olympic-shoplifters-headline-yomiuri
From The Yomiuri, October 7, 1964

The world was coming to Tokyo in 1964, and Japan wanted to make sure that Tokyo was the friendliest, cleanest and safest city anybody would ever set foot in.

In order to make it safe, one of the actions the Tokyo police took was to lock up all known and suspected pickpockets. Over a three-month campaign prior to the commencement of the Games, the police rounded up 230 pickpockets, resulting in a drop in incidents from 400 in April to 120 in September.

Unfortunately, one can never quite expect the unexpected.

Apparently, there was a rash of shoplifting in the popular stores inside the Olympic Village. The culprits? The Olympic athletes.

As the kid said to Shoeless Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

village-shopping-2
From the report, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad 1964

Here’s how the The Yomiuri started off an article on October 7, 1964. “Although shoplifting is not among the listed events in the Olympics some athletes adept in the old sleight-of-hand game are establishing unofficial records in the village out in Yoyogi, much to the chagrin of shop clerks.”

The article explains that there were a total of 16 shops selling a wide variety of good, including clothing, jewelry and electronics. The most popular items – whether legitimately purchased or quietly absconded – were electronics, specifically transistor radios. Watches, pearl necklaces, ball point pens and silk handkerchiefs apparently also went missing.

Radios were priced at JPY1,000 to 8,000, watches at JPY7,000, and the stolen necklaces going for as high as JPY45,000. Back then, that’s significant money.

According to one shop manager interviewed in the article, “the customers engaged the attention of shop hands by communicating in writing while accomplices, all members of an undisclosed team, slipped the tiny radios into their pockets. The manager said he could not identify the culprits because none of the shop employees saw them in the act.”

“‘We were sorry we were off guard, believing all the athletes to be ladies and gentlemen representing their country,’ he bemoaned.”

village-shopping
From the report, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad 1964
Fuji Companion Daruma Doll
The Daruma doll and box sent to all Olympians in October, 1964 by a student group called “Fuji Companions”. This doll was given to Canadian field hockey player Victor Warren.

On Monday, October 12, 1964, a package arrived at the Olympic Village in Yoyogi, Tokyo. The package contained 4,500 little boxes, which had a small gift for all of the foreign athletes in Japan for the XVIII Olympiad. Upon opening the small cardboard gift box, the athlete found a doll in the shape of Dharma (pronounced “daruma” in Japanese), as well as a letter.

The daruma doll represents for Japanese hope and luck, and because it has a rounded bottom that allows the doll to bobble and roll while remaining upright, it also represents perseverance. One usually receives a daruma doll with both eyes white and blank, and the custom is to fill in one eye with a black dot to get you started on your journey of fortune and success. And when you have fulfilled a goal, or had a landmark life event, like a graduation, marriage or a birth of a child, then you fill in the second eye.

A group of high school students who called themselves the Fuji Companion Head Office in Shizuoka Prefecture (the area where Mount Fuji resides) produced these paper-mache daruma dolls and had them sent to the Olympic Village. The enclosed letter explained that “in this doll is hidden a small story of friendship and good will of all the young and grown up people from all Japan.”

Daruma Gift to Athletes
 

The Japan Times, Oct 13, 1964

 

 

On the back of the doll was the name and address of one of the high school students. The letter asked the Olympians to send a note to that student when you reach your goal and fill in the second eye on the doll. Victor Warren of the Canadian Field Hockey team had held onto this treasure since he received his in 1964, and sent it to me with the task of tracking down the person whose name was on the doll.

Unfortunately, I was unable to do so. But the doll has already served its purpose – “Even if we can’t do much, this little doll will tumble about for joy if we unite our hearts in bringing peace and friendship to the world.”

If you are an athlete from the 1964 Olympics, and you still have the daruma, have sent a note to the name on the back of your doll, or remember the doll, please let me know. I’d love to hear about it!

Victor Warren_1964
“#2 (me) about to score a goal vs Belgium. That made it 1-1, we should have stopped the game then, and we would have had a ‘tie’.” – Victor Warren: October, 1964
Pachinko ad_Asahi Graf Tokyo Olympics_November 1964
Poster promoting pachinko in the Olympic Village_ from the book “Asahi Graf Tokyo Olympics_November 1964”

When I first came to Japan in 1986, I was struck by the brashness of the pachinko parlor – the martial music blaring, the blast of nicotine rushing through the doors as they opened, accompanied by the high-pitched sound of ball bearings slipping, sliding and colliding with glass, metal pins, and other balls across dozens of machines.

