Yasukuni, from an East Asian perspective.

An adapted version of an MA in East Asian History assignment by Lewis Tatt.

The main hall of Yasukuni Shrine
The main hall of Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo is somewhat notorious. Every year, around August 15th, the issue of whether individuals should visit the shrine to commemorate the war dead is hotly debated in Japan, particularly if one such individual also happens to be the prime minister. Chinese critics are particularly vocal; the Chinese equivalent of Wikipedia calling it the “shame of humanity” (整个人类的耻辱). In 2006, the South Korean President, Roh Moo-hyun, even refused to meet Japanese prime minister, Koizumi Junichiro, in protest of the latter’s visits to Yasukuni. The problem is ultimately a conflict between alternative historical narratives, and by analysing Yasukuni as a site of material evidence we can perhaps come to a better understanding of the narratives it presents.

Yasukuni was built in 1869 to enshrine those who died in conflicts during the Meiji Restoration. It subsequently enshrined military personnel who had died in further conflicts for the state. Having been built under Meiji , Yasukuni commemorates those who died fighting imperial wars and had ultimately died for the emperor. In this sense, Yasukuni is explicitly imperial and militaristic.

A statue of Omura Masujiro on the approach to Yasukuni.
A statue of Omura Masujiro on the approach to Yasukuni.

Even before entering the main precinct visitors are greeted by a statue of Omura Masujiro, founder of the modern Japanese army. The outside of the main hall (above) is decorated with large banners displaying the imperial crest and in 1874 the Meiji emperor composed a poem on his visit to the shrine, which is now displayed in the main hall. One passage of the poem states ‘I assure those of you who fought and died for your country that your names will live forever at this shrine’ (我國の為をつくせる人々の名もむさし野にとむる玉かき).

The poem written by Emperor Meiji
The poem written by Emperor Meiji

It was claimed that those enshrined became kami and joined a pantheon of deities protecting the state. The shrine itself was initially administered by the army and navy ministries. It was later made a ‘special state-funded shrine’, and rituals were conducted on the dates of military victories (until the number became too large to commemorate). On a material level, Yasukuni therefore cannot be separated from the imperial system or Japanese militarism, an important fact when understanding Yasukuni and the debates surrounding it.

Yasukuni was not destroyed after the war, despite the shrine’s clear association with militarism, perhaps on the basis that individuals had the right to honour their war dead. It has also been argued that Yasukuni offers a religious aspect to remembrance, and so fulfils a function that secular memorials cannot. This argument in particular has been forwarded by Georgetown University’s Professor Kevin Doak, who claims rites at Yasukuni are ‘a universal practice that transcends the everyday in order to make a spiritual link to the dead.’ Quite contradictorily, Doak also argues that it is acceptable for Christians to take part in Yasukuni rites precisely because ‘ceremonies of this kind are endowed with a purely civic value.’[1]

This raises the question of whether Yasukuni is actually a religious site, or not, and more importantly whether those visiting Yasukuni consider themselves to be religious (the two are not necessarily related). One particularly significant point that Doak overlooks is how the meaning of Yasukuni changes depending upon whether or not you actually follow Shinto as a religion, and subsequently believe that the souls of the dead really exist there in afterlife, or whether you simply believe enshrinement is symbolic.

In this light, the Meiji Emperor’s poem, quoted above, takes on a new significance. Interestingly, the emperor claims that the names of the dead will live at Yasukuni, not the actual souls. The verb とむる can mean to bury, hold a funeral, hold a memorial service or mourn. It does not imply the souls of the dead exist at Yasukuni or their afterlife is affected.

Similarly, Shinto academic Naokazu Miyaji, speaking on behalf of the shrine after the war, claimed the emperor’s visits meant Yasukuni ‘was very precious to the bereaved families of the war dead’, implying what was really important was what the shrine meant to the living.[2] All this suggests that the site is symbolic.

In reality, Yasukuni serves purely a commemorative purpose,  the problem is what is being commemorated, because, in 1978, fourteen men classified as Class A war criminals were enshrined there.

Yasukuni’s enshrinement of Class A war criminals must be placed within the physical context of the shrine itself, which only commemorates Japanese military dead (one monument, the chinreisha, was built in 1965 to memorialise non-military deaths but lies well hidden from public view, cannot be seen from the main precinct, and cannot be entered).

Located directly opposite the main hall is the Yushukan War Museum, which displays war materials and weapons without any mention of Japanese aggression or atrocities during the war period. For example, a plaque accompanying the Thailand-Burma railway locomotive, displayed at the entrance of the museum, states that the building of the railway ‘was difficult in the extreme’. It fails to mention this ‘difficulty’ involved the deaths of 90,000 prisoners of war and Asian conscripts.

The Mitsubishi Zero which stands in the entrance of the Yushukan War Museum.
The Mitsubishi Zero which stands in the entrance of the Yushukan War Museum.

Whatever the reasons for individuals visiting Yasukuni, prime ministers included, to many observers, particularly Chinese and Korean, it is the symbolic elements that stand out – leading politicians visiting a shrine that glorifies Japan’s war in Asia, is linked to the imperial system that presided over that war, and enshrines Class A war criminals. This act is often carried out without any recognition of, let alone atonement for, the aggression and atrocities committed.

