Olympic Village Theater and Bicycles_Asahi Graf_23Oct
Olympic Village Theater and Bicycles, from the October 23, 1964 edition of the magazine Asahi Graf

The Olympic Village of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics really felt like a community. After all, it was, up to 1964, the gated neighborhood for US military families, a symbol of the continued American military presence in Japan.

Without a doubt, one of the lasting memories of the Olympians’ positive experience of the 1964 Summer Games was the availability of bicycles throughout the Olympic Village. The Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee had bicycles donated by Marukin Bicycle Manufacturing and Matsushita Electric Industrial and had them placed in all parts of the Village. The concept was if you saw an unattended bicycle, you could get on it and ride it anywhere in the Village. When you got off it and parked it, the bicycle was then available to any other person in the Village.

Members of the French Olympic Team on bicycles_Bi to Chikara
Members of the French Olympic Team on bicycles, from the book, Bi to Chikara

Olympian rower, Ted Nash, expressed his appreciation of the bicycles and Japanese hospitality in this post.

The reception was spectacular, the cleanliness and orderly fashion amazed us, the thoughtfulness of our hosts – the Japanese – was a constant surprise – They provided 750 new bicycles within the Olympic Village grounds on a “no-owner” basis. We simply found a vacant bike, rode it anywhere, left it there, and it was fair-game for anyone else – the seats never had a chance to cool off. Bus schedules, tours, eating and training facilities, were excellent with no measure spared to make the athletes feel at home.

Olympians rode the bicycles to the bus stops, to the dining areas, to the movie theaters and to their dorms. The books and magazines of the time were filled with pictures of Olympians smiling and socializing in the Village on those bicycles. One Olympian, who will remain anonymous, told me that it was their escape vehicles when they pinched the Turkish flag from that country’s living quarters.

Soren Svejstrup_bicycles
Members of the Danish team, from the collection of diver Søren Svejstrup.

The report by the Olympic Committee stated that there were actually over 1,000 bicycles allocated to the Olympic Village, but whether there were 750 or 1,000, there were simply not enough. An American gymnast told me that he often ran to open bicycles to make sure no one beat him to them. 5,000 meter Olympic champion, Bob Schul, wrote in his autobiography, In the Long Run, that the bicycles were so valuable that “they’d be hidden in bushes and other secret places, waiting on the athlete who had placed them in hiding the night before. We were among the few who arose so early that there were always a few within reach.”

Canadian field hockey player, Victor Warren validated that by telling me that “when our goalkeeper had to pack up our stuff we made it a point to take a bicycle and hide it in our dorm room so we could transport our stuff to the bus easily.”

The master of the psych out, four-time gold medalist Don Schollander, explained that one could get so worked up about whether a bicycle would be available, that he had to very consciously tell himself not to be bothered if he could not find a bicycle, as he explained in his autobiography, Deep Water.

I made up my mind not to let anything upset me. the Japanese had provided bicycles to help us get around the Village, but there were never enough. If I couldn’t find a bicycle, I would wait or walk. I was careful to take the right bus to training, so that I wouldn’t be too late and have to hurry, or too early and have to hang around. If I couldn’t get into the pool exactly when I wanted to, I told myself it didn’t matter. Whatever happened – that was fine with me. it rained a lot that week; if I got caught in a rainstorm, it was no big thing.

In the end, in so many of my interviews with 1964 Olympians, one of the most enduring memories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were the Village bicycles.

Ada Kok on bicycle in Tokyo Olympic Village
Members of the Dutch team.
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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

“Teams were assigned a minder,” Victor Warren explained to me. “Our guide, our liaison, our gal was Michiko, a delightful young lady. When we won, which was rare, she cried. When we lost, she cried.”

Warren, a member of the Canadian field hockey team at the 1964 Tokyo Games, explained that one day, Michiko handed out a song sheet to the team. It was the popular children’s song,  “If You’re Happy and You Know it, Clap Your Hands”…except it was in Japanese. “The wording was shiawase nara te o tatakou or something like that. We all sang it on the bus, and it was delightful.”

One of the hottest singers in Japan, and the world, at that time was Kyu Sakamoto, who had released this song in 1964, 5 months before the start of the Olympics.