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Kanto Matsuri at the Tokyo International Sports Week_Mainichi Daily NewsOctober 1963

Hayes Jones was in Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He had been to Japan before, but he had not quite mastered the local language. According to Sports Illustrated, he was getting food in one of the dining areas of the Olympic Village, and said to the Japanese working behind the counter one of the few words he had mastered.

“Hai.”

Why Jones, the winner of the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at those ’64 Games, was saying “yes” in order to get served, is unclear. But since he wasn’t getting served, he doubled down.

“Hai! Hai!”

As SI told it, “the Japanese responded immediately to this new American game. He laughed and said, ‘Hat! Hai!’ The two stood there shouting hais at each other over the counter until Jones finally said, ‘Hey, man, come on. Give me some salad!’ Instantly he was provided with enough lettuce and tomatoes for 10 men, which occasioned another round of hais, a few bows and a perplexed look on the part of the American.”

There is no dishonesty in saying that in Japan in 1964 the number of people who could speak English was relatively low. Organizers knew that in 1963, in the aftermath of the so-called “pre-Olympics”, a week-long rehearsal in preparation of the real Olympiad to be held exactly a year later. The feedback regarding the interpreters available was harsh.

Apparently, the organizers of the officially named Tokyo International Sports Week (TISW) had recruited interpreters from local universities and overestimated their abilities. The fact that the organizers provided the students with little training also contributed to the lack of readiness. This was particularly true regarding the students understanding of specialized sports jargon. Another issue was that the organizers limited their search to students who spoke either English or French, when in fact the athletes at Sports Week needed to be understood in Russian, German, French, Spanish or Italian for example.

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Middle two are official interpreters

As a result of this feedback post-Sports Week, the organizing committee made a few changes:

  • They recruited an additional 140 interpreters who spoke Spanish, German and Russian.
  • They expanded their talent pool beyond universities, openly recruiting interpreters from the general public via examination. Seven thousand five hundred people applied in the ten-day registration period.
  • They ensured that 750 interpreters of the now five core languages of English, French, Spanish, German and Russian would be allocated to the Olympic Village, particularly in the transportation waiting areas and reception areas.
  • As national olympic committees (NOC) expressed a desire to bring their own interpreters, particularly of those languages not in the five core languages, the organizers decided to create a new category called auxiliary interpreters. They allowed an NOC to bring in one local language interpreter for every 30 athletes on the team. Over 200 auxiliary interpreters from 65 countries were given credentials for the ’64 Games.
  • In such a multi-lingual environment as the Olympics, people who spoke three or more languages were highly valued. The organizers did not have to recruit these specialists as apparently requests to volunteer poured into the office after the end of the 1960 Rome Olympics. The organizers ended up inviting 13 foreign multi-linguist interpreters, people who did not speak Japanese, but eventually were found to be very helpful in the press center and the Olympic Village.

Were there language issues at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics? Of course. Were these issues disruptive? Absolutely not, thanks to the efforts and preparation of the organizers and the diligence of the interpreters. Here is how the organizers summarized the performance of the interpreters at the XVIII Olympiad in their report, “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964 – The Official Report of the Organizing Committee“:

The preparation of the interpreters was completed early September, one month before the commencement of the Games. Beginning on 15th September, the day of the opening of the Olympic Village, 1,230 interpreters began their activities at their designated posts, whenever they were needed. Both men and women were uniformed differently from other personnel, in distinctive black doeskin blazer with white hemming, so that they might be easily recognized. There were perhaps occasions when the original plans and the practical results did not precisely coincide. As a whole, however, the young amateur interpreters recognized well the significance of the Olympic Games as a festival of youth, and was convinced that each one of them was in fact an ‘ambassador of goodwill’. With this conviction they made up for any linguistic efficiency. They laboured long hours day and night, they performed their duties well, without any incident worthy of mention.

Theirs was a significant role in the  of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The expenses defrayed by the Organizing Committee for the recruitment, training, and management of the services of the interpreters amounted to 150 million yen (US$416,666).

