JOC head, Katsuji Shibata (seated, glasses) at press conference post-JOC vote to boycott JOC head, Katsuji Shibata (seated, glasses) at press conference post-JOC vote to boycott_Mainichi

In 1989, the Japanese minister of transport, Shintaro Ishihara wrote an essay that Japanese needed to be more assertive, speak up and say “no.”

In the case of the cold war rhetoric between the US and the USSR, Ishihara wrote that USSR missiles could hit their targets within 60 meters, while Americans bragged US missiles were accurate to 15 meters. Ishihara emphasized that Americans could make that claim thanks to Japanese technology.

“if Japanese semiconductors are not used, this accuracy cannot be assured,” wrote Ishihara in the 1989 book, The Japan that Can Say No.  “It has come to the point that no matter how much they continue military expansion, if Japan stopped selling them the chips, there would be nothing more they could do.”

Japan That Can Say NoIn the late 1980s, the Japanese economy was challenging the American economy, books on Japanese productivity and quality was must reading in MBA programs, and Japanese people were omnipresent globally, quietly confident about Japanese ways.

If the Moscow Olympics had taken place in 1988 instead of 1980, perhaps Japan would have had the confidence to say “no” to an American boycott of the Olympics. However, in 1980, that was not the case. Despite the fact that many of America’s biggest allies in Europe decided to go to participate in the Moscow Summer Games, Japan waited until the last possible moment before finally saying “yes” to America and the boycott.

On Saturday, May 24, 1980, the day before the deadline when national Olympic committees had to accept or decline their invitation to the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, members of the Japan Olympic Committee(JOC) met to vote. The president of the JOC, Katsuji Shibata, clearly wanted Japanese athletes to compete in Moscow. But the odds were stacked against him.

  • Since January, 1980, officials from the Japanese government expressed a strong view that Japan must boycott the Games, although they were diplomatic enough to say that the final decision rests with the JOC, as per IOC rules.
  • In an opinion poll taken in late February, 40% of the public were against Japan sending a team to Moscow.
  • A week later, an informal poll of JOC members revealed that the committee was far from making a decision as 12 members were in favor and 13 were against, although 14 refused to provide a response.

Shibata hoped that an outside force would convince the Japanese government to change its position and pleaded with the president of the International Olympic Committee, Lord Killanin, to negotiate with American President Jimmy Carter and Soviet secretary general Leonid Brezhnev to find “an effective solution to the present crisis of the Olympic movement.”

Even a week after the United States Olympic Committee voted on April 12 to support the Carter administration and boycott the Moscow Games, Shibata was still telling the press that Japan should go to the Moscow Games “in principle.”

In May, Japan Prime MinisterMasayoshi Ohira reiterated the government’s position to boycott the Olympics, while Finance Minister Noboru Takeshita said that financial assistance will no longer be available to sports organizations wishing to send athletes.

Grasping at straws, Shibata sent JOC officials to Asia and Europe to gather information, and perhaps uncover support for Japan to send a team.

But finally, the day of the May 24 vote came. And despite the tearful appeals of Japanese athletes, the JOC voted 29 to 13 in favor of the boycott. “With a heavy heart, I report to you that the JOC has voted to boycott the Games,” said Shibata in a Japan Times report.

One of the most promising medalists for Japan, distance runner Toshihiko Seko was present. Said Seko, who made it to the meeting after a 25-km practice run, “I am despondent but after all I suppose we have to follow what the government says because there would be no sports without a government.”

Alas, 1980 was not yet a time when Japan could say no.

Yuji Takada, wrestler, reacts to JOC vote to boycott the 1980 Olymipcs_Mainichi Yuji Takada, wrestler, reacts to JOC vote to boycott the 1980 Olympics_Mainichi

 

Season_of_the_Sun_poster
1956 film, Season of the Sun (Taiyou no Kisetsu)

 

If surfing comes to the Tokyo Olympics, it’s possible surfers will have the American military to thank.

After the Pacific War ended and General MacArthur assumed nearly imperial-like status in running Japan, military bases with thousands of American troops were established throughout the country. As explained in a previous post, American soldiers and their families were particularly prominent in the Shinjuku and Roppongi areas, significantly influencing the fashion and music of those areas in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Screen capture of Prof Shunya Yoshima and Kanagawa Prefecture
Screen capture of Tokyo University Professor Shunya Yoshimi’s EdX course, Visualizing Postwar Tokyo.

 

In Kanagawa Prefecture, which is just south of Tokyo are two major American military bases, Atsugi and Yokosuka. A spot in between those two bases is a beach called Shonan, which today is considered a popular place for sun worshippers and surfers. The image of Shonan as a surfer’s hangout was most certainly cultivated by American soldiers who brought their music and surfboards to the beach. As Tokyo University professor, Shunya Yoshimi, explained in his EdX course, Visualizing Postwar Japan, “Kanagawa Prefecture or Shonan area was one of the most important areas where American military facilities remained even after the 1960s. And from these military facilities, sporting culture, marine culture, music culture, many kinds of American military culture spread out which people enjoyed.”

Marketers in Japan immediately noticed the influence and the emerging love of beach culture in Shonan. As Professor Yoshimi explained further, Hawaii, or the image of a Hawaiian lifestyle began to enter the Japanese pop consciousness. Prof Yoshimi uses as a case in point an advertisement of TRIS Whiskey, in which the company, Suntory, offers a trip to Hawaii to a lucky 100 Japanese people. Hawaii in the 1960s, for mainland Americans and Japanese alike, was becoming the exotic paradise that people dreamed of visiting. Today, of course, Hawaii is one of the most popular holiday destinations for Japanese.

 

Suntory Ad for TRIS Whiskey
Suntory ad for TRIS Whiskey offering 100 people a trip to Hawaii.

 

One of the more influential movies of the time was called “Season of the Sun”, which came out in 1956, based on a novel by Shintaro Ishihara. Season of the Sun was a love story between a boy, who runs with a rough crowd, and a rich girl, with life on the beach as a central part of the storyline.

Influenced by the surfing culture of beaches like Shonan, and with a desire to inject youth and fun into the Olympics, the Tokyo Olympic Committee nominated surfing to become an Olympic sport in 2020.