Category: Article

The American Occupation of Japan and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Village

The American Occupation of Japan and the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Village

The 1964 Olympics had a profound impact on the urban landscape of Tokyo as the city restructured itself to host the Games. The cost of the Olympics were substantial, ballooning to nearly half a billion dollars compared to the modest 30 million dollar spending on the 1960 Rome Games. The Japanese government saw the Games as means to re-enter the global stage and present an advanced and peaceful Japan to the world. New venues were constructed while existing facilities were repurposed or renovated. However, for the Olympic Village, the housing meant for the athletes, a ready made solution presented itself to the planning committee courtesy of the American Occupation of Japan.

After Japan’s surrender on August 15 1945, 350000 U.S. troops entered the island nation as part of the Occupation force. With Tokyo devastated, housing was required for American military personnel and eventually their tens of thousands of dependents. In Shibuya a former Imperial Japanese military parade ground was turned over to U.S. authorities and renamed Washington Heights. Japanese workers built hundreds of homes and Washington Heights quickly became a small enclave of America within Tokyo. Aside from over 800 houses, Washington Heights held schools, stores, churches and all the amenities of home for the soldiers and their families. Streets were given names like Chestnut and Sycamore while Japanese citizens were not allowed within the tightly guarded community, which was separated from the rest of Shibuya.

The last remaining house of the Washington Heights complex in Yoyogi Park.

The Washington Heights military housing area remained under U.S. control even after the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco ended the Occupation a short seven years after it began and returned the Japanese government to power. Despite the end of the Occupation, the U.S. retained a sizeable number of troops within Japan, a state of affairs that was exacerbated by the ongoing Korean War. By 1961 however, the successful bid by Japan to host the 1964 Games meant that the large amount of land occupied by Washington Heights, encompassing nearly a million square meters, was needed for Olympic facilities. American military families were moved to new housing to the west of Shibuya in Chofu. Some homes were then converted into the Olympic Village for athletes while the rest of the community was leveled to make room for the new National Gymnasium and annex building, which hosted the swimming, diving and basketball events.

The National Gymnasium

Washington Heights was not the only such complex in Tokyo. Narimasu airfield in Nerima ward was similarly handed over to U.S. authorities and was transformed into the Grant Heights community for American military families. Grant Heights was also eventually returned to the Japanese government and is now the site of modern day Hikarigaoka Park and related housing developments.

High rise buildings now occupy the land where the 1964 Olympic Village and the Washington Heights military housing complex once stood.

After the Olympics the Village was demolished to make way for new construction–and despite the successful Games, erase a highly visible reminder of the American Occupation. A large swatch of land north of the National Gymnasium was turned into modern day Yoyogi Park in 1967. The only existing remnant of Washington Heights and the Olympic Village is a single house, preserved in a corner of Yoyogi Park. A commemorative plaque explains the use of the building during the Olympics and the origin of the surrounding garden but leaves out any mention of the American Occupation or of the Washington Heights complex.

The commemorative plaque in front of the sole surviving Washington Heights/Olympic Village building.

References and further reading

  • The 1964 Tokyo Olympics: A Turning Point for Japan –
  • Olympic construction transformed Tokyo –
  • Washington Heights Housing Complex –
  • A Look Back at When Tokyo was Awarded 1964 Olympics –
  • The Games of the XVIII Olympiaid Tokyo 1964: The Official Report of the Organizing Committee
The 1964 Tokyo Olympiad

The 1964 Tokyo Olympiad

The 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo can regarded as the birth of modern day Japan. Despite regaining independence in 1956 after the Allied Occupation, the Games were a turning point for Japan. Presenting a technologically advanced, modern and peaceful nation to the world only two decades after the end of World War II was tremendous step for Japan and helped fashion an image which has persisted for decades. The event was not merely vital for Japan’s international image.  The Games of the XVIII Olympiad were enough of a cultural touchstone that it continues to appear as an element in Japanese popular culture as recently as in the Ghibli film From Up on Poppy Hill and in the 2011 anime Showa Monogatari. With Japan’s successful bid for the 2020 Games, the amazing success of 1964 stands as both a goal and as an inescapable comparison.

