Nat Geo_shipbuilder

This is part two of a series on the October 1964 National geographic article called “Tokyo The Peaceful Explosion,” a fascinating portrait of Tokyo on the eve of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Staff writer, William Graves, and staff cameraman Winfield Parks provide a mosaic of life in the most populated city in the world at the time.

Change in Japan was fast and furious. In a conversation between Graves and an economist and editor for NHK, Hiroshi Narita (whom Graves calls “Nick”), they try to understand the secret of the emerging Japanese miracle.

I mentioned what everyone notices first about Tokyo – its fantastic prosperity. Shop windows were full, crowds on the streets were handsomely dressed, and thousands on thousands of sleek Japanese cars choked the streets. Nick nodded happily.

“Even to Americans, the figures are staggering,” he said. “In construction, Tokyo starts 800 major new buildings a year, more than two a day. The city’s – and Japan’s – economic growth rate runs about 10 percent a year, the highest in the world. In 1959 the rate rose to almost 18 percent; now people are talking about the recession.” He smiled.

“We have a stock market, too, and it’s doing just what yours is. Since 1949, for example, a share of Canon Camera Company stock has multiplied 865 times in value.”

“What’s behind it all?” I asked, trapping an elusive piece of shrimp with a chopstick.

“We are,” Nick said simply. “The Japanese people. You’ll get other answers – postwar aid, protective tariffs, new markets in Asia, and all of these things have helped. But basically the boom is built on Japanese brains, skill, and fantastic energy.”

Nat Geo_car factory
America-bound, a gleaming new truck rolls through the assembly line of the Nissan Motor Company automotive works between Tokyo and Yokohama. Of more than a million Japanese cars and trucks produced yearly, Nissan makes one in five. Bright-red paint brands this vehicle an export; japan reserves the color for its fire engines.
Nat Geo_electronics factory
Miniature television undergoes inspection at Sony Corporation, Tokyo’s astronomically successful postwar electronics manufacture. With 15 million sets in operation, Japan ranks second only to the United States in television ownership.
Nat Geo_railway construction
Sparks from a welder’s torch shower a streetcar track. To spare daytime traffic, repair crews work from dusk to dawn.
Nat Geo_fish market
Shed-full of tuna, fresh from the sea, awaits purchasers at the dockside Central Wholesale Market in Tokyo. An immense distribution center, the market handles 1,800 tons of fish and 3,300 tons of vegetable every day. To examine fish quality in the shed’s gloom, buyers wield flashlights, their badges of office.
Nat Geo_Tokyo Stock Exhcange
Wall-to-wall carpet of white shirts hides the floor of Tokyo’s Stock Exchange, barometer of Japan’s explosive postwar growth. Some stocks sell for 800 times their 1950 values.
Nat Geo_city official
Shoji Koyama headed the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in 1963 sharing administration of the capital with a governor, Ryotaro Azuma. Portraits of past Assembly presidents line a wall of his chamber in the Metropolitan Government Office. Mr. Koyama now serves in the Diet, Japan’s national legislature. Though it includes almost 11 percent of Japan’s population, Tokyo until recently had less than 5 percent representation in the Diet. A revision in apportionment laws has raised the percentage to 7.
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NatGeo_crowded train
“Sumimasen – very sorry….” Railway guards in a Tokyo station pack rush-hour cars to bursting with hapless commuters. Skyrocketing population threatens to cripple the Japanese capital; even now its 10,500,000 residents make it the world’s largest city. Long-suffering Tokyoites joke grimly about their city’s “crush hour.” Miraculously, scenes such as this morning jam a the Shinjuku Station produce few injuries.

Tokyo is not a city. Tokyo…is an explosion.

The crowds, the traffic, the lights, the smog, the noise, the peace, the plenty, the interplay of East and West, the exotic…. William Graves, staff writer for the monthly magazine, National Geographic, stayed in Tokyo for weeks if not months with cameraman Winfield Parks in an attempt to paint a picture of Tokyo in 1964 with words and photos.

Tokyo is not easy to love at first sight. In daylight, from the air, it resembles an enormous coffee stain, blotting the green velvet of the surrounding farm country. Seen from the ground, it lies blurred under layers of smog – a city wrapped in soiled cotton wood.

At night, however, Tokyo bursts through its somber wrapping. Then the city is aflame with neon, its low hills pulsing like great beds of coals, with crimsons, lavenders, greens, and golds of flashing electric signs announcing nightclubs, coffee bars, truck tires, television sets, cameras – everything that Tokyo owns or makes in some 57,000 factories.

Here are a few of the pictures and words from that National Geographic article, a portrait of an explosion.

Nat Geo_young women in red
Gone are wooden clogs and traditional kimono. Among Japanese young women, high heels and chic-knee-length dresses are everyday attire. Tokyo’s huge Ginza department stores tempt shoppers with top European designs. Copies in inexpensive Japanese cottons and rayons have all but driven classic styles from sight. Young Tokyo saves the conservative kimono and sashlike obi for ceremonial days or family occasions. Sign beneath American fashion magazines advertises a gift shop called “Yours.”
Nat Geo_smoggy Tokyo Harbor
Curtain of smog over Tokyo Harbor gives a coppery cast to the waterfront, one of many centers for the Japanese shipbuilding industry, now the world’s largest. Desperate for living space, Tokyo dumps its fresh trash into the bay and covers it with soil to create new land.
Nat Geo_danchi
Like immense cinder blocks, low-cost apartment houses rise amid factories and oil-storage tanks. Danchi, as Tokyoites call the developments, ease the crushing pressure of Tokyo’s housing shortage. Families with moderate incomes may rent a bedroom, kitchen, and living room for $20 a month.
Nat Geo_the home
Husband enjoys his ease, just as his father did, while wife clears the dishes I their three-room apato. Tokyoites call them and their neighbors danchi zoku – “apartment-house tribe.”
Nat Geo_traffic
Grill-to-bumper flood chokes a Tokyo street. During rush hours it may take half an hour to negotiate a downtown block. Beginners’ tests are strict but, once licensed, drivers develop an individual style. A sharp horn blast signifies, “Look out! I am about to do something extraordinary.”

 

Nat Geo_cars vs people
Evasive Action lifts a pedestrian clear of the pavement in his dash for safety. Tokyo traffic – dodging risks are high: on the city’s streets, a thousand die in a year.