Tag: tokyo 1964

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 –  https://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2013/09/05/the-1964-tokyo-olympics-a-turning-point-for-japan/
  • Olympic construction transformed Tokyo – http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2014/10/10/olympics/olympic-construction-transformed-tokyo/#.WUZd6NwlG00
  • Washington Heights Housing Complex – http://www.narimasu.net/memory/candid/candwh.htm
  • A Look Back at When Tokyo was Awarded 1964 Olympics – http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2013/08/24/olympics/a-look-back-at-when-tokyo-was-awarded-1964-olympics/#.WUaVrNwlG00
  • 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