The 1964 games proclaimed a new Japan; there’s less to cheer this time


Written by Motoko Rich, Hikari Hida and Makiko Inoue

Under crisp blue skies in October 1964, Emperor Hirohito of Japan stood earlier than a reborn nation to declare the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games. A voice that the Japanese public had first heard saying the nation’s give up in World War II now echoed throughout a packed stadium alive with anticipation.

On Friday, Tokyo will inaugurate one other Summer Olympics, after a yr’s delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hirohito’s grandson, Emperor Naruhito, will likely be within the stands for the opening ceremony, which is able to in any other case be closed to spectators as an anxious nation grapples with yet one more wave of infections.

For each Japan and the Olympic motion, the delayed 2020 Games could signify less a second of hope for the longer term than the distinct risk of decline. And to the era of Japanese who look again fondly on the 1964 Games, the prospect of a diminished, largely unwelcome Olympics is a grave disappointment.

“Everyone in Japan was burning with excitement about the Games,” stated Kazuo Inoue, 69, who vividly recollects being glued to the new shade tv in his household’s dwelling in Tokyo in 1964. “That is missing, so that is a little sad.”

Yet the ennui isn’t just a matter of pandemic chaos and the quite a few scandals within the prelude to the Games. The nation at the moment and what the Olympics signify for it are vastly totally different from what they have been 57 years in the past.

The 1964 Olympics confirmed the world that Japan had recovered from the devastation of the struggle and rebuilt itself as a trendy, peaceable democracy after an period of navy aggression. Highways and the bullet prepare have been rushed to completion. With incomes rising, many Japanese households like Inoue’s purchased televisions to watch the Games, the primary to be broadcast dwell by satellite tv for pc across the globe.

This time round, Japan is a mature, prosperous nation. But its economic system has been stagnant for a lot of the previous three many years, leaving rising numbers of individuals behind; 1 in 7 kids dwell in poverty, and plenty of employees are in contract or part-time jobs that lack stability and pay few advantages.

It is a a lot older nation now, too. When Hirohito opened the Summer Games, simply 6% of the inhabitants was 65 or older. Today, the determine is greater than 28%, and the fertility fee is nearly half that of 1964. The inhabitants has been shrinking since 2008.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are sometimes considered the purpose when Japan pivoted into prosperity. Within 4 years, Japan turned the world’s second-largest economic system, behind the United States, its former occupier. (It has since fallen to third, behind China.) As many Japanese entered the center class, they purchased not simply televisions, however different trendy home equipment like washing machines, fridges and vacuum cleaners.

Japan is once more approaching a turning level, one whose consequence will depend on how the federal government, companies and civil society reply to a shrinking and getting old inhabitants.

The Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo. In the 1964 Games, the stadium staged the aquatics and basketball competitions, whereas this time, the handball occasion will happen in it. (New York Times)

Back in 1964, there was “a sense of Japan in motion and a sense of a country with a future,” stated Hiromu Nagahara, an affiliate professor of historical past at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now it’s “a country that has lost confidence and a country whose political elites feel very intensely that loss of confidence.”

Longtime observers of Japan say it ought to revise some sclerotic practices and cultural norms. While the nation’s rise as an industrial powerhouse was constructed on sturdy social cohesion, that facet of society has tended to repress ladies, ethnic minorities and different teams that don’t conform to conventional expectations.

With the worldwide highlight on Japan for the Olympics, a lot of its societal warts have been uncovered.

In February, the president of the Tokyo organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, 84, was compelled to resign after saying that girls talked an excessive amount of in conferences, although not earlier than he acquired a staunch protection from traditionalists. In a nation that ranks a hundred and twentieth out of 156 nations in a gender hole rating, many Japanese ladies acknowledged his feedback as reflecting all-too-familiar attitudes.

Tokyo olympics The exterior of Nippon Budokan in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward. The self-discipline of judo made its debut as an Olympic sport in this stadium through the 1964 Games.
(New York Times)

Despite strain from activists to seize the Olympic second to advance homosexual and transgender rights in Japan, a modest invoice labeling discrimination “unacceptable” failed to even get a listening to within the conservative Parliament. And this week, a composer for the opening ceremony resigned after it emerged that he had confessed to severely bullying disabled classmates at school. The Japanese Education Ministry calls bullying one of many greatest social challenges in school rooms.

When Tokyo bid for the 2020 Games, the prime minister on the time, Shinzo Abe, framed it as a image of conquer a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in 2011. That message has been overtaken by a new narrative: that the Games signify a world effort to overcome the pandemic.

The Japanese folks, who principally oppose holding the Games, aren’t shopping for both message. The nuclear cleanup is much from full, and the Games are being held amid a state of emergency as coronavirus circumstances have reached a six-month excessive in Tokyo. Those will increase have been compounded by day by day bulletins of optimistic circumstances within the Olympic Village, reminding everybody of the enduring energy of the virus.

And with spectators barred from all however a few occasions, there’s little upside for resorts, eating places, retailers and different companies.

Historians level out that the 1964 Games didn’t go in addition to gauzy-eyed residents may recall. Two prime officers resigned amid public criticism of Japan’s choice to ship a crew to the 1962 Asian Games, whose host nation, Indonesia, excluded athletes from Israel and Taiwan, stated Yuji Ishizaka, a sports activities sociologist at Nara Women’s University. And up to a yr earlier than the 1964 Olympics, solely about half of the general public supported internet hosting the Games.

Still, the hope of any Olympics is that when the Games begin, the athletic competitors comes to the fore. What folks bear in mind greatest from 1964 is the victory of the Japanese ladies’s volleyball crew, a group of manufacturing unit employees who snatched the gold medal from the Russians; or the lads’s gymnastics crew, which gained a group gold medal, changing into heroes.

This yr, even with out dwell audiences, the drama will nonetheless be current and televised. But it will likely be tempered.

“For athletes, for me, having spectators gives you so much power,” stated Shuji Tsurumi, 83, a gymnast on the 1964 crew who additionally gained three particular person silver medals.

“You have to feel the athlete’s breath on your skin, the air in the stadium, the tension of the others around you waiting for a successful landing” he added. “Without that, it’s not the same.”


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