A City Reborn
Ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics, a new book examines the legacy of the city’s 1964 Summer Games.
I have a photograph of my father with his colleagues from NBC, which broadcasted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to the United States. Hanging out in their temporary office, they’re all wearing surgical masks—clearly something they must have seen a lot of in Tokyo back then.
Masks are a common sight today, primarily worn to prevent the spread of colds or flu. But 55 years ago, the Tokyo air was thick with pollution and dust from construction, and the masks helped people breathe a little easier.
In the first half of the 1960s, Japan’s economy was humming. The capital’s skyline was being transformed by the addition of sleek high-rises and modern transportation infrastructure like bullet train and monorail tracks and elevated highways.
Foreign athletes arriving in Tokyo in October 1964 were amazed by the dynamism and cleanliness of Japan and the friendliness of the people. For many, their perceptions of the country were flipped. The Japanese were not the merciless killers of World War II. The streets of Tokyo were not rubble-strewn or filled with the impoverished, and “made in Japan” didn’t mean poor quality.
Teams from around the world witnessed a Tokyo that had risen from the ashes of a catastrophic war. The hospitality is also remembered to this day. So many of the more than 70 ’64 Olympians I interviewed for my book declared their desire to return to Japan for next year’s Olympics because of their fond memories.
Having lived in Japan for nearly 20 years, I was conscious of the symbolic importance of the ’64 Olympics. In 2014, shortly after Tokyo was selected to host the 2020 Summer Games, I searched for a book on the 1964 Olympiad. I couldn’t find anything in English, so decided to write something myself.
As a former journalist (I followed in my father’s footsteps), I began the research that led to a blog, The Olympians: From 1964 to 2020, and a journey of discovery. The athletes I met were fascinating and exuded a dogged sense of determination to win.
Knowing the reserved nature of the Japanese and the declining number of Japanese who choose to study abroad today, I was surprised to learn how boldly the locals, in their halting English, welcomed the legions of foreigners to their country. The Japanese were eager see the world and import the best talent and ideas.
Writing the book, I gained a deep appreciation for the incredible transformation that took Japan from defeated and devastated to motivated and modern—in just 19 years.
While many Japanese today may not be so conscious of the ’64 Olympics and what it symbolized, those involved in whatever capacity in the coming Olympiad are here today, proud and strong, because of the efforts of their parents and grandparents.
And those same values of excellence, perseverance and community embraced by their forebears will make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics a shining success.
Words: Roy Tomizawa
Image: Photo Kishimoto
Meet the Author: Roy Tomizawa
October 30 | 7–8pm