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One of the many interpreters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics_Asahi Graf_Oct23_1964

 

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 1: A Dress Rehearsal of Olympic Proportions

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 3: Hal and Olga Connolly Accept A Most Gracious Invitation

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Tokyo International Sports Week in October 1963_Mainichi Daily News

The Autumn sky was not clear and blue, but cloudy and gray. Most of the athletes were dressed up smartly, some in normal track suits. When the athletes marched into the National Stadium, there appeared to be huge gaps within and between teams, as opposed to the immensely dense succession of national teams usually expected on their heroic march at the commencement of an Olympic Games. And in this case, they marched past the Crown Prince, not the Emperor of Japan. The jets maneuvered and etched out the five rings of the Olympic emblem, but the circles weren’t quite right.

No one carried a torch into the stadium and lit an Olympic cauldron.

In fact, you couldn’t even see the word Olympics anywhere. This was not a sporting event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), so no one could officially use the label “pre-Olympics”, which were what most people were calling the event.

But that was just fine. After all, this was not the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad, it was the opening ceremony of the Tokyo International Sports Week in 1963, exactly one year before the start of the actual Olympics.

Demonstrating the wisdom and extraordinary planning capability of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee (OOC) in the early 1960s, they committed to running a dress rehearsal of the Olympics a year in advance. At a budget of USD1 million, the OOC organized a competition for 20 different sports, invited about 4,000 athletes from 35 different countries, including over a dozen world-record holders.

There were, of course, issues, according to the Mainichi Daily News.

At the yachting events in Hayama, the Thai team (led by a Prince Bira of Thailand) were regaled by the Costa Rican flag at the venue, which employs the same pattern and colors, but the colored stripes are in different orders.

  • The canoeing venue at Lake Sagami was too far away, the 4-hour bus ride a headache.
  • The shotput balls, which were manufactured in Japan, were apparently too small.
  • The high jumpers found the soft rubber clumps in their landing area to be unsafe, particularly after the world’s best female high jumper, Iolanda Balas, sprained her ankle in it after a jump.
  • The walls that provided back drop at the shooting site were brown, which caused eye strain, as opposed to yellow or gray which the shooters were more accustomed to.
  • Taxis were hard to get a hold of at the stadium.
  • And most prominently, the interpreters on site were not effective.

All of which proves why it was so important to have a rehearsal, so that the organizers could note potential issues when the real Games come to town. Perhaps more significant, a major objective of the Tokyo International Sports Week was to infuse confidence in the organizers, the IOC and probably the entire nation of Japan – after all, there was some doubt that Japan could pull off the first Olympic Games in Asia.

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Iolanda Baras complained of the landing area at TISW_Mainichi Daily News_October 1963

After the completion of the dress rehearsal, any doubt disappeared. The 7-day Tokyo International Sports Week was a success.

According to Sports Illustrated, over 20,000 police and over 1,200 firemen were mobilized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government during the Sports Week. And when the 68,000 spectators spilled out of the National Stadium at the end of the Opening Ceremony on October 11, 1963, it reportedly took only 18 minutes to do so (which is mindboggling), and about 50 minutes to restore traffic to normal conditions around the National Stadium on a Friday afternoon.

Here’s how the Mainichi Daily News put it:

The criticisms from the foreign and Japanese delegations and press, in fact, came as a “blessing” to the Tokyo Olympic organizers, who had intended the TISW “actually and truly as a rehearsal or trial” and nothing more. The lessons they learned are to their advantage in preparing for next year’s Olympics. Reflecting and weighing the evaluations, good and bad, the OOC is rolling up its sleeves to remedy these flaws and to improve, whatever possible, on the countless details that need to be perfected by Olympic time next year. Many of the suggestions have already been accounted for. The Japanese have demonstrated that they have the ability to stage a big-scale sports festival by their splendid organization of the spectacularly successful Third Asian Games in Tokyo five years ago. And they can do it again. The world can be confident that the Japanese with their ingenuity and determined efforts and favored by experiences in the TISW will clear all hurdles successfully to realize their hopes and dreams to make Asia’s first Olympic Games the greatest ever held.

