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The Dossier for Tokyo 1964 – Still Among the Finest Olympics of All

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Flickr/Michael Francis McCarthy

By Philip Barker |

This time next year, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be all but over. The hope is that they will be as successful as the first Olympic Games held in the Japanese capital back in 1964.

It was 60 years ago, at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session held in Munich, that Tokyo won the vote to stage those Games. Work on preparations began in earnest in the summer of 1959.

The dossier which revealed their plans is kept in the Olympic Studies Center in Lausanne.

Central to the whole enterprise was a detailed questionnaire.

“Have you an organization with sufficient experience to run the Games in your city?”, asked the IOC, to which came the confident reply: “We have the Japanese Olympic Committee which is quite capable of running the Games.”

Since the end of the Second World War, the country had become re-integrated in international sport. They had been interested observers at each Olympic Games since 1952. 

“Some experts have been sent and the staff of Japanese diplomatic missions have worked in host cities to get used to the works of Organizing Committees,” it was claimed.

In the dossier, printed in the official Olympic languages of French and English, officials insisted Japan had been “enthusiastic and sincere advocates of the Olympic Movement ever since their first participation in 1912”. Their responses had been “studied, drafted, examined and corrected by experts”.

Tables showed how the size of the Japanese team had grown from two men, a sprinter and a marathon runner at the Stockholm Games of 1912. The team for Melbourne 1956 had numbered 164, including officials.

The documents also proudly detailed the establishment of a “national festival of sport”, which attracted some 20,000 participants and had been staged annually since 1946, as well as giving details of every national sports governing body while highlighting the achievements of each.

Japan took part in the first Asian Games, staged by Delhi in 195, and soon made it clear that they aspired to hosting the Olympics.

A bid for the 1960 Games came up against six other cities and they were the first to be eliminated when the vote was taken at the IOC Session held in Paris in 1955.

Even so, IOC member Dr Ryotaro Azuma underlined the Olympic ambition of Tokyo by offering to host the 1958 IOC Session there. This was to dovetail with the Asian Games which were also to be held in the city.

“It was thought that if this general Session could be held in Tokyo, it would be an excellent time to acquaint members of the IOC with Tokyo’s ability to stage an Olympic Games,” said officials.

When the IOC gathered before the 1956 Olympics, the Finnish member Erik Von Frenckell, the chief organiser of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, spoke enthusiastically in favour of Tokyo. 

They were chosen to host the 1958 Session by by acclamation. Azuma also invited members to attend the Asian Games.

In the years which followed, Tokyo sent observers to other major events overseas. They also welcomed experts to the capital. Carl Diem, the German academic who had played a critical role in organizing the 1936 Berlin Olympics, visited Tokyo and “gave much useful advice from his experience in Olympic matters”.

A formal “Tokyo Olympic Preparatory Committee” was established in the early months of 1958, as Azuma and his colleagues prepared to welcome the IOC.

“The coming meeting is extremely important for Japan for it will greatly affect Tokyo’s hopes for gaining the 1964 Olympic Games,” was the verdict of the Japan Times newspaper.

Tokyo Governor Seiichiro Yasui joined Azuma to formally hand an Olympic bid for 1964 over to IOC President Avery Brundage.

Later that day, Emperor Hirohito himself declared the IOC Session open.

The members were also impressed that Azuma had arranged a performance of the original Olympic hymn, composed for the 1896 Olympics by Greek composer Spiros Samaras.

To make sure that all guests were made welcome, wives and daughters of high ranking diplomats were drafted in to act as guides and interpreters while helping with secretarial duties.

“A vote of thanks for the perfect organisation of the present Session and especially for the splendid Opening Ceremony was passed unanimously,” noted the IOC minutes. The Japan Bidding Committee made sure this was duly noted in the bid questionnaire.

A few days after the 1958 Session, the new Olympic Stadium was packed for the opening of the Asian Games. Once again, the Emperor was present to make the official declaration.

Brundage sat in the tribune of honor and was evidently impressed by the spectacle and the Games which followed.

