@
Tokyo Olympic volleyball gold medalist Masae Kasai’s wedding in May 1965 attracted national attention, and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato (left) and his wife were on hand for the ceremony. | KYODO

The year 1962 was a fateful year for Masae Kasai and her teammates on the national women’s volleyball team.

The Japanese team won the world volleyball championships by defeating then champions, the Soviet Union, in the finals match in Moscow. The team was at the top of their game, but the practices were punishing (as related in this post), and some of the team members were getting older – in fact, the captain, Kasai, was 29 years old when the team captured the world championship crown.

In the 1960s, it was considered unfortunate if a woman did not marry by their mid-20s. In fact, it used to be a bit of a slur to a woman if she were considered a “Christmas Cake” – in demand until the 25th (of December), but no longer of value after the 25th. Thus family and society constantly reminded the women of Japan’s undefeated and champion volleyball team that true success in life for them would come with marriage. The coach, Hirobumi Daimatsu, believed that part of his responsibility included to help arrange marriages for his team members after retirement from the game.

And in 1962, after the world championships, Daimatsu, Kasai and other members of the team intended to retire so they could go on with their lives and leave behind a life of harsh training nearly 7 days a week, 51 weeks a year.

However, in 1962, it was announced that volleyball would debut at the Olympics in 1964, the year that Tokyo would host the Olympics. After their victory in Moscow, the public and the media strongly called for the coach, Kasai and the entire team to fight on through 1964, with the goal of winning gold at the 1964 Olympiad, as Helen Mcnaughtan explains in her article, The Oriental Witches: Women Volleyball and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

…the public expectation was immense, and the team received some 5,000 letters from fans urging the ‘Oriental Witches’ to continue. In early 1963, the team members got together after the New Year holiday, and most of the players decided to stay until the Olympics. Kasai decided to give up her ambitions to marry for the time being and to aim for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. In interview, Kasai recollected that she decided to continue because she felt that the public at that time would ‘not allow her to retire’, and that the only way to respond to the public’s expectation that the national team could win the gold medal was to try to give them that victory.

Fortunately, as related in this blog post, the Oriental Witches swept through the round-robin matches and dominated the Soviet Union in the finals to win gold for Japan. So finally, it was time for the women to get married. Kasai, as the captain and star of the team, was given extraordinary help in finding a mate. Coach Daimatsu asked Japan’s newly minted prime minister, Eisaku Sato, to help. After meetings with three other men, when Kasai failed to experience that spark of possibility, the prime minister’s wife introduced Kasai to an officer in the Japan Self Defense Forces named Kazuo Nakamura.

 

okaasan no kin medaru_Kasai Masae cover
Cover of Kasai’s autobiography.

 

In Kasai’s autobiography, Okaasan no Kin Medaru (Mom’s Gold Medal), she wrote how her first meeting with Nakamura involved a considerable number of other people, including the prime minister, and thus there was practically no conversation between Nakamura and Kasai during that first meeting. But Kasai felt something in Nakamura’s voice that seemed to speak to her heart. And so she told the prime minister that she would like to meet Nakamura again. Nakamura agreed to meet again. According to Kasai, Nakamura was nervous about the idea of marrying Kasai, and she appreciated his willingness to explain himself in a straight manner.

Nakamura: Does Kasai-san intend to get married?

Kasai: Why?

Nakamura: Well, you said you would give up volleyball at the age of 29. However the world didn’t let you to do it. So you decided to live until 31 as a volleyball player and give up on marriage. So now that you won the gold medal, I think people are just making noise about your marriage.

Kasai: No, this is not true. I quit volleyball after the Olympics, and I strongly wish to get married.

Nakamura: I am sorry, I was rude. However, I think I am unsuitable for Kasai-san as a husband. Even though I hate war, if anything happens, I will need to fight on the frontlines. In that time, if I have children or a wife, I will unfortunately be drawn back home. So I think being single is more convenient for me. The Self-defense forces, different from our domestic troops, cannot settle down to domestic lives. And I would have no inconveniences in the military, and thus have no need for help with cooking or laundry.