Regardless of the legitimacy of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, there is no doubt that war crimes took place during the Asia-Pacific War. Critics of Yasukuni do not see the enshrinement of individuals but that of ‘Class A War Criminals’, separate from the individuals and their souls. In effect, the names have simply become symbolic representations of the atrocities attached to them, and to many Chinese observers the enshrinement of individual Class A war criminals amounts to nothing more than the enshrinement of Class A war crimes.

It is likely that many people ‘worship’ at the shrine as a personal act of remembrance and respect for lost relatives or those who died fighting in a war brought about by Japan’s military leaders. However, there is no escaping the fact that the site is national in character, not individual, and enshrinement there is effectively compulsory.[3] By mourning at a national, imperial site the lines between individual and national identity are blurred. In effect people’s desire to mourn the suffering of friends, relatives, or ordinary individuals they can relate to is used to funnel them into a site that fosters nationalism.

A war widow with children.
A war widow with children.

This can be seen in the layout of the shrine itself. For example, a monument titled ‘statue of war widow with children’ is located directly next to a monument to Radhabinod Pal.The ‘war widow’ is not a specific individual, but an intended focal point of mourning or remembrance for ordinary civilians who suffered.

Radhabinod Pal was the only Judge to reject the Tokyo war crimes trial, arguing it was a vindictive act and on that basis all defendants should be acquitted. By placing a monument to ordinary civilians next to the memorial to Radhabinod Pal, Yasukuni appeals to the act of mourning as a means of overcoming trauma and places it within a context that promotes a particular historical narrative. A historical narrative in which the imperial system is venerated, military death glorified, and (as Pal’s memorial implies) Japan’s war criminals innocent. Furthermore, the desire to memorialise individual experiences, represented by the nameless women and children, is utilized to promote a national narrative that fosters national identity.

Radhadinod Pal Memorial
Radhadinod Pal Memorial

It is perhaps for reasons of identity that several Japanese prime ministers have visited Yasukuni. The Tokyo war crimes trial did more than put individuals on trial, it essential put history on trial, with the result that Japan’s modern history became criminalised, something to be ashamed of.[4] Surely nothing stands in greater contrast than the way Britain’s history is glorified by its virtuous role in World War II, and the way Japan’s history is criminalised. Yet Britain’s history as an aggressive imperialistic power can apparently be overlooked, whilst Japan’s cannot.

That this impacted on Japanese national identity is clear. Prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone , who visited Yasukuni in 1985, even stated in his autobiography that he ‘felt humiliated’ by Japan’s defeat in World War II and the fact ‘two-thirds of a century of modernisation […] had been reduced to dust.’ Here Nakasone displays the sense of shame that the war, and subsequent criminalisation at the war crimes trial, has cast over Japan’s ‘two thirds of a century of modernisation.’[5] It’s likely that his visit to Yasukuni was therefore not an attempt to advocate militarism and war crimes, or even an attempt to reject Japan’s war responsibility, but an attempt to reject an America-centred history that casts the shadow of guilt over all of Japan’s modern history and subsequently modern Japanese national identity.

Refrences –

1. Kevin Doak, ‘A Religious Perspective on the Yasukuni Shrine Controversy’, in John Breen, Yasukuni, the War Dead and the Struggle for Japan’s past (London, Hurst and company 2007).

2. Hiyane Antei, ‘An Interview with Dr. Naokazu Miyaji’, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 7, 2 (1966) 148.

3. Norma Field, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor, (New York, Pantheon Books, 1991).

4. Carol Gluck, ‘Past in the Present’, in Andrew Gordon [ed], Postwar Japan as History, (Berkeley University of California Press, 1993).

5. Nat Sayer, Nakasone Yasuhiro: My Life in Politics, (draft of translation), 5-6. Cited in Joshua Safier, ‘Yasukuni Shrine and the Constraints on the Discourses of Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Japan’. (MA thesis, University of Kansas, 1991) 46.

A Short History of Olympic Tokyo

An article written by Austin Smith for the October 2013 edition of AJET Connect magazine.

On September 7th 2013, Tokyo was awarded the right to host the Olympic Games for the third time in its history. As well as famously hosting the 1964 Summer Olympics, Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 1940 Olympic Games, an honour which was later relinquished.

The decision to award the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo has provided an opportunity to reflect on this Olympic history and to build upon the city’s rich Olympic heritage. My personal interest in the Japanese Olympic movement stems from the failure of Tokyo’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games – the stimulus for my MA research into the city’s Olympic history.

The fact that Japanese cities have now been awarded the right to host Olympics more times than any Western country, with the exception of the United States, demonstrates how well they have represented themselves to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

In the case of Tokyo, these ambitions were first expressed to the IOC in 1932. It was hoped that the event could be held in 1940 to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of the foundation of imperial Japan. The event would have showcased the remarkable recovery of the metropolis, which had been devastated by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake in which approximately 140,000 people died.

