Over 30,000 people crowded the streets of Shibuya near the famous zebra scramble to dance on August 5, 2017.
Of that huge crowd, in one of Tokyo’s most popular shopping and entertainment centers, 30 members of the Tokyo 2020 team dressed in yukata and happi coats performed a dance that was popular over 53 years ago. Reviving a hit song from that time, the organizers re-released an updated version of “Tokyo Gourin Ondo”(東京五輪音頭), which roughly translates to The Tokyo Olympic Dance Song.
This song by Kouhei Fukuda, amidst the follow up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, helped created Olympic fever in Japan at that time.
It is mid August, in the heat of summer, when families often come together to visit and clean family gravesites. It is also an opportunity for neighborhoods to come together in a bon odori, which you can see in almost any neighborhood in Japan. And anyone can join in the dance.
Watch this video to see how the Tokyo Gourin dance is done.
A New Year’s Eve tradition in Japan is to watch NHK’s “Kouhaku”, which is a five-hour songfest of live music that continues on until just before midnight. This is a light-hearted battle between women singers and bands (“kou” or “red”) and male singers and bands (“haku” or “white”).
In 1963 and 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo Gourin Ondo would go on to sell 1.3 million records, and in some ways, made the singer of that song, Haruo Minami, the face of the Tokyo Olympics. Minami was already a well known singer in Japan, performing the popular music of the time which would later be referred to as enka. Minami stood out because he performed in kimono, which was not common for men in the 1950s.
But what makes Minami very interesting is his war past, or more accurately, his post-war past. At the age of 20 in 1944, Minami (probably under his actual name Bunji Kitazume), was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army in Manchuria. Just after the Pacific War ended in August, 1945, Minami and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese were captured by the Soviet Union army. Minami eventually served four years of hard labor in Khaborosk, which is in Siberia.
Although about 60,000 of approximately 600,000 Japanese POW died in the Siberian labor camps, Minami stayed alive until 1949 when he was allowed to return to Japan.
According to a music critic, it is said that Minami sang this song with such passion because of how hard Japan has worked to re-build after the war, and nobody understood that more than a man who returned from the labor camps of Siberia.
Here is Haruo Minami performing “Tokyo Gourin Ondo” at Kouhaku, on either December 31, 1963 or 1964.