Tokyo Summer Olympics Revisited — Japan Story Part 1

1964 Summer Olympics logo (left) and 2020 Summer Olympics (right). Photo source:

I was remember in early August during the 2020 Summer Olympics, the Indonesia badminton team in women doubles, Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu was winning the gold medal which marked as the return of Indonesia badminton reign on Olympics Games. Every Indonesians — including myself — from Sabang until Merauke were celebrating the achievement of Indonesia badminton team especially to Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu, even Indonesian President Joko Widodo was personally congratulated both of them in his Instagram account. Since the month ago, from July until August, the world was celebrating the 2020 Summer Olympics which was held in Tokyo, Japan in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic and eventually this is the second time that Japan hosting the Olympic Games which previously held in 1964. Although the 2020 Summer Olympics was held in 2021 due to canceled with the reason of COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration of Summer Olympics especially for Japan itself, gave the reminiscence of the nostalgia of 1964 Summer Olympics in which Japan become the first Asian country at that time to held the Olympics Games. And the event becomes a memorable moment for every Japanese people at that time until today.

So, why the Tokyo Olympics is so very memorable and had a special place in every heart of the Japanese people? And why the Tokyo Olympics is very special for the Asian continent? If we want to find the answer for those questions, we had to look back in the national history of Japan after World War II. After World War II was over, Japan was left in ruin due to the U.S. bombing in several major cities across Japan and the additional atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945 which makes the Japanese military dictatorship government signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay. The United States was soon to occupied Japan under the supervision of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General Douglas MacArthur who wants to rebuild Japan and framing them to become a democratic country in Asia in order to cover their darkest past as the imperialist. To be honest, all the programs that was launched by General MacArthur towards Japan is the extension of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt program called New Deal which supposedly implemented in the U.S., but it was cancelled due to the World War II.

However, despite the New Deal program was being implemented in Japan rather than in the United States, the program was successfully making a recovery for the Japan’s economy and put the Japanese people back at work and at the same time, the democratic government was established in order to remove imperial military dictatorship regime through the new Constitution of Japan which was promulgated in May 3, 1947. The Allied Occupation government was also gave the food aid for the Japanese people who were suffered from starvation caused by the devastation of bombing campaign and crippled national economy which makes the price for goods and foods soared high. In 1950s, when United States was ended their occupation in Japan, the country was witnessing the growth of their economy. New industries began to rise as the giant automotive companies such as Mitsubishi, Nissan, Honda and Mazda are starting to produce and manufacturing their own automobiles. The electronic companies such as Panasonic, Yamaha, Sony are starting emerged as the new Asian multinational corporation and their products are began to spread outside of Japan.

The Japanese emerged economy and post-war reconstruction was shaping the nation to become a democratic and prosper country in Asia continental. However, the Japan post-war reconstruction also become the bulk of American power to halt the Communist influence in East Asia which the Mainland China and North Korea was fallen under the Soviet Union. The Japanese emerged economy also shaped the people to feel more confident that their country has already left its darkest past and moving forward to become a modern, developed and powerful at international stage especially in Asia region. Japan in the 1950s and early 1960s had become the most developed nation in Asia and capable to export their manufactures such as automobiles, electronics and even the Japanese movies had been selected into several international film festivals and also being playing into foreign theatres including the United States and the European countries. This capabilities makes Japan also gained more confidence that they show to the world that Japan is a independent, modern and strong nation, not in perilous state also considered to be important in the world geopolitics.

In early 1960s, Japan with its confidence to step into the world stage, were decided that they were gonna bid the host of Summer Olympics Games and it was proved as successful. Tokyo was elected as the host of 1964 Summer Olympics which defeated several cities such as Detroit, Vienna and Brussels during the IOC session in Munich, West Germany on May 26, 1959. Ever since then, the Japanese government was preparing to host the 1964 Summer Olympics and under the leadership of Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, Japan was began to build the Olympics infrastructures across Tokyo area. I was remembered one of the movies which had the 1964 Summer Olympics becomes a theme in the story. The movie title is From Up On Poppy Hill and it is a part of the long list of the movies that produced by the famous film studio known as Studio Ghibli.

From Up On Poppy Hill was released in 2011 and directed by Goro Miyazaki and based upon the Japanese manga series Coquelicot-zaka kara by Chizuru Takahashi and Tetsuro Sayama. Although the main story of the movie is not about the preparation of Olympics, but we can see from the movie during at that time, the Japanese people were in excited to preparing for the Olympics. A new venues for the Olympics was finished and ready to be used, few of them become a new icons for Tokyo such as Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Yoyogi Park, Shibuya and Nippon Budokan in Chiyoda which both venues were designed by the renowned Japanese architect at that time, Kenzo Tange.

