Tag: History

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
Link: A Reddit AMA on Digital Preservation

Link: A Reddit AMA on Digital Preservation

How do we archive the digital age? I remember a friend searching for a 3.5 inch floppy drive in order to back up some positively ancient (late 1980s vintage) files. With both the sheer amount of information being generated daily, language issues and a profusion of formats, two digital preservationists give their thoughts in an interesting Reddit AMA.

Reddit AMA

History in the News: Titanic

History in the News: Titanic

The 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster on April 15th resulted in a flood of commemorations and special events. From the 3D version of James Cameron’s record breaking Titanic being released in theaters to the dedication of a new museum in Belfast to a sold out special cruise retracing the exact path of the doomed liner, the amount of material shows the public fascination with the disaster still holds strong.

One of the more intriguing offerings is an 18 minute program from the BBC show “In Their Own Words” which used a computer synthesizer to convert to spoken words the Morse code messages sent out by Titanic and other ships in the area on the night of the disaster. It’s an intriguing way to view the disaster as the messages, read by computer without inflection or emotion, play out the last hours of the ship as operators in 1912 would have heard it.

While its available, listen here: Titanic: In Their Own Words

Around the Internet: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Around the Internet: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has recently unveiled a new web site which endeavors to reach the laudable dual goals of “scholarship and accessibility.” Rather than using the web site as a simple reference point for visitors or as a catalog of works held by the institution, the museum has opted to attempt to deliver a completely different online experience to the one that can be had in person. By incorporating the strengths of the internet to deliver vast amounts of information and visuals according to the wishes and interest of the user, the Met has created a user-definable venture that can hopefully serve to enlighten as well as enhance any physical trip to the museum.

As the presence of the internet in daily life continues to grow, so does the chance to use new technologies to augment traditional activities. History in particular is a discipline which can only benefit from the incorporation of new forms of media and new methods of disseminating knowledge. The use of the word accessibility by the Met is also a key one, as some of the greatest work in the historical field remains firmly in the domain of historians. The result is that brilliant insights and discoveries remain isolated from the public, which can perpetuate long standing misconceptions about what historians do and the importance of their work (in my experience, asking any freshman history survey course about this will provide sufficient insight into the problem.) Balancing accessibility with scholarship is a valid concern but simply because it is difficult does not mean it is impossible. As this web site was founded on the idea of enhancing historical studies through the use of the internet and technology, the Metropolitan Museum’s efforts are both welcome and worth watching.

The New York Times has a more thorough review of the Metropolitan Museum’s online effects. Read the article at :: New York Times and the Met Online

Check out the Met’s web site at :: metmuseum.org

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 :: http://www.phillyseaport.org/

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 ::http://www.preservationnation.org/travel-and-sites/sites/northeast-region/the-uss-olympia.html

A photographic archive of the Olympia through the years :: http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/c6/c6.htm

Photo of the Day: Stephen the Lion

Photo of the Day: Stephen the Lion

Stephen the Lion

Stephen is one of two bronze lions that guard the front of the HSBC Building in Hong Kong. Along with his companion Stitt, Stephen has been a fixture in Hong Kong since the two were installed in front of the original HSBC headquarters in 1935. Local lore holds that rubbing their paws and nose brings good fortune.

Stephen is marked by deep gouges and shrapnel holes, the result of damage sustained during the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941 when the Japanese invaded the city. In the waning days of World War II, the two lions were taken to Japan to be melted down for the war effort. Fortunately, the war ended before that occurred, yet the lions might still have been lost were it not for an American sailor who recognized the two sitting on a dock in Japan, far from home.

When the original HSBC Building closed, the lions were eventually moved to their current positions outside the new building. Moments after I snapped this photo, a well dressed trio of young men in business suits walked by. Without breaking stride, one of the men veered towards Stephen and quickly rubbed his paw. In an era where faith and tradition is often conflated with superstition, it was good to see some traditions continue. After the young man had rejoined his companions, I rubbed Stephen’s paw and continued on my way.

Photo taken December 24th, 2010.