This is Part 2 of a breakdown of the amateur film by George and Lilian Merz.

The Merz’s, who won an award for their summary of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, stayed primarily around the National Stadium, so their view of the Olympics was primarily track and field. But on occasion, they trained their cameras at events outside the National Stadium, as well as on non-sporting events. Their footage of the ceremonies have been more effectively captured elsewhere, but their human interest forays are interesting at times.

US Team Opening Ceremony_Merz Film
US Team Opening Ceremony
  • Opening Ceremony: 1:25 – It’s the Opening Ceremony at the National Stadium on October 10, 1963. At the 3:12 mark, the US team enters the stadium. The men on the US team are wearing cowboy hats, and it appears that is all you see in their sea of members. The women however aren’t wearing any hats. President Johnson, who is believed to have had the hats sent to the Olympians, probably didn’t think it was appropriate for women to wear these cowboy hats. What struck me was how small the female crowd was. When I looked it up, of the 346 people on the US Olympic squad, only 79 were women. And many of them were likely swimmers who had to compete in the next few days, so were likely not allowed to march in the opening ceremony. Interestingly, the men who dominated the US sailing team brought up the rear, not in cowboy hats, but in sailor caps. Also great footage of the balloon released, the Olympic flag raised and the cauldron lit, in a jam-packed stadium. At the 8:36, Merz has footage of the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the stands!
  • Huckster Girls: 12:25 and 13:56 – That’s what Merz calls the women selling food and drink in the National Stadium. I can’t tell what snacks they were selling, but they were selling a bottle of Coca Cola for 50 yen. At 360 yen to the dollar, that’s about 13 cents!
  • Nature Boy: At the 14:32 mark, Merz films an unusual looking Japanese man outside the National Stadium, whom he dubs “nature boy”. He’s bald headed and bare chested, except for a sash, and holding a banner. The sash says “Make Your Body as Naked as Your Face!”. His banner basically says the same thing, further emphasizing that nudity is healthy, and that he belongs to some sort of nudist association. In modest Japan, this is the last thing I would have expected to see in this documentary.

Nature Boy_Merz Film

  • Rain Rain Rain: You can see at the 17:16 mark a sea of umbrellas. On certain days, it simply rained through the day.
  • Press Seats and TV Monitors: As you can see at the 16:44 mark, the press section in the National Stadium had little TV monitors so that the press could watch the action up close.
  • Eating Bento: I don’t know what the guy is eating, but I’m sure it was good! At the 23:16 mark you can see the spectators sitting on wood-slat benches, and this particular man enjoying a bento. He appears to be sitting in a covered section of the stadium too.

eating bento in the stands_Merz Film

  • 4×100 Swimming Relay Men’s: 5:26 – The Merz’s visit the National Gymnasium and fil the second heat of the men’s 4×100 swimming relay, which the Americans win handily.
  • Field Hockey Men’s: 25:24 – The Merz’s take a break from the National Stadium and head to the Komazawa Stadium to watch a field hockey match between Germany and Kenya.
  • Basketball: 25:48 – The Merz’s then head to the National Gymnasium Annex to see men’s basketball. Unfortunately, the footage is too dark to tell which players are from which countries.
  • Closing Ceremony: 27:38 – And finally, here was footage of the closing ceremony. The film is dark, but you can see the Olympic flame extinguished – a blurry light extinguished, the Olympic Flag lowered, to be send to Mexico City, and an fireworks display to cap off an incredible two weeks.

Rain Rain Go Away_Merz Film

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hotel-okura-under-construction-1961
Hotel Okura under construction in 1961
It was the middle of winter, and yet on January 1, 1964, Tokyo was hot! In fact, the way the foreign press described it, Japan was running a temperature!

