» 日本語版 The Yomiuri Shimbun supports Tokyo Olympics 1964 50th Anniversary Week

On Oct. 10, 1964, flags of all nations flew at the National Stadium. The global sports festival began when the Air Self-Defense Force’s aerobatic demonstration team Blue Impulse drew the five Olympic rings in a very blue sky.

Let’s relive the 1964 Tokyo Olympics through the archives of The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Chapter 1

Tokyo Reborn

In May 1959, Tokyo was chosen as the host city for the 1964 Olympics at the 55th general assembly of the International Olympic Committee in what was then West Germany. Winning by a landslide vote of 34 to 24, Japan became the first host in Asia.

For the Olympics to be held five years from then, expressways, subways and a monorail were developed at high speed. A gymnasium designed by architect Kenzo Tange, whose motto was that architecture must impress people, drew the world’s attention.

Tokyo Metropolitan government employees wave flags in celebration of Tokyo being chosen as the Olympic host city.

Giant flags were hung in response to the news.

Architect Kenzo Tange shows a model of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. The unique structure, with no interior pillars to block spectator views, surprised the world.

Two main pillars at either end of the national gymnasium, seen under construction, support the roof like the towers of a suspension bridge.

Strong support cables covered the 130-meter distance between the two pillars.

The completed Yoyogi National Gymnasium. The IOC president at that time admiringly stated it would be inscribed in the memories of those who love beauty.

Large-scale renovation was conducted at the National Stadium to be used as the main Olympic venue.

Cabinet ministers visited the National Stadium to inspect the construction work.

The government rapidly developed Tokyo’s infrastructure. Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, front right, checks progress at the construction site of an expressway.

Even amid fierce factional fighting within the LDP at that time, political rivals visited an Olympic construction site together.

The Tokaido Shinkansen is test-run three months before the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony. Shikansen service started on Oct. 1, just in time for the opening ceremony.

Chapter 2

Made in Japan

The Tokyo Olympics helped the world recognize Japanese technologies, such as in the area of timekeeping. At that time, Switzerland dominated the field of precision clocks. However, the 1964 Olympic Games utlilized more than 1,000 Japanese clocks. “Touch panel” equipment to accurately time swimming races was used for the first time in the 1964 Games.

Japan also used its advanced technology for officiating and rapidly distributing results. In this regard, the Tokyo Olympics were also called the “Science Olympics.”

All timing clocks used in the Olympics were made in Japan. Equipment from K. Hattori & Co.-- now known as Seiko-- was among them.

Large clocks for stadium use bear the brand name of “SEIKO,” as though demonstrating Japan’s pride in manufacturing.

A test for a touch panel for swimming events is conducted. Results were immediately displayed on a large screen.

Water pressure from waves in the pool was a major challenge in the development of the touch panel. Various ideas were adopted to recognize swimmers’ touches.

A computer system was introduced for quick distribution of records. The system could recognize world records instantly.

Developers of stopwatches set the goal of catching up with Swiss watchmakers Longines and Omega. “Our clocks have surpassed famous ones made in Switzerland,” one developer proudly said.

Equipment to distribute event results was installed at a building in Tokyo’s Jingu-Gaien district. The news was flashed to various places around the world such as New York and Paris.

Game results and other data from each venue were aggregated at one center. The 1964 Games were the first Olympics to fully utilize computers to process results and records.

Olympic security headquarters at the Metropolitan Police Department also went high-tech, introducing equipment including wireless surveillance devices to monitor venues.

The Olympic torch was engineered to give off less smoke and withstand rain.

Chapter 3


Pictograms — signs using simple illustrations rather than letters — were adopted for event venues and public facilities for the Tokyo Olympics. The friendly designs were created by noted graphic designers, such as Ikko Tanaka, Shigeo Fukuda and Tadanori Yokoo.

IOC executives and other foreign dignitaries were attended by 34 selected women, including two of Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda’s daughters, in a display of omotenashi hospitality spirit by the whole nation.

Attendants gather in front of the Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Criteria for selection included foreign language skills and international exchange experience.

“Happy Coats,” based on Japanese happi coats, were presented to Olympic athletes as commemorative gifts.

“Miss Medals,” who delivered medals at award ceremonies, practice ahead of the Olympics in yukata summer kimono.

