A Look back at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

G’day good people of Jamaipa. I’m reesan from loneleeplanet and I am honoured to be here writing a guest post on jamaipanese.com. Inspired by Jamaipanese’s coverage of the Tokyo 2016 Olympic bid, in this guest post I explore Tokyo’s contribution to the Olympic Movement when they played host in 1964 to the Games of the XVIII Olympiad.

Tokyo was the host of the 1964 Summer Olympics winning the rights to the Games in 1959 in the IOC’s first round of voting over bids from Detroit, Vienna and Brussels. It was the first time that the Olympics were hosted by an Asian country. Originally Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 1940 Olympics however due to rising world tensions and Japan’s war in Asia the 1940 Games were rescheduled to Helsinki and then eventually canceled altogether due to the outbreak of World War II.


Japan’s rise from the atomic ashes of war

The 1964 Tokyo Games were a proclamation by Japan that they had emerged from their post-war reconstruction and were now a major economic power and technological leader. This proclamation was embodied in the selection of Yoshinori Sakai to light the cauldron with the Olympic flame. Yoshinori Sakai (also known as ‘Atomic Bomb Boy’) was born on the outskirts of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. As the final torchbearer he symbolised Japan’s rise from the atomic ashes of war.


A total of 93 nations competed at the Games of the XVIII Olympiad. South Africa was banned from participating as a rebuke to its racist policy of apartheid. Indonesia and North Korea were also notably absent after voluntarily withdrawing their teams. Two new sports, Woman’s Volleyball and Judo, were introduced to the Olympic programme. Interestingly Japan took out gold in Woman’s Volleyball and gold in 3 out of the 4 inaugural weight classes in Judo. However, Japan was left heartbroken as the most coveted prize of all – gold in the open class – went to the Dutch giant Antonius Geesink.


The Games were officially opened by Emperor Hirohito (aka Emperor Showa) at the opening ceremony on October 10 1964 and concluded at the closing ceremony October 24 1964. The main stadium, National Olympic Stadium (Kokuritsu Kasumigaoka Rikujō Kyogijō), is located in Kasumigaoka, Shinjuku, Tokyo. Takashi Ono, a Japanese gymnast, took the Athlete’s Oath on behalf of 5,151 participating athletes – 4,473 men and 678 woman.

First Hi-tech Olympics

Japan was hailed as a technological leader as a result of the Tokyo Olympics. These were the first Games to not only be broadcast in colour but via live satellite. Furthermore, it was the first time in Olympic history that computers were used to keep results including the introduction of new electronic timing devices, variations of which are still used today. Interestingly, the first shinkansen line opened in time for the Games, just 9 days before the Opening Ceremony.


These Olympics had greater representation from Africa and Asia than any previous Olympics with the following sixteen nations making their debut: Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Zambia, Senegal, and Tanzania.  The most successful athlete at the Games was American swimmer Don Schollander who won four gold medals and set three world records. However special mention should go to Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, having become the first-ever black African gold medallist four years earlier, successfully defended his marathon title. Impressively, he did it only six weeks after having his appendix removed.

Jamaica at the 1964 Olympics

This was the 5th Olympics attended by Jamaica counting 1960 when they attended as part of the West Indies Federation team and Jamaica’s first Olympics as an Independent nation. Jamaica’s 21 member team did not win any medals but came close in many events including the 4×100 sprint where Jamaica placed 4th. Guess who owns the 4x100m world record now?

Below is a vintage newsreel recounting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics:

The footage is extracted from the a documentary was made in 1965 entitled Tokyo Olympiad which chronicles Tokyo’s hosting of the 1964 Olymic games It was directed by Kon Ichikawa, excepts from the documentary can be seen here and here.

Information Sources

For more on the Games of the XVIII Olympiad check out reesan’s article on Australia’s participation at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.