Tokyo had previously won the opportunity to host the 1940 Games as part of a broad range of diplomatic initiatives meant to engage with the international community, particularly in the field of sport, after Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933. Tokyo’s efforts on this front were undercut by the outbreak of war in China, illustrating the serious divisions that had emerged in the Japanese government over the best path for the nation to take. Eventually under hardening international pressure to relinquish the games, quiet hints at  boycotts, especially from the United States, and demands by the military for war material meant the effective cancellation of the Games in 1938. Tokyo gained a second chance to show what might have been in 1964, although this time the stakes and motivations for Japan were much different. World War II was still fresh in the minds of many in 1964 and Japan’s options on the international stage were quite limited. Hard power initiatives were completely off the table while lingering distrust made re-entry into the international community difficult. The apolitical and peaceful nature of the Games made it the perfect opportunity for Japan to move back into world affairs. As Jessica Abel has noted, the Olympics work as a political event because nations have agreed to the myth that it is not. By divesting the Games of politics, ostensibly for the glory of individual sport, it allows for political maneuvering that would otherwise not be possible or be called out. Sochi 2014, Beijing 2008 and Berlin 1936 are but a few occasions where the host nation tended to eclipse the Games themselves. (The Games still are referred to by the name of the host city, despite the fact the effort to host a modern Olympics is a truly national affair. Another way the Games maintain a discrete distance between event and politics as Abel also points out.)

The Games proved to be a resounding success with far reaching impact both internationally and domestically. The technological advancements on display elevated Japan’s world reputation, with milestones such as the first live broadcast of the Games to the world. The desire to present a modern, international city inhabited by an equally modern people led to a wholesale revamp of both city facilities and a drive towards the internationalization of education for the Japanese people.  (The ramifications of the drive for modernization is explored to a degree in From Up on Poppy Hill, echoing earlier anxieties over modernity as seen in the Meiji era.) The shinkansen, by now a symbol of Japan, also saw its inaugural run in time for the Games.  Japanese nationalism, still viewed with suspicion, found an outlet acceptable to the world at large and many Japanese felt justifiably proud of their nation’s new peaceful accomplishments. The Games had a distinctly Japanese feeling to them and Judo was an Olympic sport for the first time, putting another element of Japanese culture in play worldwide. Tokyo 1964 was a resounding success of what Joseph Nye’s deems a soft power initiative, a diplomatic effort which Japan continues to exercise to this day. It will be interesting to see how the legacy of 1964 will impact the 2020 Games in a new era fraught with new tensions as well as the way the run up to the Games will be depicted in popular culture.

Further Reading

  • “Japan’s Sporting Diplomacy: The 1964 Tokyo Olympiad” by Jessica Abel
  • Japan 1941 by Eri Hotta
  • Tokyo Olympiad, a documentary film by Kon Ichikawa
  • You can also check out my own review of Abel’s “Japan’s Sporting Diplomacy” in the 2013 volume of Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies
Article: Gaming the Conference

Article: Gaming the Conference

The Conference on College Composition and Communication has added a different spin this year with a quest based activity called “C’s the Day” where attendees fulfill challenges. The quest system, set up by gaming enthusiasts among the conference planners, has a series of challenges to complete such as, ”Give a comprehensive, 15-second description of the entirety of your research. Extra points for each theorist you can coherently mention in the allotted time.”

While the injection of a gaming element would in theory liven up normally quiet conferences and I like the concept, I am not sure how well the clash between work and play will resolve. To make the system work,  a critical mass of attendees need to participate or else it becomes awkward. However, the rigidity of the work/play paradigm in academia tends to put the brakes on things: an up and coming grad student is going to take cues from the senior members of her field. In my own graduate experience, a serious attitude was seen as a prerequisite to be taken seriously.

