OLYMPIC TORCH LIGHTS A NATION

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It was Oct. 9, 1964. Everyone in Tokyo was concerned about the weather. It had been raining for days. Would it rain again the next day? The Tokyo Olympic Games, to Japan's delight, opened under a cloudless blue sky. ``The fine weather was like a symbol that the festival and this country would be going well,'' recalls Takahisa Shiroyama, who was a reporter with the Japan Broadcasting Corporation.

With the Olympics in Seoul about to begin, many Koreans are comparing their Games with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the first Olympiad held in Asia. Koreans hope that their Games will provide the same powerful economic cataylst for their country that the Tokyo Games provided Japan, signaling that country's recovery from the destruction of World War II.

When the decision that Tokyo would host the games was made in 1958, Japan's infrastructure was woefully inadequate. ``Some people criticized that it was too early for Japan to host the Olympics,'' remembers Wahei Tsuchiya, an official of the Japan Amateur Sports Association.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Within a period of six years, Japan constructed its first highways, built the famous high-speed ``bullet train'' lines, dug subways across Tokyo, and erected graceful Olympic facilities. ``We had to work for 24 hours a day constructing roads, sometimes for days at a time,'' says Kiyoshi Morii, who worked at the Construction Ministry.

``I really threw myself into building an Olympic facility by making the best use of both Japanese taste and modern technology,'' says Yoshinobu Ashihara, designer of the Komazawa Olympic Park.

``I saw Tokyo turned into a long stretch of burned ruins. After the end of the war, I thought that only people like me could rebuild Japan into one of the world's powers again - this time in a better sense,'' Mr. Morii says.

For gold-medal wrestler Osamu Watanabe, the Tokyo Olympic Games reflected ``the Japanese spirit.'' ``Though the country lost World War II, the Japanese could show their excellence to the whole world by winning sports events. Sport was replacing war battles.''

Not all Japanese shared these feelings. Writer Michitsuna Takahashi was then a high school student, active in the growing movement against the Vietnam war. ``The people who were most enthusiastic about the Olympics were those who experienced the [world] war,'' Mr. Takahashi says. ``I felt uneasy with the idea that you were allowed to do anything for the sake of the Olympic Games. It was the same [as] during the World War II - that everything for the sake of the country was permitted.''

The ``festival of the century'' opened with tens of thousands of tourists, reporters, and officials attending. Japan faced probably the greatest test of its internationalization since it had opened its doors to the outside world a century before.

``I think it was the first time Japan opened its country in real terms,'' says Chika Minamimoto, who worked as a French interpreter. Japan faced a serious shortage of interpreters. ``People keenly realized that a layman's interpretation would not do. Our feeling that we wanted to know more about foreign countries grew.''

The Olympic spirit swept through Japan. Makoto Tanno says he encouraged himself while preparing for his coming college entrance examination with the phrase ``If you work hard, you'll make it.'' Those words were made famous by the coach of the Japanese gold-medal women's volleyball team.

Children born at the time of the Olympics were given names that evoked the Games. Seiko Hashimoto, an Olympic speed skater and cycler, is named after the sacred flame. Even this writer, born the year of the Olympics, is named after the laurel wreath for victors. Will Korean parents do the same?

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...