Kasai: ….

Nakamura: Of course, there are some senior officers who are married, but I don’t think that it is a happy life. This is why, even though I am 33 years old, I believe, in principle, that military men like me should not marry.”

My assistant regimental commander said that I should stop thinking this way and just go see you. In fact, the day we had our first omiai meeting, I did not even know where I was going, since he just took me there. Once we arrived, I found myself in the prime minister’s private residence, I was so scared my legs froze up, ha ha ha…,” Nakamura laughed. “In fact, they still are! My parents were surprised when I got home and told them that I was in the prime minister’s home and that my matchmaking pair was that volleyball player Kasai, hahaha….

Kasai was hooked. She wrote that she had never a man who would speak so frankly with her, which made him even more attractive to him. Once she realized that Nakamura may be the man for her, she attempted to explain that she was a simple person, that the gold medal did not go to her head. “Even though I won a gold medal, I am still just a very ordinary woman from a farmer family in Yamanashi. I did not become rich because of the gold medal, and without volleyball I am just a woman, although admittedly, a very tall woman.”

Nakamura replied that for people of their age, a person of her height is beautiful. It was a sign to Kasai that Nakamura was interested, that he would speak to his admiration for a quality – her height – that Kasai has spent a lifetime being embarrassed about.

About 5 weeks after their initial meeting, Kazuo Nakamura and Masae Kasai were married on May 31 at Ichigaya Kaikan in Tokyo.

 

Note: Special thanks to Marija Linartaite, for her help in the research for this article.

Advertisements
Konjiki Tsukasa and Masa Akimoto _The Yomiuri_October 5, 1964
From The Yomiuri_October 5, 1964

Konjiki Tsukasa was on October 10. So he thought it would be great to get married on October 10. And since the Olympics were in town, why not get married at the National Stadium on October 10, 1964, the opening day of the Tokyo Olympics.

His fiance, Masa Akimoto, agreed.

But first they had to get tickets. According to an article in The Yomiuri on October 11, 1964, the couple had 70 friends apply for opening day tickets, perhaps the hottest tickets ever to go on sale in Japan at the time. The system at the time was to apply and get your names thrown in a lottery. Fortunately, two of their friends landed them a ticket each.

But now, in addition to a ticket for the priest, they needed two witnesses. Instead of trying to find two more tickets, Konjiki called the Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) many times to try to convince them to find two people who already had tickets to the Opening Ceremonies to be their wedding witnesses. According to an October 5 Yomiuri article, JTB personnel did not initially take the requests seriously, suspecting a possible scam. But Konjiki persisted, and finally convinced JTB to find two people who happened to be seated near Konjiki and Akimoto. JTB then provided an extra ticket for the priest.

Wearing red blazers with the Olympic emblem, likely similar to what the members of the Japanese Olympic team wore, the party of five entered the stadium at 10 am, about 5 hours prior to the start of the Games, and got hitched. They then proceeded to wait patiently, got to their seats for the Opening Ceremonies, and had one of the memorable wedding days a Japanese couple could possibly have.

That was one way to get in to see the Opening Ceremonies. The Yomiuri explained on October 11 another way…which did not end well. I’ll just let you read the report about these two students:

Two youths without tickets so eager to see the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games that they hid themselves in National Stadium before the event, were arrested before the start of ceremonies by patrolling policemen.

A 19-year-old boy from Tsuabame, Niigata-ken, whose name was withheld, entered the stadium Thursday (two days before) wearing a fake press armband, after showing a business card of a Niigata Nippo newspaper reporter.

A second youth, Shuro Iino, 21, freshman a Waseda University, was discovered hiding in a toilet at 11:15 pm Friday, after climbing over a fence.

 

young-robbie-brightwell-and-ann-packer
A young Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell
There was a gravitational pull that brought Robbie Brightwell and Ann Packer together. Like two small satellites spinning around a sun called Athletics, they would meet every now and then over a four or five year period, and appear to get closer and closer…until finally, they were together, spinning in their orbit, in synch. 