However, I believe it could work, but I don’t think idea goes far enough or takes advantage of modern technology. Personally I would add, “Instagram selfie with panel chair” and “Perform a 15 second interpretive dance of your research and upload it to Vine. Double points if in front of a crowd of more than 10 or the keynote speaker.” To incorporate some massively multiplayer online gaming design philosophy, a balance needs to be struck between solo and group content while maintaining a certain quotient of fun. While pushing attendees in the direction of more interaction is no doubt one element behind the C’s the Day intentions, not everyone is going to be keen on the idea and some will dismiss it. The key is to be able to work with and around these gates to experiencing content. In MMO terms, the gates would normally be gear and experience. In live-action gaming, gates would be acceptance and the ability to carry out at least some content within individual comfort levels. Utilizing an AR app, such s the interesting ARIS system developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, or other smartphone/tablet apps for photos might provide for more complicated quests that still operate within a broader comfort zone.

Still, look at those sweet prizes: First prize is guaranteed publication! Second prize, a shiny horse!

Gaming, conferences and sparkleponies.

Article: Time Travelers, Virality, Museums and Digital Rights

Article: Time Travelers, Virality, Museums and Digital Rights

In the first half of 2010 a photograph with an unusual claim about one of the people depicted in it began to circulate on the internet. The photo, as reproduced here, created a minor stir due to the fantastic notion that it showed a time traveler standing in a crowd in the year 1941. The man (visible in the right-center of the photo) was said be to a time traveler due to his apparently anachronistic sunglasses, hoodie, printed t-shirt and modern looking camera. The resulting explosion of posts, claims and counterclaims fueled an online debate and spawned numerous imitators, proponents and debunkers throughout the rest of 2010 (and a Wikipedia entry as well!)

The Time Traveling Hipster photograph, from the "Their Past Lives Here" online exhibition created by the Bralorne Museum.

While the story of the hipster time traveler photo is fascinating on its own merits, as it speaks to the speed and nature of virality on the internet as well as the way the denizens of the internet construct (and deconstruct) a modern day myth, a paper delivered at the 2011 Museums and the Web conference uses the incident to illustrate how museums and other institutions can attempt to maintain control of their holdings in the nearly lawless realm of cyberspace.

Aside from being a fascinating detective story tracing the evolution of the time traveler photo on the internet, the paper entitled “The Mystery of the “1940s Time Traveller”: The Changing Face of Online Brand Monitoring” deftly introduces some compelling theories and arguments about online behavior, the management of digital rights and control of proprietary images as well as making the case for a more open and conversational stance by government institutions. In addition, some sharp pop culture quotes pepper the paper, adding a fun and light tone to the arguments–exactly the tone the authors argue that museums should take when dealing with the public. The majority of the paper is devoted to discussing how museums and other institutions can keep control of their brand, that is to say, retain rights and benefit from the exposure an event such as the hipster time traveler can being. Notably, the authors state how the further in time and deeper into the web the photo traveled, the less proper attributions were connected to it. The paper brings up some intriguing concepts by other authors, notably the idea of “conversational capital” by Cesvet and serves as a primer on how to approach brand monitoring–ideas that are applicable to a wide range of online endeavors, not just museums.

A highly recommended read, not just for those interested in digital rights management or preserving the integrity of online and offline collections but also for those curious about virality and the new theories developing around the transmission of information on the internet. Thanks and credit to David Harkness, Sheila Carey and Julie Marion for their paper as well as the Bralorne Museum, holder of the original photograph.

Harkness, D., et al., The Mystery of the “1940s Time Traveller”: The Changing Face of Online Brand Monitoring. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2011. Consulted August 7, 2011.

The online “Their Past Lives Here” exhibit by the Bralorne Museum.

Finally, for a breakdown and examination of the photo from a skeptic’s viewpoint:

Article: The Continuity of Twinkies

Article: The Continuity of Twinkies

Dr. Egon Spengler: Well, let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning’s sample, it would be a Twinkie… thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.
Winston Zeddemore: That’s a big Twinkie.

The closure of Hostess has struck the popular consciousness of America on a surprisingly fundamental level. For many, the level of concern over the loss of a snack food that very few people actually seem to eat is wildly unwarranted. I can’t recall the last time I ate a Twinkie myself. Wonderbread on the other hand, definitely. I can remember the smell of the Merida plant in Orlando and buying loaves of that particular brand. But Twinkies? On the face of it, the loss of the (non weapons grade) yellow cake from shelves seems like no great loss discounting the economic impact of the company closure.