A chochin lantern and sensu folding fan were sold to foreign tourists as old-fashioned Japanese souvenirs in Taito Ward, Tokyo.

Pictogram guide signs used at event venues and public facilities had enduring designs.

Members of the French national team enjoy the experience of wearing kimono in an example of Japan’s omotenashi hospitality.

Members of the Soviet Union’s wrestling team explore the Asakusa district.

A teacher gives an English lesson at the Metropolitan Police Department so police officers will be able to give foreign visitors directions in English.

Telephone operators, known as “Koe no Gaikokan” (verbal diplomats), practiced English diligently to be able to communicate with foreign tourists well.

At a temporary tourist information booth in Ueno, Tokyo, an English sign reading “INFORMATION CENTER” is prominently displayed.

Before the Olympics’ opening ceremony, the Metropolitan Government Office building is adorned with various national flags.

Chapter 4

International Sports Festival

The Japan national team’s training outfits had the word “Nippon” on both front and back. A JOC official reportedly said, “The members of other teams will envy our uniforms.”

More than 90 nations and territories gathered for the Tokyo Olympics, with teams arriving at the Olympic Village one after another. People across Japan were excited by the presence of famous athletes such as Abebe Bikila, a barefoot runner from Ethiopia.

The red color of these Olympic tracksuits is based on the Hinomaru national flag.

The Japanese rowing team trains for the Games.

The national wrestling team sleeps on the mat as a mental strengthening exercise.

Inspired by athletes’ intense preparations, the Japanese press reported on the event with such headlines as “Ready to fight” and “Players earnestly strengthened.”

The Ethiopian team arrives at Haneda Airport. Barefoot runner Abebe Bikila, in front, drew lots of attention in Japan.

The British national team arrives on a chartered plane. Female athletes’ everyday clothing, such as a pink blouse or a navy blue vest, excited much comment.

The Japanese national team’s official uniform styles included, from left, blazers, outfits for officials and a tracksuit.

The U.S. team’s yacht arrives at Haneda Airport. Plane after plane landed with equipment to be used at the Games.

In the middle of the Cold War, East Germany and West Germany fielded a unified team, but members from the two sides did not practice together.

Athletes from various nations have fun at the Olympic village in Tokyo’s Yoyogi district. During the Games, they communicated with each other across barriers of race and politics.

Athletes and officials from four countries attend the first welcome ceremony at the Olympic village, at which national anthems were played.

Japan’s team attends a welcome ceremony with seven other nations, including West Germany and Italy, just before the Olympics’ opening ceremony.

Chapter 5

Olympic Flame

The torch relay quickly set the mood for the Tokyo Olympics. In August 1964, two months before the event, the Olympic torch was lit in Greece, and was carried to Japan on a special plane after a relay through 12 cities overseas.

In Japan, the torch relay started from Okinawa, which was still governed by the United States. The torch arrived in Tokyo after passing through the hands of 100,000 relay runners. At the opening ceremony on Oct. 10, when the final runner ignited the cauldron, enthusiasm reached its peak.

The torch relay’s first runner, Deorge Marceloz of Greece, and final runner Yoshinori Sakai smile at each other before the opening ceremony.

The torch relay begins as Deorge Marceloz receives the Olympic flame in Greece in August 1964.

The special Olympic torch relay plane, “City of Tokyo,” traveled around the world and returned to Tokyo.

This aerial photo of the opening ceremony appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun at the time with the caption, “A huge audience fills the National Stadium under a cloudless sky.”

Final torch relay runner Yoshinori Sakai lights the Olympic flame in the cauldron. Looking back at the moment later, he said, “Only the sky existed in front of me.”

As the Japan team enters the stadium after all other teams, the cheers grow louder.

Takashi Ono, captain of the Japan team, gives the Olympic oath, representing all the athletes in the Games. Ono, a gymnast, was especially good at the horizontal bar. He later said, “All I remember is that I was really nervous, with the world watching me.”

When a 2011 Yomiuri Shimbun survey asked, “Which event symbolizes the Showa era?” the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was the top answer. Because the event marked the transition from postwar reconstruction to rapid economic growth, many people still have vivid memories.

Half a century has passed since those historic Games. How will the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics’ opening ceremony be remembered in the future?

The Japan News

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