The game known as pachinko is as much a part of 20th century pop culture in Japan as Ishihara Yujiro and Misora Hibari, Godzilla and Astro Boy (鉄腕アトム), and Western-influenced music, fashion and sports.

Like bowling and surfing in Japan, pachinko started in the West, its origins thought to be in the 18th century French game, “Bagatelle”, and then the early 20th century game American adaptation, “Corinth Game”. As further explained in this detailed History of Pachinko, the Corinth Game came to Japan in the 1920s, providing ways for children to win candy or fruit in local shops. Children would call the game “pachi-pachi” as that was the sound they heard as the ball made its way through the playing surface.

After the Second World War, pachinko served society as a means to get access to daily necessities, as well as inexpensive entertainment for adults at a time when Japan fought its way out of the rubble and desperation of a lost war. Here’s how author and Japanologist, Robert Writing described it in his book, “Tokyo Underworld“:

pachinko parlor 1960s
Pachinko Parlor in Japan_circa 1960s

“In the postwar years, the prizes became daily necessities like coffee, canned fruit, sugar, soap, and domestic cigarettes like Golden Bat. Since it cost so little to play and was the essence of simplicity itself, the popularity of pachinko skyrocketed. By 1953, there were over a million machines housed in some 50,000 pachinko parlors, all filled to capacity, day and night. Critics complained the pachinko boom was creating a nation of idiots and that it also increased the crime rate. Indeed, people were so eager to try it, they would literally steal for the money to play.”

So you can see why the picture at the top of the post surprises me – pachinko in the early 1960s was less a shining example of Japanese culture and more a vice to cover up. I wish I could read the poster’s text – I could not good enough resolution to understand what virtues of pachinko the officials were playing up – but I’m sure the allure of the bells and whistles called out to more than a few of the highly competitive Olympians…at least for a try.

kiddy land present dayIt’s Christmas Eve! If you’re in Tokyo and you still haven’t found time to go Christmas shopping for the kids because you’ve been drinking late into the night at all of the bounenkai parties inside and outside your company, there is a one-stop shop for childrens’ presents – Kiddy Land!

Like FAO Schwartz in New York City, Kiddy Land is a go-to place for tourists visiting Omotesando, the main strip in one of the ritziest parts of Tokyo. Celebrities and tourists of all persuasions have gone up and down its five stories, getting their fix of Japanese cuteness (kawaii) and toy innovation all in one place.

There are whole sections dedicated to Hello Kitty and Snoopy. But more significantly, Kiddy Land claims to have introduced the Valentine’s Day tradition to Japan in 1972 (although that is more likely to have happened in the 1950s), as well as the Halloween parade in 1983.

kiddyland ad in japan times
Kiddy Land ad in the Japan Times_October 19, 1964

In other words, it is a Tokyo cultural icon. I just never knew it had been around so long, as evidenced by the ad seen above in the October 19, 1964 Japan Times. In fact, Kiddy Land started in 1950 as a book store.

Many Olympians probably did visit Kiddy Land as it was only about a few football fields down the road from the Olympic Village. But toys made in Japan at the time did have a poor reputation, at a time when Made in Japan meant, cheap but poor in quality.

Even more interestingly are the other ads that populated that space. I suppose these ads reflected what was popular with visiting foreigners: swords, pearls, tailored clothes, handicrafts and “Beautiful Sweet Girls Beer” (only 280 yen!)

KiddyLand 1950

The Women's Quarters in the Olympic Village, Tokyo, from the book,
The Women’s Quarters in the Olympic Village, Tokyo, from the book, “The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964”

The men stayed in military barracks inside the Olympic Village. But the women were housed in a four-story building that was fenced off from the men, and according to one report, its borders demarcated with barbed wire.

The women actually had full rein of the grounds, so to one Olympian, it seemed like overkill. It’s a “bit pointless,” the coach of the women’s British gymnastics team, June Groom, told The Japan Times. “After all the girls can go anywhere they please and have access to the men’s quarters, but there you are.”

