming to Japan to perform music that would, perhaps, despoil The Budokan, a venue they believed should be reserved for only Japanese martial arts. The shows went on, mixed in with the normal Beatlemania response, but tainted by a high level of security and caution for the Beatles in Japan.

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Security at the Budokan

The second half of the 1960s was challenging for The Olympics, for the Beatles, for everybody. An Age of Innocence had ended.

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being round

Help me, get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please, please help me, help me, help me, ooh

Tsuburaya suicide note 2

My dear Father, my dear Mother, I enjoyed the delicious three-day tororo soup, the dried persimmons, and the rice cakes.
My dear Brother Toshio, and my dear Sister, I enjoyed the delicious sushi.
My dear Brother Katsumi, and my dear Sister, I enjoyed the delicious wine and apples.
My dear Brother Iwao, and my dear Sister, I enjoyed the delicious shiso herbal rice, and the nanban zuke pickles.
My dear Brother Kikuzo, and my dear Sister, I enjoyed the delilcious grape juice and Yomeishu wine. I enjoyed them. And thank you, my dear Sister, for the laundry you always did for me.
My dear Brother Kozo and my dear Sister, I thank you for the rides you gave me in your car, to and fro. I enjoyed the delicioius mongo-cuttlefish.
My dear Brother Masao, and my dear sister, I am very sorry for all the worries I caused you.
Sachio-kun, Hideo-kun, Mikio-kun, Toshiko-chan, Hideko-chan, Ryosuke-kun, Takahisa-kun, Miyoko-chan, Yukie-chan, Mitsue-chan, Akira-kun, Yoshiyuki-kun, Keiko-chan, Koei-kun, Yu-chan, Kii-chan, Shoji-kun: May you grow up to be fine people.
My dear Father and my dear Mother, your Kokichi is too tired to run anymore. Please forgive him. He is sorry to have worried you all the time.
My dear Father and Mother, Kokichi would have liked to have lived by your side.

These were the handwritten words of Kokichi Tsubaraya, one of two notes he left as explanation for why he took his life in his dormitory room of the Ground Self Defense Forces. Tsuburaya was a soldier, but he was also a Japanese icon, winning the bronze medal in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. As he wrote, he was simply “too tired to run anymore”. As described in a previous post, injuries and heartbreak may have led to Tsuburaya’s demise.

Kokichi Tsuburaya surrounded by family
Kokichi Tsuburaya, center, surrounded by his family.

Suicide rates, while decreasing in recent years, thankfully, have been traditionally high in Japan compared to other countries. Perhaps there is a romanticism connected with suicide in the deep recesses of Japanese culture. So when some of Japan’s most celebrated writers, Nobel Prize winners Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata, read the suicide note of Kokichi Tsuburaya, they swooned at the simple yet striking words of the athlete. Mishima viewed Tsuburaya’s notes as “beautiful, honest and sad.” And as Makoto Ueda explained in his book, Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, Kawabata was even jealous of the quality of Tsuburaya’s poetry.

Kawabata was deeply moved upon reading this suicide note. After citing it in its entirety, he offered to explain why: “in the simple, plain style and in the context of the emotion-ridden note, the stereotyped phase “I enjoyed” is breathing with truly pure life. It creates a rhythm pervading the entire suicide note. I tis beautiful, sincere, and sad.” Kawabata then observed that this suicide note was not inferior to similar notes written by reputable writers, despite the fact that Tsuburaya was an athlete who boasted no special talent in composition. Kawabata even felt ashamed of his own writings, he said, when he compared them with this note.

Another giant of Japanese literature, Kenzaburo Oe, was also impressed by the suicide note of Tsuburaya. At a series of talks Oe gave at the University of California, Berkeley in April 1999, he talked about how Tsuburaya’s suicide note was a wonderful cultural marker of the 1960s, a reflection of Japan in a state of transition during a period of intense social, economic and political change. Let me quote Oe at length here:

We know from this note that Kokichi Tsuburaya was from a big family. The many names he mentions probably do not evoke any particular feeling in a non- Japanese, but to a person like myself—especially to one who belongs to an older generation of Japanese—these names reveal a naming ideology of a family in which authority centers around the paternal head-of-household. This family-ism extends to the relatives. There is probably no large family in Japan today where children are named so thoroughly in line with traditional ethical sentiments. Tsuburaya’s suicide note immediately shows the changes in the “feelings” of the families of Japanese these past thirty years.