 

 

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 2: How Was Their English? It Depends on Their Interpretation

The “Pre-Olympics”, AKA 1963 Tokyo International Sports Week Part 3: Hal and Olga Connolly Accept A Most Gracious Invitation

JTB Workers Pass the Hat
Mainichi Daily News, October 15, 1964

Business was good enough for the Tryhorns at their store in Australia that they thought they should take a plane to Japan and see the sights, as well as the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo. On Friday, October 9, the day before the start of the Olympics, the couple from Victoria disembarked from their floating hotel and transportation, the P&O Orient liner Oriana, to walk about Yokohama.

Unfortunately, as they saw the sites in Isezaki-cho, Mrs Tryhorn was pickpocketed. According to the October 15, Mainichi Daily News, in her stolen purse were train tickets for a limited express of the New Tokaido Line, a coupon for the Kyoto International Hotel, and a notice of remittance addressed to the Hongkong & Shanghai Banking Corp.

According to The Japan Times on October 20, the Metropolitan Police Department had actually been in the midst of a campaign to thwart pickpockets, starting a preventive program over three months previously to round up suspected pickpockets and keep them off the streets. By the time the Olympics began in October, they had arrested over 230 pickpockets. As a result, the number of pick pocket incidents dropped from 400 in April, 1964 to 120 in September when tourists and people related to the Olympics started arriving in Tokyo.

Unfortunately, the police didn’t catch the guy that picked the Tryhorns. The Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) , led by the manager of the South Pier Yokohama JTB branch, took it upon themselves to make it right for the Tryhorns. They collected money from the JTB staff so that they could buy new train tickets to Kyoto. They called the hotel in Kyoto to ensure that the Tryhorns could stay without the need for their coupon. And they called the bank to ensure that the couple could pick up their cash with the remittance paper when they came back to Yokohama.

Now that’s service!

Olga and Harold Connolly at the 1960 Rome Olympics
Athletes Harold Connolly And Olga Fikotova At Rome Olympic Games 1960. Rome- Jeux olympiques
In my research on the Olympics, I treasure diaries, and love first-person accounts in newspapers or biographies. They are personal, often insightful, sometimes poignant. In October, 1964, The Mainichi Daily News published a series of articles based on interviews with Harold and Olga Connolly, the celebrated Olympians famous for their gold-medal accomplishments at the 1956 Melbourne Games, as well as their romance and eventual wedding attended by 20,000 people in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

In this series, the couple, primarily Olga, shared the power couple’s thoughts on Japan and the Olympics. I’d like to highlight their views on the Japanese, and the Olympic Spirit:

Japan is well known for its service. The Japanese say it’s because of their “omoiyari”, which is a high level of empathy, a great ability to put their feet in the shoes of the other person and then act positively on that understanding. Olga Connolly, who won the women’s discus throw in 1956, pointed out in one of the articles an example of “extreme” omoiyari, giving an example of a Japanese boy who was in pain, but refused to show that he was in pain because he didn’t want the other person to feel bad.

Harold Connolly practicing at the Tokyo Games
Harold Connolly making a hammer throw From the magazine, Olympic Tokyo Games Special Edition No. 1, Tokyo Newspaper, September 7, 1964
The food in the village is excellent and so is the service. Everyone of the Japanese men and women who work in the dining rooms does his duty with the utmost diligence. They quickly clear dishes away from the tables and scrub them with soap and brushes. I noticed the hands of one of the boys who wash the mountains of plates and saucers – they are all red form the water and the detergent. But he only smiles and does not utter a word of complaint. I had a bad accident the other day – I spilled some of the hot tea on the waiter’s hand. I was very upset and sorry, but he only bowed and smiled. He didn’t betray any signs of pain though his hand was quite burnt.

Many non-Japanese love Japan because of the dedication to excellence. But sometimes that dedication can seem overwhelming.  The anecdote below made me smile.

At Meiji Park, too, some of the athletes feel a little uneasy, because of the extreme Japanese hospitality. Imagine a 120 kg giant weight man walking alongside a 65-kilo weighing Japanese attendant who insists on carrying his equipment. They mark your throws, bring your discus back and polish it shiny after every throw. The other day I got a little irritated when I wanted to throw and a fellow would not give me my discus until he had removed a stubborn stain.