Ada Kok, a teenage swimmer on the Dutch national team, remembers being able to see people on the road, and thus was warned to watch out for peeping toms. “Our chaperones from our teams warned us to close the curtains when we were about to sleep.”

Apparently, the barriers weren’t so great that husbands and wives couldn’t connect. Discus thrower, Olga Connolly, was reported to assist her husband, hammer thrower, Hal Connolly, with his laundry. As the AP reported, Olga would wash and iron Hal’s wear, and then pass the clean clothes over the wire fence.

On the Friday before the Opening Ceremonies, the organizers offered the women in the

Elvira Ozolina
Elvira Ozolina

She was the best, holding the world record in the women’s javelin throw from May 1960 to October 1964. Elvira Ozolina, the native Latvian who was representing the Soviet Union at the 1964 Olympics, was primed to repeat as Olympic champion in Tokyo, after taking gold in Rome in 1960.

However, you have to play the game as they say. And when the competition ensued, Romanian Mihaela Penes threw nearly 7 meters better than Ozolina to win the gold medal. Ozolina threw poorly, and the Rome Champion landed in fifth place.

Then the rumors began to swirl. The US wire services filled newspapers across the country with this story from AP.

Various headlines from AP news wire stories on Ozolina
Various headlines from AP news wire stories on Ozolina

“There’s a bald-headed beauty who speaks Russian roaming the Olympic Village today. And a new Olympic mystery is swirling around her. Less than 24 hours ago the girl had beautiful, shoulder-length chestnut hair. Then she walked into a Village beauty parlor and ordered it shaved off. She walked out 20 minutes later, tears streaming down her face and her head bald as a billiard ball.”

The press suspected that it was Ozolina, but the Russian officials and press so strongly denied the report that the mystery remained a mystery. In fact, Ozolina appeared in a press conference a few days later. The AP report, without directly saying so, hints that Ozolina was now wearing a wig, but Ozolina waved the idea off. When asked why she cut her hair off, she said “Cut my hair off? Take a good look at my head.”

So did she, or didn’t she? As they say, only her hairdresser knows for sure.

Hair Salon in Olympic Village, from the book
Hair Salon in Olympic Village, from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency”
meiji park aerial view
From WPJRNL http://www.wpjrnl.com/

Peter Snell was an Olympic champion at the Rome Summer Games in 1960, and the New Zealand runner came to Tokyo in 1964 with high expectations to repeat. Like all high performance athletes in a new environment, he quickly wanted to establish a training routine that would create a comfort level and allow him to maintain conditioning. He found his routine in a park just outside the Olympic Village in Tokyo – Meiji Park.

But first, Snell had to deal with the police. He tells his story in his autobiography, No Bugles No Drums.

We reached the village in the late afternoon and were smartly into T-shirts and shorts and off on an exploratory run through the village. After a circuit of the track and a prowl around the various facilities, we went out one of the back gates and, led by Jeff Julian, ran into a wooded area with a maze of fine metal and clay tracks. This was Meiji Park, which has a shrine in the middle of it, and it looked perfect for training.

No Bugles No DrumsBut we encountered an early difficulty. At the entrance, we were halted and gesticulated at by a policeman who eventually made it known to us that in this park we could walk but we could not run. Realising we might be offending some religious belief, we decided as guests of the nation to handle the situation diplomatically – so we walked until we were out of the policeman’s sight before breaking into a run again.

The winding paths of the park gave us an excellent 10-minute circuit and it was obvious that it could play a vital part in our Games preparation as we wanted to run for at least half an hour every morning before breakfast. And, despite the policeman, we succeeded in doing it. Actually, as more and more teams arrived, more and more athletes began running about and I think the Japanese eventually decided it would be preferable to let us run thought the park than add our numbers to the already heavy road traffic.

Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986
Rock and rollers in Harajuku in 1986

The Olympic Village in Tokyo in 1964 was very popular. The athletes appreciated the well-manicured greenery, the ample and delicious food, the abundance of bicycles that got them around, and the light-touch security. It felt truly like a village.

Before the Pacific War, the area of the Olympic Village was a Japanese military field, where soldiers would practice and conduct parades. The US military converted the area into housing for American military families during the post-war occupation, and they called the area Washington Heights.

