National Gymnasium Annex exterior 1
The National Gymnasium Annex

I like flea markets so I found myself roaming one in Yoyogi, which happened to be right next to the beautiful National Gymnasium. The site is composed of two complementary structures, the main building where the swimming and diving events were held during the 1964 Tokyo Games, and the Annex, which is where basketball games were held.

After browsing the goods on the crisp winter day two Sundays ago, I thought I’d see up close what I had already written about. The larger structure of the Kenzo Tange-designed buildings was closed. But fortunately, the Annex was hosting an event, the 27th Annual Women’s Gymnastics Club, a free event, so I suddenly found myself in the stadium where Jerry Shipp, Mel Counts, Luke Jackson, Jeff MullinsBill Bradley and Larry Brown, to name a few, won their gold medal for the United States basketball team.

US Men's Basketball team vs Peru_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
US Men’s Basketball team vs Peru_from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

Inside, pre-teen and teenage girls were performing rhythm gymnastics for family and friends, who sat in the dark and intimate stadium, the floor standing in brilliant lighted relief. The Annex seats only 4,000, so I could understand how the basketball games were hot tickets. Of course, the fact that there are only 4,000 seats means there is not a bad seat in the house. You can see that in the pictures.

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Panoramic view of the inside of the National Gymnasium Annex

National Gymnasium Annex pano 2

Thankfully, the annex, which is a sixth the size of the national gymnasium, will be one of several sites from the 1964 Games used in the next Tokyo Games. In 2020, the annex will be the site of the handball competition. But since 1964, basketball has become an international phenomenon, and women’s basketball, also growing in popularity, has been added to the mix. With that in mind, basketball in 2020 will be played in the Saitama Super Arena, which has a maximum seating capacity of 22,500 when basketball is in the house.

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Inside the spire of the National Gymnasium Annex
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national gymnasium and annex2 Old residences for US military families were knocked down as another physical remnant of the American occupation disappeared. And up rose a structure, often cited as one of the most beautifully designed for an Olympic Games – the National Gymnasium. In 1964, 11,000 spectators would watch swimming and diving events in the National Gymnasium, that, from the outside appears to uncoil and breathe, and from the inside inspires the awe of the great cathedrals of Europe. Danish diver, Soren Svejstrup wrote me about the first time he entered Kenzo Tange’s dream building. “When we arrived the first day at the pool, into this wonderful building, our coach said, ‘This is the place every swimmer and diver want to be buried when the time comes’.”

From the Book
From the Book “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”
The first reaction of Dutch swimmer, Ada Kok, who won two swimming silver medals in this building was, “Wow! We looked up, completely flabbergasted. It had an Olympic size pool, and yet, once inside, it felt really cozy, and so typical Japanese with its breathtaking roof.”

Two-time gold medalist, American Donna de Varona said she would kid the Princeton basketball star, Bill Bradley, about the size of the annex, which was the smaller Tange version of the National Gymnasium and where the basketball games were played for a maximum of 4,000 spectators. “That basketball arena was so small and our swimming stadium was big and beautiful, state of the art and breathtaking.” 

This site gives a detailed explanation and illustration of Tange’s genius use