However, those who decry the expressions of concern over the loss of the Twinkie miss the point. It’s not the disappearance of the Twinkie from shelves that worries some; it is the disappearance of a cultural anchor. The food, the very word, has become imbued with meaning far beyond that of a simple snack. In a perverse Derridian manner, the Twinkie has become a signifier, a marker that ascribes meaning to the unrealized and unimaginable future. In the unassailability of the Twinkie, there is a constant and in an uncertain world, there are precious few constants to form a baseline when conceptualizing the unknown. The Twinkie does so while also providing reassurance of the potential for survival, all the while seeped in irony and cloaked in mockery. Should all of man’s science fail and our glass empires collapse back into the sand, what follows? God creates man, man creates Twinkie, Twinkie lasts forever–according to urban legends. Whatever the capriciousness of fate and whatever the future has in store, the Twinkie is one element can be counted on to simply exist and in doing so provide a—albeit uneasy and mocked—continuity of existence. The Twinkie allows for a construction of the future where some element can be predicted. In a world where doomsday scenarios abound, from Mayan cataclysms to simple zombie apocalypses, the Twinkie abides, the Twinkie survives. Erase that constant, that bridge between the fragile “now” and the unknowable “then” and that future becomes all the more terrifying.

History Tech: Document Camera Stand

History Tech: Document Camera Stand

Every historian has (or will have) spent time in a library or archive, hunting through books, municipal records and old journals for precious bits of information. For making a permanent record of finds for further study, photocopying has long been the standard method. However, photocopying can be an expensive and less than green proposition and some locations either don’t have photocopiers or simply do not allow photocopying at all. Small digital cameras offer an easy way and inexpensive way to create an digital copy that can be easily transmitted and stored. Yet most research work is done alone and using a camera in one hand while trying to keep a book propped open with the other can lead to blurry photos as well as being cumbersome when faced with dozens or even hundreds of pages to be recorded. To make taking quality photos of books and documents an easier and faster task, a document camera stand can be extraordinarily helpful.

The web site Instructables has a guide on how to build a inexpensive, portable camera document mount. Although it does require the use of a few tools, the overall build is not very complex and the instructions puts the price at under $20 USD. While there are commercial versions available, for the intrepid historian with a little time on their hands and for the generally broke graduate student, this project can provide a great piece of equipment for venturing into the archives.

History in the News: USS Olympia

History in the News: USS Olympia

The USS Olympia is an American protected cruiser built in 1895 and renowned for being Commodore George Dewey’s flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay, one of the decisive engagements of the Spanish-American War. Olympia was retired from service soon afterwards in 1899 but returned to active duty for a variety of missions from 1902 to 1922. Since 1957 the Olympia has been a museum ship in Philadelphia. The Olympia is the oldest steel-hulled warship afloat, older than her relative contemporary the Japanese pre-dreadnaught Mikasa–also a museum ship in Yokosuka.

USS Olympia

The recent economic downtown has dealt a harsh blow to many historical institutions and Olympia may now be facing a battle it cannot win. The Independence Seaport Museum has stated it can no longer afford the upkeep for the ship and may be forced to scrap the vessel or sink it as an artificial reef. As a result, several groups have come forward and a two year plan has been put into place to find a new home for the Olympia. Although the history of the Olympia is fascinating on its own, the current plight of the ship and the quest to preserve it is intriguing as it gives a glimpse into the difficulties many institutions may face given the modern economic climate.

While several groups are in the running to take over operations of the Olympia, money is still needed to maintain and preserve the ship. Donations of any kind are welcome and the link to donate can be found below.

USS Olympia’s current home at the Independence Seaport Museum ::

The ongoing effort to find a new home for the Olympia as well as the link to the USS Olympia National Fund, a fund established for the long term preservation of the ship ::

A photographic archive of the Olympia through the years ::