Washington Heights
Washington Heights

The inside of these homes, furnished with American white goods and furniture for the convenience of the American families, were a revelation to the Japanese. Emerging out of a devastated industrial and urban wasteland, the typical Japanese would look at these homes with their huge refrigerators, spacious living rooms, and modern look as a vision of a future Japan.

And what happens when you have a concentration of thousands of Americans in the middle of a highly congested Japanese metropolitan area? You get Americanization. Not far from the Washington Heights area is Omotesando, the road currently famous for being the Champs d’Elysee of Tokyo, and the entry way to Harajuku, a global mecca today for fashion-conscious youth. In its hey day,

 From

From “THE GAMES OF THE XVIII OLYMPIAD TOKYO 1964: The Official Report of the Organizing Committee.”

Arguably, the best food in Asia is Japan. High, medium or low-end, Japan eats are hard to beat. Even American fast food in Japan tastes better than the original in the US.

In 1964, arguably the best food in Japan was in Yoyogi. Apparently, the dining halls of the Olympic Village were all the rage. Where else could you sample the best cuisines of the globe in one place.

The main dining hall was divided into two sections – Fuji and Sakura dining halls – which could feed up to 1,000 people at a time. Each dining hall was subdivided into six rooms with a capacity of 108 people each, so considering the two halls, there were 12 equally sized dining areas. The various country delegations were divided into 21 groups depending on common dietary requirements or custom, with one dining room designated for each of those groups.

Since these dining rooms had specific hours, one dining hall, known as International Dining Room, was always open for business. Actually, as the Japan Olympic Committee charged each country’s Olympic committee only $6 a day for room and board, this would have been a lousy business. Instead, it was considered a memorable part of the Olympian experience in Tokyo.

For the weightlifters and wrestlers who needed some 7 to 8,000 calories a day, it was like being a kid in a candy store. For those runners and swimmers who had to stay slim and trim, the dining halls were a blessing and a curse.

Canadian field hockey center forward, Victor Warren, told me the food in Tokyo was so good, the athletes dubbed these games The Eating Olympics. “The food was excellent! For a bunch of young bachelors who are presented with a food fest, you can go crazy. You needed to be disciplined or you’d blow up like a blimp!”

Said Hermann Rusch, food consultant to the US Olympic team, to the Associated Press, “Never before have I seen anything like this setup. The Japanese are terribly efficient and wonderful cooks.”

Kyu Sakamoto, crooner of hit song, Sukiyaki, visiting the Olympic Village in 1964. From the book,
Kyu Sakamoto, crooner of hit song, Sukiyaki, visiting the Olympic Village in 1964. From the book, “Tokyo Olympiad 1964”.
It hit number one on the American Billboard Hot 100 in June, 1963. Number 1. And not a word in English. The title – Sukiyaki – had nothing to do with the song lyrics.

The man who sang this international hit was Kyu Sakamoto, pictured above hanging out with Aussie athletes at the Olympic Village. During the Olympics, Sakamoto performed the song on Swedish television – live – which was a big deal in those days.

The song was first released in the Fall of 1961 under the title, Ue o Muite Aruko (上を向いて歩こう), and enjoyed number 1 status for several months until early 1962. The owner of a British record label heard the song in Japan, and likely due to its catchy melody, thought there would be an audience in England, despite the fact that the song was in Japanese. The record owner’s instincts, including the decision to re-name the song after a popular Japanese dish, were superb as the record hit #6 on the charts in Britain, as well as #1 in countries like Australia, Canada and Norway.

By the time the Summer Games in Tokyo rolled around in 1964, many an Olympian would have been familiar with the song, Sukiyaki.

While Sakamoto travelled the world singing his hit song, appearing on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show, he never climbed beyond one-hit-wonder status. And at the young age of 42, Sakamoto died spectacularly in the deadliest plane crash in Japan’s history, the Japan Airlines Flight 123 that slammed into a mountain side in Gunma, Japan, ending the lives of 505 people on board.

The cheerful title (Look Up and Walk) and melody belies the lyrics, which describe a man smiling and whistling through pain and loss, holding the tears at bay as he contemplates another night alone. Listen to Sakamoto’s syrupy version above. Get uplifted by the cheery melody. You’d never think the song is about pain.

Below is a version of the song in English by Jewel Akens in