“With what has been learnt on these occasions and in the light of the natural efficiency of the Japanese I am sure that Japan is prepared to organize an even greater international event, such as the Olympic Games,” he said.

Wilfrid Kent Hughes, previously head of the Organising Committee for the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, added: “The Japanese achieved something very worthwhile in the creating of international goodwill.”

Kent Hughes attended as a representative of the Australian Government. His positive words were particularly significant as he had been taken prisoner during the Second World War by the Japanese.

The Olympic Village was to be built about a 30 minute drive from the stadium. The land had been used as a military camp by United States forces since the end of the Second World War.

“The place is endowed with a serene and fresh environment unobtainable in central Tokyo,” claimed the dossier.

“Careful consideration will be given to hygienic equipment in the Village and shrubs planted adequately to fit in with the environment.”

They also promised that “special facilities for women, beauty parlour etc, will be installed”.

The 2020 Games are set to begin in late July. The plans for 1964 included two alternative schedules.

The first was from July 25 to August 9 when average temperatures of 26 degrees centigrade were forecast.

“Suitable weather for the competition during the days of the Games will be more than 74.6 percent calculated from the number of rainfalls,” it was suggested.

Alternative dates from October 17 to November 1 were also proposed. These offered an average temperature of 15.3 degrees. They even calculated the ratio of fine to rainy weather which was listed as was 11.2 days to 4.3 days.

In fact, the 1964 Games did eventually open on October 10.

The questionnaire also asked about accommodation. In 1958, when the dossier was prepared, there was room for 13,000 visitors but the Bid Committee claimed that “considering the terrific rate by which new construction and extension of hotels are going, by the time of the XVIII Olympiad the capacity will increase by leaps and bounds”.

The International airport at Haneda had “every latest facility”, it was claimed.

The dossier also listed major events held in Japan since 1956 in some detail and the sports programme was also included. The list included handball and archery. Both had been part of the Games in the past but were not included on this occasion. Volleyball was also on the list and this was destined to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo.

Although Dr Azuma had spoken at IOC Sessions in support of judo, it was initially suggested only as an “exhibition” sport. In those days, the Olympic charter stated “the Organizing Committee may add two demonstrations to the programme, a national sport and a foreign sport”.

Kendo was also included on the possible list for “national” sports.

The “foreign” sports were to be permed from rugby, badminton, baseball or table tennis. 

Ultimately, “budo” martial arts were included along with baseball. Azuma had his wish because judo was included as a full medal sport for the first time.

When the IOC met in Munich, item 10 on the agenda was the election to choose the host city. Fifty-eight members would decide Tokyo’s fate. Brussels, Detroit and Vienna provided the opposition.

“May our selection prove just and correct so that success will be guaranteed for the Games in 1964,” said German IOC member Karl Ritter von Halt at the opening of the Session.

Tokyo was the third city to make its presentation and among those who asked questions were Brundage and his eventual successor as IOC President Lord Killanin. Also present during the presentations were representatives of the International Federations “who attended for the first time in the history of Olympism”.

When Brundage asked the International Federations for their views the general opinion was that “these cities offer satisfactory technical installations”. Several delegates were said to be definitively in favor of Tokyo.

When the vote was taken Tokyo polled 34 votes. The nearest challengers were Detroit who polled only 10.

Dr Azuma, rose to thank the Session “for the honor they have just conferred on the city of which he is the Governor”.

An archway, adorned with the national flag and the five Olympic rings, was erected at the headquarters of the Japanese Amateur Sports Association in Tokyo in celebration of the announcement.

The Games were transmitted by satellite and were arguably the first truly global sporting event. Organizers had promised that “speedy operation of the overseas telephone and telegraph communication will be ensured”.

The world watched and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics are still considered among the finest of them all.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

Philip Barker, a freelance journalist, has been on the editorial team of the Journal of Olympic History and is credited with having transformed the publication into one of the most respected historical publications on the history of the Olympic Games. He is also an expert on Olympic Music, a field which is not generally well known.

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