The many foods and drinks he refers to also tell of the times. Twenty years had passed since Japan’s defeat, and it was not a society of food shortages. But neither was it the age of satiation and Epicurean feasting that began ten years later. The year Tsuburaya died was the year that Nikkeiren, the Japan Federation of Employers’ Association, tried to counter the spring offensives—the annual demand by labor unions for wage hikes and improved working conditions—by arguing that the sharp increase in prawn imports was evidence of a sufficient rise in the standard of living. More consumers were eating imported frozen prawns. Business administrators keep an eye on such trends. And I think that honestly expresses the eating habits of Japanese people at this time.

Domestically, 1968 saw the rage of student rebellions, most noted among which were the struggles at Tokyo University and Nihon University. Outside of Japan, there was the May Revolution in Paris, and the invasion of Soviet troops into Prague. In retrospect, we clearly see that the world was full of premonitions of great change.

Against this backdrop, a long distance runner of the Self-Defense Forces— itself a typical phenomenon of the state of postwar Japan’s twisted polysemous society—turned his back on the currents of such a society, alone prepared to die, and wrote this suicide note. In the note, the young man refers to specific foods and drinks, he encourages his nephews and nieces to grow up to be fine people; he is overwhelmed by the thought of his parents’ loving concern for him and writes that he knows their hearts must never have rested in their worry and care for him. He apologizes to them because, having kept running even after the Olympics with the aim of shouldering national prestige, he became totally exhausted and could no longer run. He closed his note with the words: “My dear Father and Mother, Kokichi would have liked to live by your side.”

Tsuburaya was a man of his times, celebrated in 1964 for his accomplishments as an athlete. Today he is also remembered for his eloquence in representing the Every Man in Japan, a poet who is said to have captured the essence and the angst of those times.

miyuki-zoku-2

The gauntlet was thrown.

“To the weak-livered denizens of Ginza – you who wear sun glasses, tight pants, and saunter down the street carrying a big paper bag as you chase the girls from the day-time – If you are men accept my challenge. I’m 56 years old but let’s see who will last the longer in the marathon…”

Apparently, those were fighting words, at least as translated by the Mainichi Daily New on September 16, 1964. The above notice was a challenge to race a marathon, for the senior Japanese to show his manly vigor in a competition of endurance. And yes, it got the attention of the teenagers, who were labeled the “Miyuki-zoku”, a mix of boys and girls who gathered on the fashionable street in the Ginza called Miyuki Street. (The suffix “zoku” means “tribe” or “club”.)

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Mainichi Daily News_September 17, 1964
So on the appointed time of Monday, September 14, 1964, the Mainichi Daily News reported that “hordes of onlookers, young and old, flocked to the place of challenge in front of the fountain in Hibiya Park.” Members of the Miyuki-zoku came out to meet the challenge of the 56-year old, but as it turned out, not only did the elderly challenger not appear, the police had already rushed to the scene to ensure an unauthorized marathon did not take place.

It was only a few months earlier when Heibon Punch, a new magazine focusing on fashion, started a revolution by launching the so-called “Ivy Look”. Other magazines like “Men’s Club” followed quickly, going into detail on cool Ivy. (See my previous post on this here.) When teenagers in Japan saw how young men were dressing in the United States, particularly at the Ivy League universities, with their perceived associations of class and style, they found an exciting replacement for their drab, black school uniforms, and a way to rebel.

Yes, it took the preppie look for kids in Tokyo to flip parents and authorities the bird – which is astonishing, if you look at the pictures today.

But this is Japan. And the Japanese proverb most quoted to explain social behavior here is “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” In other words, it’s important to conform. Those who don’t, are informed in no uncertain terms that they need to do so.

And so in the 1960s, in a time of burgeoning prosperity, with a generation that grew up with faint memories of post-war rubble and hunger, there grew a hunger to express one’s individuality, and dare to be that nail that sticks out, even if just a tad.

But the authorities were concerned about even this whiff of rebellion. After all, the Olympics were coming to town and Tokyo had to be clean, friendly and most of all orderly. These “hordes” were unsightly, the boys in their (gulp) tight, high-cut slacks with oxford-cloth or madras plaid shirts, and the girls in tight long skirts with the hemline (gasp) several inches below the knee.

miyuki-zoku-3

According to this post in the blog “Ivy Style”, the older generation co-opted a leader of the Ivy fashion movement, Kensuke Ishizu. Ishizu “discovered” this look when he visited college campuses in the United States in the 1950s, and when he returned to Japan, he created a fashion brand called “VAN”, and published Japan’s first men’s fashion magazine, “Otoko no Fukushoku”.