Beside the new infrastructures for the Olympics venues that becomes a new icons for Tokyo, a new icon of Japan has introduced to the world and it will be the symbol of the modern Japan. The first bullet train in the world was introduced during the 1964 Summer Olympics which is known today as Shinkansen and it was inaugurated on October 1st, 1964 with the first line known as Tokaido Shinkansen and it is still in use today. The Shinkansen idea was the brainchild of the chief engineer Hideo Shima and he was passed the idea to the Japanese National Railways (JNR) president, Shinji Sogo. Then, in 1957, Sogo was trying persuaded to the Japan National Diet to get approval for the project and a year later in 1958, the parliament was approved to fund the project, although the amount that was approved were less than the original target plan which was on ¥194.8 billion out of the ¥300 billion. However, the funding for Shinkansen was covered by the loan from the World Bank with the amount $80 million out of $200 million which was enough to fund 15% of the project. The constructions of Shinkansen was began on 20 April 1959 and it was finished and inaugurated two weeks before 1964 Summer Olympics begins.

The 1964 Summer Olympics was opened on October 10 and it was opened by Emperor Hirohito with the participation from 93 countries around the world, except Indonesia who were banned by the International Olympic Committee due to refusal of allowing visa for Israel and Taiwan delegation during 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta and South Africa was excluded due to politics of apartheid. The 1964 Summer Olympics was featured 19 different sports and encompassing 25 disciplines in 163 events across greater Tokyo area. The event itself was showing Japan to the world as the new democratic country and successfully reconstructed after the devastation by the World War II. The event also become the symbol of modern Japan and preparing themselves to become a new power in the world stage as the powerhouse economy country in Asia.

Aftermath the 1964 Summer Olympics, Japan was witnessing the national economy growth throughout 1960s and become powerhouse in 1970s until its peak at 1980s with the new frame of Japan as the economy leader in Asia. The successful Summer Olympics event makes the Japanese people feel proud because they can proved themselves that they are independent and strive together to rebuild Japan. It is hard to believe that Japan was radically change from the devastated, starved and conquered country to become democratic, modern, strong-economy country in a short period of time (19 years since the Surrender of Japan until 1964 Summer Olympics) and it become the spirit of 1964 Summer Olympics.

The spirit of 1964 Summer Olympics is still carried by the Japanese people when it comes to the second time when they prepared to host 2020 Summer Olympics. Tokyo was selected again as the host during the IOC session in Buenos Aires, Argentina on September 7, 2013 and it was scheduled from July 23 until August 8, 2020 but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it was rescheduled on the same date in 2021. Although there was a protests in domestic regarding the capability of Japanese government and its National Olympic Committee to held the event in the midst of COVID-19 and the surge of positive cases in Japan which makes the international delegation could be vulnerable infected by the COVID-19 virus and possibly gonna be worsened the situation, the Japanese government was ensuring to the people and international that they were prepared to anticipate the possibilities of worse scenario if the international athletes might be infected.

Japan was successfully again to held the 2020 Summer Olympics, even the COVID-19 pandemic still haunted the world. Japan, as we know today were different than in 1960s. The changes has shaped Japan from the conquered land to become a economic powerhouse in 1960s and 1970s until it was collapsed at the end of the 1980s and makes them entering the Lost Decade due to Japanese asset price bubble which was destroying their national economy very severe and plunge into crisis during 1990s. But the Lost Decade does not make the spirit of 1964 Summer Olympics went away from the Japanese people. Japan are always remembered that if their country could survive after the World War II and become emerge during the Olympics and become major economy power in 1980s and it goes under during the Lost Decade, then Japan could survived the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 1964 Summer Olympics is the reminder for us that Japan can emerged as the modern and powerful nation through the resilience of Japanese people and the willingness to strive together for the progress and the development of the nation itself to achieve prosperity, stability, and the public welfare even there were many challenges in future. The spirit of Tokyo Summer Olympics, either in 1964 and 2020, will always be in every heart of the Japanese people and also become the lesson for all the countries in the world as a prove that resilience is the key for the Japan to move forward and become a successful country.

Well, this is just my Thoughts from the Closet.

Personal view on the world issues by Timothy Tatendang