Harold Connolly, hammer-throwing gold medalist in 1956, appeared in four Olympic Games from 1956 to 1968. Olga Connolly threw the discus in five straight, from 1956 to 1972. They live and breathe the Olympic Spirit. Here is their explanation of why they believe the Olympics are so important.

Here the whole world which shrank into seven thousands of Olympians shrivels still more – into a most interesting mixture of some five or six hundred who crowd in the hall. There are people of all shapes and sizes, speaking all languages, dressed in all kinds of clothes. On their emblems there are the most surprising inscriptions. Here a boy from Uruguay talks to a girl from India, a fellow from Cameroons engages into discussion with one from Turkey and United Arab Republic, while two Finns and a Korean stand by a listen to the conversation. Most people talk in some kind of English – I don’t think there is any other language in the world which is spoken with such a variety of foreign accents.

Sometimes we wonder what would happen if for some reason everybody had to remain in the Olympic Village for let’s say, six months or a year. Would it illuminate and solve the problems of the world or would it prove they are unsolvable? We believe that all the human beings here have so much in common, that it proves that the people everywhere belong into the same family, however it may quarrel.

Swedish athlete saying good bye to Indian athlete
Swedish athlete saying goodbye to Indian athlete at the Olympic Village, from the magazine, Asahi Graf, November 6, 1964

Edwared Seidensticker

Edward Seidensticker was a translator from Japanese to English, and was so proficient in Japanese that by the time the Tokyo Olympics rolled around in 1964, he had already translated the works of Japanese novelists Niwa Fumio and Tanizaki Junichiro. He would go on to translate one of the world’s earliest novels, “The Tale of Genji” as well as the works of Kawabata Yasunari, which led to his selection as the first Japanese to receive a Nobel Prize.

But his formative years as a young adult was as a translator for the US Marines in the Pacific War, as well as in Post-War Japan during the American occupation. And in the weeks leading up to Tokyo Olympics, Seidensticker reportedly stuck his neck out.

It was already news that the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee had selected a 19-year-old freshman from Waseda University named Yoshinori Sakai to run into the National Olympic Stadium, carry the sacred Olympic torch up the steps and then light the Olympic cauldron. Sakai was born on August 6, 1941, in Hiroshima, the day an atom bomb was dropped on that city.

Sakai at cauldron 2

Seidensticker was reported to have objected to this particular selection, saying that choosing Sakai was not “incidental”, and that it was “unpleasant to the Americans”.

When a member of the International Olympic Committee was asked to comment on Seidensticker’s reaction, G. D. Sondhi of India, who had just witnessed Sakai’s torch lighting at the opening ceremonies, replied “He is good and I’m happy to see him do it so nicely. We must bring young people in the Olympics and let those old men just sit and help them.” Sondhi went on to say in an article from the October 11, 1964 Mainichi Daily News that he did not think Sakai’s selection to be political, and rather thought that Sakai was “a big hope” for Japan, and was “the most touching of all Olympic ceremonies I ever saw”.

Take a look at the first 10 minutes of Kon Ichikawa‘s classic documentary, Tokyo Olympiad. Ichikawa shows in dramatic fashion the blazing sun, old buildings being demolished making way for modern-looking stadiums. Ichikawa charts the path of the sacred flame, ignited in Greece, and carried in an amazing international relay through the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, North Asian and finally into Japan.

After the torch leaves Okinawa, it arrives in Hiroshima. As you can see at about the 6-minute mark of the film, Ichikawa uses a helicopter to focus in on the famed Hiroshima Dome, its skeletal frame a reminder of the atomic bomb’s power, and a symbol for resilience. The Mainichi Daily News wondered if this scene would also arouse the ire of Seidensticker and others like him.

October 1964 was barely 19 years removed from the disastrous end to the war in Japan. Those who remembered the war on both sides could be excused for a nerve unexpectedly exposed on occasion. But I can’t help but believe that the choice of Sakai, born symbolically out of the ashes of Japan’s greatest disaster, was an inspired and most appropriate choice.