When the monorail connecting Haneda Airport and downtown Tokyo opened up on September 17, 1964, a month prior to the opening of the XVIII Olympiad, it was yet another symbol of Japan’s revitalization and cutting edge.
The people who built the monorail in Tokyo likely saw the successful models before deciding on developing a monorail system of their own. Two of them were in the US – Disneyland in Los Angeles, which opened in 1959, and the Seattle Center Monorail, which debuted in 1962.
Half a century later, Haneda is still a reliable way to get to Haneda Airport. The Seattle Center Monorail is more of a decorative transportation option that takes you from one tourist destination to another. Still, the Seattle monorail transports over 2 million people a year. And for only a $2.50 one-way fare, the Seattle monorail takes you from Seattle Center, home of the city’s Space Needle, to WestLake Center, the heart of Seattle, in only 2 minutes. As you can see in the video, it’s a pleasant ride that gives you a great above ground view of the city!
He had a Beatles’ moment, even before the Fab Four would land in Tokyo two years later. It was October, 1964, and Don Schollander had just landed in Haneda Airport.
The plane put down in Tokyo and for a second I had that fatalistic feeling in my stomach. Outside it was daylight and hundreds of reporters and photographers and spectators were there to greet us. We pulled ourselves together and straggled down the ramp. I hadn’t slept at all and I was one tired guy, coming down that ramp with the rest of the team. Then all of a sudden I heard it, all around me there were Japanese people and they were shouting, “Schollander! Schollander!” They remembered me! The guys laughed and kidded me about it but I felt good. I felt at home.
As five-time gold medalist, Don Schollander explained in his autobiography, Deep Water, he had a deep appreciation for Japan, even before his arrival for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Swimming competitions had brought him and his Team USA swim teammates to Japan twice before, in 1962 and 1963. He was a 16-year old his first time in Japan and Schollander felt that the Japanese loved young people, although it may be more accurate to say, they loved young, handsome blonde people in particular, as they may have represented the idealized Hollywood version of America they read about in their literature.
Perhaps more significantly, he was a winner, having never lost a race there, and so expectations were high when he landed in Japan. “Looking back on it, I guess I felt sort of like a gladiator going into the arena, wanting to get into the fight and yet nervous about going out to face it.”
By the time the XVII Olympiad in Tokyo had ended, there were very few more popular people in Japan than Don Schollander. The slim, six-foot 18-year old from Oswego, Oregon, who was to become a freshman at Yale after the Summer Games, was a star.
Here is how the San Francisco Examiner described it:
As far as the Japanese are concerned, Don Schollander is the indisputable hero of the Olympic Games. Whether it’s his almost white hair or his four gold medals or his Adonic looks, he had caught the fancy of this tight little island.
That article from October 23, 1964, went on to say that Schollander was receiving letters and packages that filled a room:
On one side were at least 500 packages. On the floor were three large baskets filled with letters and telegrams. “With few exceptions, these are all for Schollander,” (J. Lyman Bingham executive director of the USOC) said. “This is the greatest expression of goodwill for an individual I have ever seen in my life… He is so young, strong, handsome and appealing Japan has just decided he is something of a god in a land where worship is complex religion….”
Schollander could not go anywhere without being stopped for autographs or having his photo taken. “Even to touch him was considered as a rare privilege.”
Schollander wrote in his autobiography that after his last golden victory in Tokyo, he was exhausted and finally got to be at 4:30 in the morning. Three hours later, photographers from Life Magazine banged on his door to wake him, resulting in one of the iconic photos of the 1964 Olympics.
I opened my one eye. My roommates were nowhere around; I didn’t know whether they had come and gone or hadn’t come in yet. Life wanted more pictures.
“Come back later,” I mumbled.
“No,” they said. “We want to get a picture upon the roof and now the sun is right. Come on. We’ve got your medals.”
I pulled on my sweats and at 7:30 in the morning, up on the roof, they shot that picture that appeared on the cover of Life.
