From Tokyo 1964 to Tokyo 2020


I was in Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics, and, as a matter of fact, I helped cover the Games for the Asahi Evening News. As far as I know, I am the only remaining foreign journalist still living in Japan who worked on the 1964 Games.

Now my goal is to last another seven years and take in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And for all of us, these next seven years will be exciting ones as Tokyo prepares to put on one of the best sports events in history.

When I arrived in Tokyo in 1962 to work at the Far East Network radio station at Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, Tokyo was a rather gray city. Over the next two years the city was transformed into a showcase for the world to treasure as it worked hard to host the games.

The Chiyoda subway line was added to the Ginza and Marunouchi subway lines to give the city three reliable underground systems to get around. Expressways were built throughout the city to ease downtown traffic congestion. And fabulous new buildings were erected to add splendor to the city, such as the Sony and the Sanai buildings on the Ginza. And to top everything off, excitingly modern stadiums were built at Yoyogi, with the main stadium rising at Jingu Park.

But one downside to the 1964 Games was the price spiral. Tokyo went from being a rather cheap city to the most expensive city in the world. We can again look forward to such price increases before, during and after the 2020 Games.

The 1964 Olympics were safe, and I am sure the 2020 Games will be safe, too. But conditions are different now and not only the Tokyo government but the government of Japan must make sure that this safety idea remains intact.

The first thing that must be done to gain complete safety is to eliminate the radiation mess at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put his reputation on the line by telling the International Olympic Committee and the world that this will be taken care of in the near future. Of course, as the time factor for a person being prime minister is limited in Japan, Abe will probably be long gone from power by the time the 2020 Games roll around.

Speaking of Abe, I wonder what happened to former Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara. He was missing from all the celebrating on winning the games. It was his idea and he stubbornly hung on to his dream of bringing the games to Tokyo in 2020. He had suffered a mild stroke earlier this year, but he appeared to have regained his health. No matter what, his face was missing from all celebrations.

Then there is the case of the Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto), the crumbling political party that oversaw the early run for the 2020 Games. The DPJ helped put on a positive outlook for the Games, yet its people were missing, too. Thus the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party was on stage to take full credit for winning the games. Being that Ishihara had switched to an opposition party during the previous election, maybe this is why he was ignored by the LDP people. But, alas, that’s politics.

Everything has long been in place for the 2020 Olympics as Ishihara had set aside parcels of land in Tokyo for various sports facilities and athletes’ housing. As I often point out to friends and tourists I befriend as I ride the Yurikamome monorail to and from Odaiba, the Olympic village will be constructed at the old Harumi Pier fairgrounds site and a new stadium will be built at Daiba. Land in the Tsukiji area will be targeted for more Olympic structures.
More transportation systems are being planned, including a rail line connecting Haneda Airport and Tokyo Station in 10 minutes.

It was reported on TV Sunday morning that there may be a problem getting local construction workers to help with all the construction work that will be required by 2020. Therefore, foreigners may be called in to help with the huge project, the report said. In this way, it added, the Olympic projects will not only aid Japanese construction workers, but also workers from around the world, too.

Memories from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics have me remembering American Bob Hayes winning the 100 meters, New Zealand great Peter Snell winning gold in the 800 and 1,500 meters, Billy Mills of the U.S. taking a surprise first place in the 10,000 meters and the fabulous Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia running away easily with the marathon gold medal. Al Oerter of the U.S. won the discus throw.

In women’s events, USSR hero Tamara Press won both the shot put and the discus. Mary Rand of Great Britain won the long jump and Wyomia Tyus of the U.S. took the 100 meters.

As a matter of fact, there were so many American victories that the U.S. national anthem was the most popular song in Tokyo at that time. Even a Japanese copy boy in our news room was whistling the Star-Spangled Banner, drawing laughter from those of us working on the news desk.

The Japanese women’s volleyball team took the gold medal, showing all of us a new way to play the sport by diving for the ball and landing hard on the hardwood floor.

By the time the 2020 Games roll around, there will be new heroes all over the sports spectrum. And once again Tokyo will be the center of the world, with all of us having a front seat to the action, whether it be at a stadium or via TV.

Author Infomation

Gene Saltzgaver
Gene Saltzgaver
  • 3


    Nice article, thanks!

  • 2


    Great article. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. Would like to hear even more details about how Tokyo was back in the early-mid sixties.

  • 2

    Hunter Brumfield

    Enjoyed that, Gene. My military family lived in Yoyogi Park while it was US Army housing (Washington Heights) in the mid-50s. As I am sure you know, the park was turned back over to Japan in the runup to the 64 Olympics. Was fun to come back as an adult and spot foundation stones here and there in the grass 30 years later.

    My wife's mother was part of the opening ceremony in 1964, as a traditional Japanese fan dancer, so it's been part of family lore in the time since. We're all quite excited about the Games coming again.

    And I for one look forward to your coverage again!

  • 1


    1940 (year 皇紀2600) was supposed to be the Tokyo Olympics, also. There's a really great book about it:

  • 0


    It was reported on TV Sunday morning that there may be a problem getting local construction workers to help with all the construction work that will be required by 2020. Therefore, foreigners may be called in to help with the huge project, the report said.

    That is what they were saying when they wanted the Olympics no doubt it has changed now. Unless he is talking about bring over a few of those "trainees"

  • -1


    sengoku38, That is a really interesting article! Thanks for posting.

  • -1


    In 1964,My American and Iranian classmates ina So. Calif. Univ. were excited to tell me Japanese female volleyball Team won Gold Medal. I dug around LA Times and found Nichibou, Kaizuka Team won. I looked stupid but I thanked their support of Japanese female team. Since then I became a fan of Angels and Dodgers,

  • 0


    Gene, that's a really nice read, thanks.

    Gee, Asaka in Saitama must have been a small old place in 1962? I spent a few years around it myself 10 years ago and the old folk used to tell stories of it being rice fields not so many years past, before the Tobu Tojo line went through there.

  • -1


    Tamarama: Gene must have eye witnessed chaotic Japan then. Many cities were still trying to rebuild fire bomb damaged their cities. I did not know about Olympic but it must gave hope to Japanese, I later realized a female team winning a gold medal gave hope to depressed females in Japan instead of ranked themselves below house pets just above fish.

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