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.”
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.