So many Olympians from 1964 have told me how much they loved their experience in Japan, that the Japanese people in particular made their time in Tokyo so special. Many who have been to multiple Olympiads cite the 1964 Games in Tokyo as their favorite. I wouldn’t be surprised if Schollander felt the same:
After my race they had mobbed me as though I were one of them, and someone told me that the Japanese people had sort of adopted me. I had come to japan when I was fifteen, completely unknown, and I had had my first big victories there and things had gone so well for me ever since. The Japanese people felt that I got my start there and that Japan was lucky for me. They even used my name and address in a school textbook to illustrate how to address letters in English. I think this genuine affection on the part of the Japanese people was very good for me.
Nearly 20 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2015, already approaching the 2020 goal. This 47% year-on-year increase has been a revelation to Japan, making citizens and business owners keenly aware that Japan needs to gear up for continued growth, particularly as we get closer to the opening ceremonies of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
According to this article, the ability for Tokyo to accommodate this sudden influx of foreign tourists has been strained by the supply of hotel rooms. The room shortage is compounded by the weak yen, which results in more Japanese taking vacations within Japan as opposed to overseas. Occupancy rates at hotels in Tokyo and Osaka are routinely over 80%, and sometimes over 90%.
So into the breach steps Airbnb, a peer-to-peer business that connects travelers with individuals who want to open their homes, or a room in their home for rent. Airbnb has exploded worldwide as travelers seek greater choice of accommodations, as well as the possible added experience of personalized service and comfort by the owner. It was once thought that Japan, and its particular sensitivity to privacy, would be a bad fit for an Airbnb model. But Airbnb Japan’s business has grown 529% since last year, while the number of listings in this country has also jumped year on year 373%.
And this is for a business that is essentially illegal, as Japan’s Hotel Business Law includes taxation of officially recognized accommodations, as well as various regulations around hygiene and safety, all of which Airbnb hosts have ignored.
But now, Ota Ward, one of the 23 districts that make up Tokyo, is hoping to legitimize the model, opening the door to individuals and families who need the income, want the business, and perhaps enjoy the experience of hosting strangers in their homes. Along with Osaka, the Japanese government will be looking closely at Ota Ward, with the hopes of expanding this model over the coming years.
In an attempt to eliminate such problems, Ota Ward has published rules and screening criteria. They include a requirement that neighbors who live within 10 meters of a rented property be notified in writing before an application is made. The local fire department must also be advised beforehand. Under the ward’s rules, minimum stays are set at six nights and seven days. Guest information such as names, contact numbers and passport numbers must be kept for at least three years. A host must also set up a window to accept complaints from neighbors and be ready to respond in foreign languages in emergencies.
What’s special about Ota Ward? It houses Haneda Airport, the expanding gateway to Asia and the world. Between 1978 and 2010, Haneda was, for all intents and purposes, the airport for domestic flights. But since 2010, it has taken on significant capacity as a port of call for international flights. Haneda is now the third busiest airport in Asia, and fourth in the world.
And let me tell you, as someone who has flown primarily into Narita International Airport, which requires at least another two to three hours of waiting and travel time to just get into downtown Tokyo, I much prefer to fly into Haneda. Tourists will as well. And wouldn’t it be nice to hop into a short taxi ride to your Airbnb accommodation about 10 to 15 minutes away.
When American Olympians prepared for departure to Tokyo for the 1964 Summer Games, they were feted at Disneyland in Los Angeles, where they undoubtedly saw the first daily operating monorail in the Western Hemisphere. It opened in 1959 as an attraction in Tomorrowland.
So while many Americans were amazed to see this high-tech transportation system high above the ground, they must have been doubly amazed to see it in Tokyo when they arrived at Haneda Airport. Although almost all Olympians were shuttled to the Olympic Village by bus (escorted by police cars and motorcycles), they likely did see the gleaming train flowing by at 60 miles per hour along Tokyo Bay.
What originally took about an hour traveling by car on the congested roads of the most populous city in the world at that time, took about 15 minutes via the monorail, built by Hitachi under license of Alweg. The monorail has proved to be a safe and efficient way of moving people from the airport into the city, and its longevity and success may have been due to the fact that a Shinto priest blessed this feat of engineering a day before it opened, according to a UPI story from September 16, 1964.
Here’s an American newsreel announcing the opening of the Tokyo monorail.