Tokyo 1964: The Games that brought a nation together

As preparations to stage safe and secure Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 enter their final stages, we go back in time and look at the lasting legacies created by the first-ever Olympic Games held in Asia: Tokyo 1964.

Tokyo 1964 Opening Ceremony IOC/Kishimoto

The Olympic Games Tokyo 1964  showcased Japanese technology to the world, but also accelerated a number of landmark initiatives for the city of Tokyo, laid the foundations for community sports initiatives, which still exist across the country, and played a key role in restoring Japan’s image on the global stage, two decades after the end of World War II.

International image and relations

Tokyo 1964 was a resounding success for Japan, both in terms of renewing international relations in the aftermath of World War II, and creating a new global perception of the country as a peaceful, democratic and technologically advanced nation.

It has since been referenced as a case study example of nation branding through hosting a global sporting event. The high-profile promotion of Japanese technological prowess over the course of the Olympic Games – through novel innovations such as live television broadcasts via satellite – enabled Japan to expand its trade networks, and become a major worldwide exporter of technological goods.

Sports development and participation

Hosting Tokyo 1964 was a key driver for the development of sport in Japan, particularly at the community level. It saw the creation of the Japan Junior Sports Clubs Association during preparations for the Olympic Games, which led to the emergence of sports clubs across the nation and the creation of a national football league in 1965.

A year after the Games ended, the National Olympics Memorial Youth Centre was built on a part of the site of the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Village and has since served as a space to educate and train young people. It also became a volunteer training venue for Tokyo 2020.

Tokyo 1964 also took place amidst a new political movement to emphasise the importance of physical education among the nation’s youth. Educational policies promoting lifelong sports were introduced ahead of the event, an approach which has continued in the subsequent decades. A 2018 private research report found Japanese children to have favourable levels of sports participation compared to other high-income nations.

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Urban development

Tokyo 1964 accelerated the 10-year National Capital Region Development Plan, resulting in road and transport enhancements, tourist accommodation projects, harbour development and the expansion of Tokyo’s sewage system.

The two most famous transport innovations were the Shinkansen “bullet” train, which linked Tokyo with Osaka and reduced journey times by half, and the Tokyo Monorail, which connected Tokyo’s Haneda Airport with the city centre.

The Metropolitan Expressway road network was also constructed to alleviate traffic congestion and improve connectivity in and around the city. It became controversial, as the construction plans showed that the highway would run over the Nihonbashi Bridge landmark. Following Tokyo 2020, the section of the highway above the famous bridge is planned to be relocated underground.

Technological innovations

Japan successfully cultivated a modern, tech-savvy global image by introducing a whole host of landmark technological innovations during the course of Tokyo 1964. The broadcasting innovations were particularly notable, with the Olympic Games being broadcast to one-third of the globe in real time via a satellite transmission.

The television viewer experience was further enhanced by the use of close-pickup microphones and slow-motion replays for the first time. Computers were used to record statistics, which enabled athletes’ times to be shown on television screens.

On the field of play, Seiko became the Olympic Games Official Timekeeper for the first time, and linked the starting gun with a quartz clock and photo-finish camera, making it possible to record results down to 1/100th of a second. Such technology later enabled the company to bring the world’s first commercial quartz wristwatch to market in 1969.

IOC/Kishimoto
Enduring sporting and entertainment infrastructure

While a new Olympic Stadium has been constructed for Tokyo 2020, on the same site as the original National Stadium that hosted the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for Tokyo 1964, the link between the two Olympic Games is tangible.

Many of the original Tokyo 1964 venues have been upgraded for Tokyo 2020, including the Yoyogi National Gymnasium (now renamed Yoyogi National Stadium), Nippon Budokan Hall, Enoshima Yacht Harbour, Equestrian Park and Asaka Shooting Range.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these venues continued to host major international competitions and had been used as multi-purpose cultural and entertainment centres. At Nippon Budokan Hall, for example, several national events and ceremonies had been conducted, while world-famous artists including the Beatles and ABBA have come to perform their live concerts.

Find our more about the Tokyo 1964 legacy 

 

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