“Japan Feverishly Prepares for the 1964 Olympic Games” – AP, January 1, 1964

“World’s Biggest City Suffering Olympic Fever” – UPI, January 2, 1964

Here’s how the major American news services – AP and UPI – explained the state of Tokyo only 10 months before the opening of the XVIII Olympiad:

A strange fever previously unknown in the Orient is gripping Japan. Symptoms include intense worry and a driving compulsion to build things. It’s called Olympic fever. Japan is lunging helter skelter toward that magic day when the 1964 Olympic games open in Tokyo. (AP)

The entire city is afflicted with “Olympic hysteria”, from the prime minister whose political future hinges on the games to the man in the street who curses the inconveniences he has to put up with for the Olympics: the high prices he has to pay, the scaffoldings he had to duck, the torn-up streets around which he has to detour. (UPI)

Again, this was 1964, less than a generation removed from the devastating effects of the Pacific War. Indeed, Tokyo was still emerging (and groaning) from the physical and emotional remains of war rubble, at least as the AP described it:

Tokyo essentially is a city just 18 years old, built on piles of ashes and rubble left by American bombers during World War II. Tokyo has grown haphazardly since 1945, with small, almost ramshackle, houses springing up in disorderly profusion along twisting, narrow streets. Trains are overcrowded. Prices are high. The city chronically has been short of housing, water – just about everything today’s tourists wants and expects. The population has grown so much (to more than 10 millions) that the city fathers have pleaded with the youth of Japan to stay on their farms in the villages and not come to the big city. But on they come, crowding in where there is no room.

national-gymnasium-under-construction
The National Gymnasium complex under construction in Tokyo on June 6, 1964, just a few months before the games were to begin. (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
While it might be hard to imagine today in Tokyo, where large-scale construction is on the whole, relatively and remarkably quiet and unobtrusive, it was for Tokyo denizens in the early 1960s, the bane of their existence. And safety was at times taken for granted, according to AP:

Tokyo, the largest, noisiest, most crowded city in the world, is getting a needed facelifting. The roar of new buildings and bridges going up – and occasionally falling down – fills the night and day. Bamboo scaffolding is everywhere and thousands of workmen clamber up and down, painting and plastering, putting finishing touches on new hotels, restaurants and night clubs.

At least two major Olympic construction projects have collapsed – an elevated expressway and the steel frame roof for a swimming pool. One person was killed and 25 were injured…. In an editorial titled, “no Fun and Games,” Yomiuri declared inexperienced workmen are being used on many Olympic projects and elementary safety precautions are being ignored.

We are three years away from January, 2020. Will history repeat itself? Will Tokyo be an overcrowded, noisy, chaotic city creaking its way to the Opening Ceremonies on July 24, 2020? I doubt it. Will Tokyo again be gripped in Olympic fever? Most definitely yes.

Komazawa Olympic Park venues 2
Komazawa Olympic venues in 1964, from the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Are the Olympics a worthy investment? Does the investment create legacies for the host country?

The answer to those questions are often “no”, unfortunately, at least in terms of the billions spent on structures like stadiums and other various sports venues.

Many of the structures built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics still exist, like the Nippon Budokan, the National Gymnasium and Annex, as well as the Komazawa Olympic Park venues. Not only that, they live and breathe. Click below on the video to see and hear what I did.

On Sunday, May 1, during the long break in Japan known as Golden Week, I took a short bicycle ride to Komazawa Olympic Park, and walk where 1964 Olympians walked. The Park is a collection of venues: Komazawa Gymnasium where Japan won 5 of 16 total gold medals just in wrestling, Komazawa Hockey Field where India beat Pakistan in a memorable finals between two field hockey blood rivals, Komazawa Stadium where soccer preliminary matches were played, and Komazawa Volleyball Courts where Japan’s famed women’s volleyball team mowed through the competition until they won gold at a different venue.

On that day, thousands of people were enjoying unseasonably warm weather under clear, blue skies. The tracks around the park were filled with runners. The gymnasium was hosting a local table tennis tournament, and the stadium was prepping for the third day of the four-day Tokyo U-14 International Youth Football Tournament.

Komazawa 3

In the plaza between the various Komazawa venues, hundreds were enjoying the weather with great food and drink. I was pleasantly surprised to find draft Seattle Pike IPA. While enjoying the cold beer on the hot day, surrounded by hundreds of people loving the day, I realized that Japan in the 1960s made great decisions in planning for the 1964 Olympics. I had a similar revelation earlier when I visited the National Gymnasium months earlier. So much of what was built for those Summer Games are a part of the everyday life of the Japanese.

Japan built a fantastic legacy for 1964. What legacy will Japan begin in 2020?

Komazawa 6

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