The Olympic Games in Tokyo, 1964 were the first games outside the west and the first in Asia. Whole blocks of buildings were demolished to built wide moterways and a subway system was built and lots of new stadiums and sports halls.
I made my way across the Soviet Union by Trans-Siberian Railway (worth a separate blog)and finished the trip there with a 2 1/2 day journey with the Soviet Far East Shipping company from Siberia, south of Hokkaido, through the straights and down the east coast of Honshu to the port of Yokahama. Also on board were the Polish Olympic team.
The best place to stay was the Ishigiya youth hostel and myself and an Italian student were two of the first to arrive. Foreigners had to register with the Tokyo City Hall so we went there on a Saturday. It was closed, but a caretaker understood us, and called a couple of officials who came from their homes, took us into a visitors lounge and served us tea and cakes. It was Japanese tea and when I went to put sugar in, the Japanese diplomatically followed suit. We all smiled and then a pregnant pause and we laughed together after we had used salt instead. Anyway, they took us on a tour of Toyko to a big brewery for all you could drink plus steak dinner and then much later into the night club area, insisting on paying for everything.
We soon figured out that THE place to be was the Olympic Village near the Meiji Shrine. One of my college room mates was the world record holder for the indoor mile and I also had other friends on various sports teams. I had failed to make the boxing team when I got knocked out for the only time in my career by a boxer from Thailand. We managed to get into the Olympic Village quite easily on a daily basis, where there were huge cafeteria's open 24 hours a day, serving 5 different kinds of food, from Western to Japanese, Latin American, Eastern European etc.
Inside the village was an athletic track were I watched many of the stars of track and field train.I chatted with one of the USA trainers, Bill Bowerman, who gave me his card. He was coach at Oregon University for 24 years.. He told me how the Japanese and other Asian made shoes which were much better and cheaper than Adidas and Puma, and he was going to import a bunch, which he did, selling them out of the back of his station wagon in the Pacific North-West. He went on to form his own company, Blue Ribbon Sports with Phil Knight,later changed the name and NIKE was born.It was his experiment with his wife's waffle iron that led to a new kind of shoe. If you go to Portland, Oregon headquarters these days you come up to the main gates on Bowerman Drive.
Tickets for events were relatively inexpensive, and I went to some soccer match preliminaries at the Chichibunomiya Rugby stadium. I saw most of the track and field at the Olympic Stadium, later renamed the National Stadium, and about a quarter of a century later returned for the World Soccer Club Cup, Club Nacional of Uruguay beating PSV Eidhoven of Holland , p.k's after a 0-0 tie. Japan were coached by Dettmar Cramer, 'the father of Japanese soccer' who took them to a bronze medal 4 years later in Mexico City. Star performer was Kunishige Kamamoto who is now vice-president of the JFA. Hungary won the gold medal.
I remember Bob Hayes, later of the Dallas Cowboys winning the 100m dash in 10.00 flat and Peter Snell of New Zealand winning gold in both the 800m and 1.500m. Al Oerter of USA won the 3rd of his 4th consecutive discus gold medals 1956, 1960, 1964, 1968. A suprise winner was Billy Mills, an American Indian winning the 10,000 m for USA, the only time the Americans have won the event. Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia retained his marathon title, this time wearing running shoes. I also saw the boxing finals and Joe Frazier, win the heavyweight crown before he turned pro.
Just before the Games opened I spotted a lost friend of mine from college called Jim,wearing hs distinctive warm-up, at a subway station, and took him to the youth hostel, now full of young international guests. He who was a native of Tanganyika in East Africa and of Indian descent. The last day of the Games we went to the Olympic Stadium to watch the closing ceremony. Outside was a huge field with Japanese boy scouts holding team signs and national flags. WELL, half way through the Olympics his country's small team had returned home and at the same time Tanganyika and Zanzibar had combined to form TANZANIA. Jim was now a Tanzanian and there was nobody to carry the new nation's flag into the stadium.
WELL, he decided to do so if I would go with him. At the tunnel to the track officials decided that flag bearers would go round the track in order and then all others would mingle for the first time and march round past the Emperor of Japan in a relaxed manner.. Well, that I did, mingling with Mexicans, Canadians, Italians, Swedes, Argentinians and Australians, two who were on unicycles.
We went into the centre of the stadium for the Ceremony, and the handover of the Olympic flag to the Mayor of Mexico City, the 1968 host city. The hedges, jumps and the big water jump for the Horse Jumping was a convenient toilet for many of the competitors during the long ceremony, the most public piss in history as it was on TV and by satellite for the first time to North America. After the flame was extinguished we marched out and down a long road to a field covered in three sides with tents from which burst out chefs offering all sorts of food and drink and on the fourth side a giant stage with a 3 hour variety concert with jugglers, acrobats, dancers and singers about to begin.