It was the spring of 1957 and 17-year-old Brightwell was at a six-day athletics training camp in Lilleshall Hall, a national sports center in Shropshire. He saw a girl, “dark haired, curvey and attractive.” As Brightwell wrote in his autobiography, Robbie Brightwell and His Golden Girl, “she stood out a mile.” He made an attempt to talk with her, but he got shooed away by a track judge. And then, he lost her.

In the summer of 1960, Brightwell had become an accomplished sprinter, good enough to make the Olympic Team and represent Great Britain at the Rome Olympics. He was at the English School Championships in Shrewsbury where he was asked to present medals to the 220 yards senior girls’ finalists. And there she was again.

The pretty, dark-haired girl mounting the rostrum for her silver medal had a familiar face. In a few seconds I placed her. She was the girl I’d admired at Southampton three years earlier. Her name was Ann Packer and she hailed from Berkshire.

But again, he was shooed away, this time by the administrator of the athletics course he was attending. Despite attempts to walk her back to her team section, Packer was escorted away as if he were a ne’re do well to be avoided, and not a newly-minted Olympian.

Then, in the Spring the following year, at a training camp at Loughborough Colleges organized by the International Athletics Club, their magnetic forces brought Packer and Brightwell together again.

At the outset, one particular attractive girl caught my eye. Within seconds, I realised it was Ann Packer, whose medals I’d presented at the previous year’s ESAA Championships. Having previously failed to attract her attention I determined to make up for lost time. Waiting until after lunch, I wandered over to her group. Apart from a perfunctory smile, she ignored me.

Packer had many potential suitors and Brightwell’s shyness left him at the outskirts of Packer’s orbit. But as fate would have it, their gravitational pull would send them careening together, coincidentally in the street, on their way to a dance party.

ann-packer-and-robbie-brightwell-sitting-together_autobiography
From Brightwell’s autobiography
She laughed off my apologies, and I escorted her to the dance hall. When we arrived, the evening’s entertainment was in full swing, and anxious to maintain the initiative, I asked for the first dance. Leaving the floor and anxious to keep her to myself, I steered her to join Barry Jackson and his Melton Mowbray girlfriend, Pat Parker. From time to time, our conversation would be interrupted by others whisking her off, but I held a trump card; guaranteeing her return, I kept a firm grip on her handbag. Encouragingly, she stayed by my side. I felt more and more confident in her presence.

And that, as Bogey said at the end of Casablanca, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Fast forward to October 1964. Ann Packer had won a silver in the 400 meters and a gold in the 800 meters. Robbie Brightwell had come from behind to snag silver for his 4×400 relay team. They left Tokyo as heroes of the 1964 Summer Olympics, and were headed home to England where the Olympic heroes would take center stage in one of the biggest weddings of the year.

Nikolai Prodanov and Diana Yorgova from the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency
Nikolai Prodanov and Diana Yorgova from the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency

As UPI put it, Japan was “in the midst of a wedding boom” in 1964, where the Meiji Memorial Hall, very near the Olympic Village, was marrying 35 to 40 couples a day.

But the biggest wedding during the Olympics was between two Bulgarians, Nikolai Prodanov and Diana Yorgova. Held at the International Club in the Olympic Village, the wedding was attended by the Bulgarian Ambassador, Christo Zdravchev, as well as the President of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage. Superstar gymnast, Takashi Ono and his wife joined the festivities, as Prodanov was a fellow gymnast.

From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency
From the book, Tokyo Olympiad 1964_Kyodo News Agency

As this was the first wedding ever at an Olympic Games, everybody likely wanted to be a part of the ceremony. A director of Nippon Rayon played the traditional role as the “go-between” and financed the couple’s 24-hour honeymoon to Kyoto, back in time to attend the closing ceremony.

If you’re curious, here’s film of the wedding!