The 1964 Games announced a new Japan. This time there is less to be happy about.


Tokyo — Under a crisp blue sky in October 1964, Emperor Hirohito of Japan A reborn nation stood in front to announce the opening of the Tokyo Olympic Games. A voice that the Japanese public first heard Declaration of surrender of the country World War II now resonated with anticipation in a packed stadium.

Tokyo to open another Summer Olympics on Friday one year delay Due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hirohito’s grandson, Emperor Naruhito, will be in the stands for the opening ceremony, but it will be forbidden to spectators As a worried nation is grappling with another wave of infections.

for both Japan and Olympic MovementHowever, the delayed 2020 Games may represent less of a moment of hope for the future than the clear prospect of a fall. And for the Japanese generation who lovingly look back on the 1964 Games, the prospect of a lesser, largely unwanted Olympics is a serious disappointment.

“Everyone in Japan was burning with excitement about the Games,” said Kazuo Inoue, 69, who was glued to the new color television at his family’s home in Tokyo in 1964. “It’s missing, so it’s a little sad.”

Yet ennui isn’t just a matter of pandemic chaos and multiple scandals in the prelude to the Games. The nation today, and what the Olympics represent for it, are very different from what they were 57 years ago.

The 1964 Olympics showed the world that Japan had recovered from the devastation of war and rebuilt itself as a modern, peaceful democracy after an era of military aggression. Highways and bullet train were dispatched to complete. With the increase in income, many Japanese families such as Mr. Inoue bought TVs to watch the games, which was the first TV to be broadcast live by satellite across the world.

This time Japan is a mature, prosperous nation. but its economy has been stable for more than three decadesLeaving the growing number of people behind. One in seven children live in poverty, and many workers are in contract or part-time jobs that lack stability and pay few benefits.

It is also a very old nation now. When Hirohito introduced the Summer Games, only 6 percent of the population was 65 or older. Today, that figure is more than 28 percent, and the fertility rate is about half that of 1964. The population has been shrinking since 2008.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics is often regarded as the point when Japan entered prosperity. Within four years, Japan became the world’s second largest economy after the United States, which was its former occupier. (It has since dropped to third place after China.) As many Japanese entered the middle class, they bought not only TVs, but other modern appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners.

Japan is again approaching a turning point, the outcome of which will depend on how governments, corporations and civil society respond to a shrinking and aging population.

Back in 1964, there was “a sense of Japan in motion and a country with a future,” said Hiromu Nagahara, associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Now, it is “a country that has lost confidence and a country whose political elite feel very acutely a loss of confidence.”

Japan’s longtime observers say it should revise some sclerotic practices and cultural norms. While the country’s rise as an industrial superpower was based on strong social cohesion, there has been a trend towards that aspect of society. oppress women, ethnic minorities and other groups which is not in line with traditional expectations.

“Japan’s strength is obvious – it is the social fabric,” said Carol Gluck, a historian of modern Japan at Columbia University. “But it can become a weakness if it makes it difficult to effect change.”

“There’s a lot of potential there,” said Professor Gluck. “But the question is whether it will be understood and realized before things get so bad.”

With the international spotlight on Japan for the Olympics, many of its social warts have been exposed.

In February, the chairman of the Tokyo organizing committee was 84-year-old Yoshiro Mori. forced to resign after saying so Women talk too much in meetings, though not before he received a firm defense from the traditionalists. in which country 156. 120th out of In the gender gap ranking nation, many Japanese women recognized her comments as reflecting the all-too-familiar viewpoint.

Despite pressure from activists to seize the Olympic moment Advancing gay and transgender rights in Japan, a minor bill labeling discrimination “unacceptable” also failed to be heard in conservative parliament. and this week, Musician of the opening ceremony resigns After it emerged that he had confessed to severely bullying classmates with disabilities at school. The Japanese Ministry of Education calls bullying one of the biggest social challenges in classrooms.

When Tokyo bid for the 2020 Games, then-prime minister Shinzo Abe framed it as a symbol of victory over the disastrous. Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster disaster in 2011. The message is overtaken by a new narrative: that sports represent a global effort to address the pandemic.

Japanese people, who mostly oppose the organization of the games, none of the messages are buying. nuclear is clean far from perfect, and the games are being held amid a state of emergency as coronavirus cases in Tokyo hit a six-month high. Those surges have been amplified by daily announcements of positive cases in the Olympic Village, reminding everyone of the enduring power of the virus.

And spectators have been barred except for a few events, with little upside for hotels, restaurants, retailers and other businesses.

“I feel sorry for the tourism business or the hotels,” said 84-year-old Ikuzo Tamura, who sold commemorative clothing at the Olympic Stadium in 1964. “They don’t have the same opportunity as we did. I don’t think anyone should be blamed, but in this situation people have no choice but to endure.”

At this point, Japan’s best hope may be to showcase its crisis management skills by pulling off events without a massive outbreak.

“Whether or not you agree with the Japanese government, these games are proceeding with too much risk,” said Roy Tomizawa, author of “1964: The Greatest Year in Japan’s History.”

“It’s like Simone Biles attempting a double pike, a move that no other woman would do except Simone Biles,” he said. “I don’t know how many countries would have gone beyond that.”

Historians point out that the 1964 Games were not as long as blind-eyed citizens might remember. Nara Women’s University sports sociologist Yuji Ishizaka said two top officials resigned amid public criticism of Japan’s decision to send a team to the 1962 Asian Games, whose host country Indonesia ousted athletes from Israel and Taiwan. . And until a year before the 1964 Olympics, only half the public supported hosting the Games.

Nevertheless, the hope of any Olympic is that once the Games begin, the athletic competition will unfold. What people remember best from 1964 is the victory Japanese women’s volleyball team, a group of factory workers who snatched gold medals from the Russians; Or the men’s gymnastics team, which won the group gold medal, became the hero.

This year, even without a live audience, the play will still exist and be on television. But it will be restrained.

“For athletes, for me, having spectators gives you so much power,” said 83-year-old Shuji Tsurumi, a gymnast on the 1964 team, who also won three individual silver medals.

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

Yoshiko Kanda, a member of the victorious volleyball team in 1964, said that the cheering of the crowd was “the biggest reminder of why I was competing.”

“Without this feeling in the air, I’m sure many athletes are struggling,” said Ms. Kanda, 79, who competed under her unmarried name, Matsumura. “In 1964, the environment, the air, the spirit were burning with enthusiasm in the society,” he said. “Compared to the 64 Olympics, it would be so lonely.”



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