At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Olympic Village was more than serviceable. It was an actual neighborhood.

The neighborhood was called Washington Heights, an American military compound designed to make American soldiers and their families feel like they never left America, as you can see in the video above. If you watch until the 1:18 minute mark, you’ll see Washington Heights before it was transferred from the US Government to the Japanese government for the purpose of being re-fashioned into an Olympic Village.

I got my hands on a booklet that was published by the Organizing Committee of the 1964 Olympics, called “XVIII Olympiad Official Bulletin No. 12”. This booklet, published in November 1963 to update officials on the progress of the organizing committee, featured pictures and blueprints of the dorm rooms in the Olympic Village.

Here are the descriptions from that bulletin with the images. If you’re an Olympian from 1964, let me know your memories of living in those former military family quarters.

There are two types of housing facilities: one is a ferro-concrete four-storied building of a dormitory type, and the other, an independent wooden house of one or two stories. The men’s quarters will consist of these two kinds of housing, while the quarters for women will be of the dormitory type especially prepared for the fair sex.

Ferro concrete four story dorm_XVIII Olympiad Bulletin No12
Ferro concrete four story dorm

Each floor of the dormitory is of the same plan and has 18 bedrooms and a common bath and toilet facilities. There will be a total of 69 bedrooms per building. A central heating system is provided, but the temperatures in October in Japan will not require its operation. The staircases and corridors are covered with asphalt tile, the walls with plaster, and the ceilings with sound-absorbing materials.

Each bedroom, 25.5 square meters in area, faces the corridor on one side and has windows on the other. Lockers will be prepared along one of the two blank walls, in addition to beds (three beds in a room on the average), desks chairs and boxes for small articles will be provided, in each bedroom. For comfortable living conditions, bedside lamps have been installed, and insect nets and curtains are attached to the windows.

There are nine types of independent housing units. One frame house is composed of one to four housing units of one or two types. The combination of such unites varies 50 different ways. A house may be of one to four unites of the same types and another house may be of two to four unites of two different types. Building may be of one storied, while the others may be two storied. Although the types of houses are quite varied, the interior d├ęcor is limited to only nine types.

One-story wooden house dorm_XVIII Olympiad Bulletin No12
One-story wooden house dorm

The outside of those houses is covered with cement mortar, and the roofs are tiled. A-1 Type house is the simplest; it is one-storied and has four bedrooms and a utility room. One of the two doors leads to the entrance hall and the other to the utility room. Eight persons will be accommodated in each house of this type.

In the larger two-storied B-1a Type house are four bedrooms, the rest being almost the same as in the A-1 Type. Nine athletes are to be provided with lodgings in this type of house. The wood floor is covered with a carpet, and the (board) walls are painted. The ceiling is covered with fibre board. These houses will be furnished in the same way as the dormitory rooms and wardrobe closets will be added, if necessary.

Each house has a gas hot furnace for heating, and the room for the chef de mission is equipped with a telephone. The utility room contains a gas heater and a sink.

Two-story wooden house dorm_XVIII Olympiad Bulletin No12
Two-story wooden house dorm
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A GE advertisement in Life Mgazine, October 9, 1964
A GE advertisement in Life Mgazine, October 9, 1964

During the American occupation of Japan, American soldiers and their families lived in Washington Heights, a fabricated neighborhood of American houses, with American lawns and American kitchens in Tokyo. Japanese who got a glimpse inside these homes were astonished by the size of the rooms, the roar of the cars and the gleam of the white goods in the kitchen.

My mother, who was born and raised in Tochigi, Japan, met my father in 1957, got married in 1958 in Tokyo, and then took a ship back to the United States. They settled in Kentucky, where my father worked as a reporter for the Louisville Times, and my mother began life as an American housewife.

I think my father was kinda being cheeky when he took this picture, but hey, their new kitchen was probably the size of the apartment he rented out in Tokyo.

Louisville #3

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,