The 1964 Olympics Greet the New Japan. There’s Something Less To Cheer On


TOKYO – October 1964 under clear blue skies, Emperor Hirohito of Japan He stood before a reborn nation to announce the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games. A voice that the Japanese people first heard declare the country’s surrender In World War II it echoed in a stadium now filled with anticipation.

Tokyo will then open another Summer Olympics on Friday. one year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hirohito’s grandson Emperor Naruhitowill be in the stands for the opening ceremony, but forbidden to viewers As a worried nation, it is grappling with another wave of infections.

Both Japan and olympic movementThe postponed 2020 Games may represent a distinct possibility of decline, rather than a moment of hope for the future. And for the generation of Japanese who looked fondly at the 1964 Games, the prospect of a dwindling, largely unwanted Olympics is a serious disappointment.

“Everyone in Japan was burning with excitement about the Games,” said Kazuo Inoue, 69, who vividly remembers being glued to the new color TV in his family’s Tokyo home in 1964. “This is missing, so it’s kind of sad. ”

Yet boredom isn’t just a matter of pandemic chaos and countless scandals at the start of the Games. What the nation and the Olympics represent for him today is very different from what it was 57 years ago.

The 1964 Olympics showed the world that Japan was recovering from the ravages of war and rebuilding itself as a modern, peaceful democracy after an era of military aggression. Highways and high-speed trains were hastily completed. With increasing revenues, many Japanese families such as Mr. Inoue bought televisions to watch the Games, which were broadcast live by satellite for the first time worldwide.

This time Japan is a mature, wealthy nation. But its economy stagnant for most of the last thirty yearsleaving a growing number of people behind. One in seven children lives in poverty, and many workers are in contract or part-time jobs that lack stability and provide little benefit.

A much older nation now. When Hirohito opened the Summer Games, only 6 percent of the population was 65 years or older. Today the figure is more than 28 percent, and the fertility rate is almost half what it was in 1964. The population has been shrinking since 2008.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics is often regarded as the point at which Japan returned to prosperity. Within four years, Japan had become the world’s second largest economy after its former occupier, the United States. (It has since dropped to third behind China.) As many Japanese entered the middle class, they bought not only televisions but also other modern appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners.

Japan is again approaching a turning point, the outcome of which will depend on how government, companies and civil society respond to a shrinking and aging population.

“There was a sense of Japan as a country on the move and with a future,” said Hiromu Nagahara, an associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1964. Now, it is a country that has lost its trust and its political elites are feeling this loss of trust very intensely.

Longtime observers of Japan say it needs to review some sclerotic practices and cultural norms. While the country’s rise as an industrial powerhouse has been built on strong social cohesion, this aspect of society suppressing women, ethnic minorities and other groups not conforming to traditional expectations

“Japan’s strengths are clear—it’s the social fabric,” said Carol Gluck, a historian of modern Japan at Columbia University. “But if it makes it harder to effect change, it can become a weakness.”

“There is so much potential out there,” Professor Gluck added. “But the question is, will it be grasped and realized before things get too bad?”

With the international attention in Japan for the Olympics, many of the societal warts appeared.

In February, 84-year-old Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the Tokyo organizing committee, be forced to use after saying that women talked a lot at meetingsthough not before he got it a solid defense from the traditionalists. in a country with Ranked 120th out of 156 Many Japanese women found that her comments reflected very familiar attitudes.

Despite pressure from activists to capture the Olympic moment Advancing gay and transgender rights in JapanA modest bill describing discrimination as “unacceptable” failed to get heard even in conservative Parliament. And this week a composer resigns for the opening ceremony After it was revealed that he admitted to seriously bullying his disabled classmates at school. The Japanese Ministry of Education describes bullying as one of the biggest social challenges in classrooms.

When he bid for the Tokyo 2020 Games, then-prime minister Shinzo Abe framed it as a symbol of victory over a devastating victory. Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in 2011. That message has been overtaken by a new narrative: that the games represent a global effort to tackle the pandemic.

Japanese mostly oppose the regulation of games, they do not buy both messages. There is nuclear cleanup. far from completeand the Games are being held amid a state of emergency in Tokyo as coronavirus cases hit a six-month high. These increases were further augmented by the daily positive case announcements in the Olympic Village, reminding everyone of the enduring power of the virus.

With spectators banned from all but a few events, there is little advantage for hotels, restaurants, retailers and other businesses.

“I feel sorry for the tourism business or the hotels,” said Ikuzo Tamura, 84, who sold souvenir fabrics at the Olympic Stadium in 1964. “They don’t have the same opportunities as us. I don’t think anyone should be blamed, but in this situation people have no choice but to endure.”

At this point, Japan’s greatest hope may be to showcase its crisis management skills by filming events without major outbreaks.

“Whether you agree with the Japanese government or not, these Games are progressing with a very high degree of risk,” says Roy Tomizawa, author of 1964: The Greatest Year in Japanese History.

“It’s like Simone Biles trying the double spear, a move that no woman other than Simone Biles would do,” she added. “I don’t know how many countries will go forward with this.”

Historians point out that the 1964 Games did not go as well as detour citizens would remember. Yuji Ishizaka, a sports sociologist at Nara Women’s University, said two senior officials resigned amid public criticism over Japan’s decision to send a team to the 1962 Asian Games, when host country Indonesia excluded athletes from Israel and Taiwan. And up until the year before the 1964 Olympics, only half of the public supported hosting the Games.

Still, the hope of any Olympics is for athletic competition to come to the fore when the Games begin. What people remember best from 1964, Japanese women’s volleyball teama group of factory workers who received the gold medal from the Russians; or the men’s gymnastics team that won the group gold medal is the hero.

This year, even without live audiences, the drama is still available and will be televised. But it will soften.

“For athletes, for me, having an audience gives you so much strength,” said Shuji Tsurumi, an 83-year-old gymnast who won three individual silver medals on the 1964 team.

For a successful landing, you need to feel the breath of the athlete on your skin, the air in the stadium, the tension of the others around you.” “Without it, it’s not the same.”

Yoshiko Kanda, a member of the volleyball team that won in 1964, said the crowd’s cheers were “the biggest reminder of why I’m competing”.

“Without that feeling in the air, I’m sure many athletes are struggling,” said Ms. Kanda, 79, who competes under her unmarried name Matsumura. In 1964, the environment, the air and the feeling in the society were burning with excitement.” “Compared to the 64 Olympics, it will be very lonely.”


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