Fanny Blankers Koen in Tokyo_Asahi Graf 2

She was 46 years old, and she walked around Tokyo with an air of confidence and style. Fanny Blankers-Koen was in Tokyo for the 1964 Summer Olympics, and the Japanese press followed her around – after all, she was one of the most accomplished Olympians in town. At the age of 30 at the 1948 London Olympics, she became the first woman to win four gold medals in a single Games, replicating the 1936 accomplishments of her hero, Jesse Owens.

Fanny Blankers Koen in Tokyo_Asahi Graf 1

In the October 23, 1964 edition of the Japanese magazine, Asahi Graf, Blankers-Koen was featured in a photo spread, looking relaxed and glamourous. The article shows her walking about town, relaxing in the Olympic Village, describing her as a tall woman with golden hair and light blue eyes.

Fanny Blankers Koen in Tokyo_Asahi Graf 3

The article states she is the “chaperone” to the Netherland’s women’s athletics steam, but as fellow Dutch and Olympian, Ada Kok, wrote to me, she was actually one of several coaches on the Dutch Olympic squad.

The article quotes a Japanese swimmer, Hiroshi Furubashi, who knew Blankers-Koen, saying that she was a hero to the Dutch after her dramatic accomplishments in London in 1948. But as I wrote in previous posts, despite her historic accomplishments, she was never embraced in her home country as she was outside it. Kok said that the Dutch team at the 1964 Olympics treated Blankers-Koen as they did everyone else, quite neutrally, as just another member of the team.

Fanny Blankers Koen in Tokyo_Asahi Graf 5

“It may be a very bad Dutch habit, but our well known sportspeople were more recognised and honoured abroad then in the Netherlands,” said Kok. “The Dutch are more like, ‘act normal and keep both feet on the ground’, no matter how famous you become in your sport.”

And as I wrote in this post, Blankers-Koen was a very complex person, who was driven by a need to win at everything, and to be recognized as an achiever. It is unlikely she got that sense of fulfillment in her home culture. But when she came to Japan, she was a star.

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Yukijirushi butter ad_Asahai Graf Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_November 1964
An ad for butter and cheese by the dairy company, Yuki Jirushi. From the November 1964 Asahi Graf, Tokyo Olympics Special Edition

A derogatory term in Japan for foreigners at the turn of the 20th century was “batta-kusai” (バタ臭い), literally “stinks of butter”.

In the 16th and 17th centuries in Japan, when the Portuguese and Dutch established relations and trade with the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Japanese were exposed to non-Japanese who had meat and milk in their diets. The Japanese, due to the influence of Buddhism and Shintoism, were forbidden from eating meat, and thus by extension, dairy products. On top of that, Japanese were generally lactose intolerant.

Because of the fundamental differences in diet, the Japanese thought, quite simply, that Westerners, with the residue of beef, milk and cheese in their systems, reeked.

Milking at a small farm in Japan 1933_Mainichi Photo Gallery
Milking at a small farm in Japan in 1933_Mainichi Photo Gallery

But when Emperor Meiji came to power in the late 19th Century, the emperor and his government embarked the country on a massive modernization campaign to make not only the Japanese military, science and industry equal to the levels of excellence in the Western industrialized world, but also the size and strength of Japanese people.

According to this article, the Meiji Government not only lifted the ban on meat and dairy-products consumption, they put the word out, quietly, that the Meiji Emperor also enjoyed meat, cheese and milk.

Jersey cows arrive to Japan from New Zealand 1953_Mainichi Photo Gallery
Jersey Cows arrive from New Zealand to a farm in Japan in 1953, from the Mainichi Photo Gallery

Clearly, the Meiji Government was also picking up advanced marketing techniques, such as celebrity endorsements to sell products. But when the 1960s rolled around, using data to back your claims was all the rage. The advertisement at the top of the page was published in November, 1964 in Asahi Graf’s Tokyo Olympics Special Issue. The headline text states, “These Children Will be the Strength of Japan in the Future”. The company making this statement is “Yuki-Jirushi”, one of the dairy products companies (along with Meiji) established by the Emperor Meiji.

The statistics shared in the ad show how, from 1955 to 1962, the height of the average 5-year old went from 104 to 106.1 cm tall while the average individual daily consumption of dairy products (I suppose they mean butter and cheese) went from 0.8 grams to 5.4 grams.

Distirbution of Milk Containers 1955_Mainichi Photo Gallery
Distribution of milk containers in Japan in 1955, from the Mainichi Photo Gallery

A few years later, an AP article from May, 1969 cited a government survey indicating the trend was continuing. “A ministry survey showed the average height of 11-year-old boys has increased by 4.6 inches over the past 68 years. Girls of the same age had an increase of 5.4 inches. During the 1900-1968 period, the 11-year-old boys gained 13.6 pounds and the girls 18.9 pounds in weight, the survey said.”

The article went on to explain that the Allied Occupation under the