Neighborhood leaders desperately wanted to eradicate the Miyuki-zoku before October, so they went to Ishizu of VAN and asked him to intervene. VAN organized a “Big Ivy Style Meet-up” at Yamaha Hall, and cops helped put 200 posters across Ginza to make sure the Miyuki-zoku showed up. Anyone who came to the event got a free VAN bag — which was the bag for storing your normal clothing during loitering hours. They expected 300 kids, but 2,000 showed up. Ishizu gave the keynote address, where he told everyone to knock it off with the lounging in Ginza. Most acquiesced, but not all.

So on September 19, 1964, a huge police force stormed Ginza and hauled off 200 kids in madras plaid and penny loafers. Eighty-five were processed at nearby Tsukiji jail. The kids got the message and never came back, and that was the end of the Miyuki-zoku.

Oh those raucous and rebellious sixties…

marny_jolly_with_sukarno_1_asian_games_1962_2
Mariana Jolly meets President Sukarno at the Asian Games in 1962, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

She was a 14-year old, and yet an artifact of colonial Asia – the daughter of British parents representing Singapore in The Asian Games. When Mariana Jolly was asked to join the national swimming team to represent Singapore at the Asian Games, she had no idea that she would catch the attention of the most powerful man in Indonesia.

“It was the Asian Games, but I was the only European there,” Jolly told me. “Sukarno organized a lot of these social events for the athletes, there were quite a few. And the first time, he took one look at me and came to me. He asked me if I was Dutch. I said ‘no’, and he smiled. I danced with him at a barbecue, and I sang to him in Malay at another party.”

Little did Jolly know that the Asian Games they joined ignited the heated feud between Indonesia and the IOC, resulting in the last-second decision by Indonesia and North Korea to boycott the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

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Dancing with Sukarno, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

Post-war, post-colonial Asia was a mess, a political vacuum, a time of economic experimentation that led to social upheaval. In the midst of those turbulent times, Malaysia emerged as a new nation in 1963, bringing together the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.

Indonesia in the early 1960s was an emerging political power in Asia, led by that country’s first president, Sukarno. Leading the fight against the colonial rulers from the Netherlands, Sukarno was imprisoned by the Dutch rulers, freed by invading Japanese forces in 1942, and then appointed President of Indonesia when Japan surrendered to the United States and the allies at the end of World War II.

After decades of fighting Dutch colonial rule, Sukarno was anti-imperialist, and by extension, anti-West. While he did secure billions of dollars in aid from the United States and the Kennedy administration, Sukarno cultivated strong ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union.

And to reflect Indonesia’s growing power and influence, Sukarno won the rights to hold the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962. The Asian Games is held every four years like the Olympics, and brings together the best athletes of Asia. In 1962, the participating countries included the PRC, which was boycotting the Olympic Games, as well as nations in the Middle East. Sukarno decided to make a statement – he would not invite athletes from Israel, which was the enemy of so many of Indonesia’s allies in the non-aligned world, nor athletes from Taiwan, which the PRC did not recognize.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), led by then president, Avery Brundage, took umbrage, reiterating the importance to separate politics from sports, and indefinitely

The Women's Quarters in the Olympic Village, Tokyo, from the book,
The Women’s Quarters in the Olympic Village, Tokyo, from the book, “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

The men stayed in military barracks inside the Olympic Village. But the women were housed in a four-story building that was fenced off from the men, and according to one report, its borders demarcated with barbed wire.

The women actually had full rein of the grounds, so to one Olympian, it seemed like overkill. It’s a “bit pointless,” the coach of the women’s British gymnastics team, June Groom, told The Japan Times. “After all the girls can go anywhere they please and have access to the men’s quarters, but there you are.”

Ada Kok, a teenage swimmer on the Dutch national team, remembers being able to see people on the road, and thus was warned to watch out for peeping toms. “Our chaperones from our teams warned us to close the curtains when we were about to sleep.”

Apparently, the barriers weren’t so great that husbands and wives couldn’t connect. Discus thrower, Olga Connolly, was reported to assist her husband, hammer thrower, Hal Connolly, with his laundry. As the AP reported, Olga would wash and iron Hal’s wear, and then pass the clean clothes over the wire fence.

On the Friday before the Opening Ceremonies, the organizers offered the women in the