Regrettably, the ongoing war in China depleted national resources and an international boycott had been threatened. Ironically, but by no coincidence, the desire to host an international event to demonstrate modernity along Western lines had been extinguished by colonial expansion intended to promote ‘mutual prosperity’ in East Asia.

The pre-war history of Olympic Tokyo has been whitewashed from the history of the Japanese Olympic Movement presented by the Tokyo 2020 team through their official website – even a short biography of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo who worked to bring the Games to Tokyo until his death, fails to mention these efforts.

However, Tokyo’s successful bid for the 1964 Olympic Games did refer to the issue of 1940. The Governor of Tokyo wrote that –

‘Tokyo was once elected as the host city of the 1940 Games which, however, was later cancelled due to the unfortunate circumstances… consequently, Tokyo was already recognized by the IOC as being fully qualified and entitled for holding the Games. Personally, I am hoping that a great majority of the members of the IOC will be so sympathetic as to give another chance to Tokyo.’

By describing Tokyo as a victim of ‘unfortunate circumstances’ the issue of war responsibility is sidestepped. The 1940 Games were said to have been ‘cancelled’ rather than relinquished, leaving the responsibility for this cancellation open to interpretation. The fact that the city which was awarded the Olympics for 1940 was mostly destroyed by 1945 is also ignored.

In awarding the Olympics to Tokyo, the IOC accepted Emperor Hirohito, the figurehead of wartime Japan, as the patron of an event which ostensibly promotes world peace. This decision was part of a ‘rehabilitation’ of Axis powers, Rome hosted the Olympics in 1960 and Munich followed in 1972.

The desire to harness the heritage and history of 1964 is clear from the Tokyo 2020 bid material. A ‘Heritage Zone’ containing imperial sites surrounded by renovated Olympic venues features prominently in the successful 2020 bid.

The 1964 Olympic Stadium is being redeveloped at a cost of $1 billion to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and, now, the 2020 Olympic Games. The venue, symbolically, stands on the site of the former Meiji Shrine Outer Gardens – the favoured site for the 1940 Olympic Stadium.

The Yoyogi National Stadium and the Nippon Budokan are two further symbols of 1964 that remain prominent landmarks of Tokyo, fifty years on. These multi-purpose buildings were designed to fuse Japanese and Western architectural styles and, their continued use, hosting a variety of national and international events, is a fantastic advert for Olympic legacy and testament to the vision of the architects.

The award of the Olympic Games to Tokyo was a trigger for vast urban improvements by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. A ten-year development plan for Tokyo was fast-tracked to improve the city’s poor infrastructure in time for the Games.

The Tokaido Shinkansen service between Osaka and Tokyo commenced on October 1st 1964, just nine days before the Olympic Games began. This rail service is still regarded as one of the safest, fastest and most efficient in the world. These developments were internationally recognised as symbols of Japan’s revival and post-war industrial growth and, in popular memory, they are directly associated with the 1964 Olympics.

Eighty-five percent of the Japanese population watched the 1964 Olympic opening ceremony on television, in what was seen as the start of a new era for Japan. Sakai Yoshinori was chosen to carry the sacred flame into the stadium and light the Olympic fire.

Sakai was born on August 6th 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, 17km from ground zero. Sakai has been described since as a ‘beautiful body’, a symbol of Japan’s ‘complete recovery’ following war defeat. Like all Japanese participants in the torch relay, Sakai represented a revitalized post-war generation, yet, he was also a reference to Japan’s position as the world’s first atomic victim.

The opening ceremony linked Olympic symbols of peace with a not so peaceful history and broadcast them to an international audience. The Japanese flag, national anthem and imperial family were offered to be reaccepted, globally, as symbols of modern Japan.

As well as shaping international perceptions of the city and transforming the urban fabric, the success of the 1964 Olympics galvanised subsequent Japanese Olympic bids. Sapporo and Nagano would go on to become Olympic host cities in 1972 and 1996 respectively. Unsuccessful bids from Nagoya, for 1988, Osaka, for 2008, and Tokyo, for 2016, were also launched.

Whatever your opinion of the Olympic Movement, it is important to view the case of Tokyo 2020 from a Tokyo perspective. The chance to reflect on, revisit and restore the remarkable Olympic legacy of 1964 is something to celebrate. Tokyo has demonstrated in the past that it is capable of delivering a well-run event and creating a lasting urban legacy, there is no reason to begrudge the capital the chance to do so again.

Tokyo 2020 will hope to demonstrate a historic narrative of Olympic Tokyo to the world – the theme of recovery. The Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11th 2011, generating a tsunami of unprecedented scale. Tens of thousands of lives were lost, people’s homes were destroyed and vital infrastructure was severely damaged. 100,000 people remain displaced by the resulting crisis at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant almost three years on. While the incident is not an immediate threat to the people of Tokyo, it is important that the nation demonstrates a complete recovery to an international audience once again.

Thoughts on the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

by Lewis Tatt and Austin Smith

Ohel Moshe Synagogue, now home to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.

The Holocaust requires little introduction to the average Westerner, and so, it might seem shocking that this event, which so often dominates narratives of World War II, is unheard of amongst many Chinese people. The fact is, in China, the ‘European War’ is not seen as the defining event of twentieth century, to the extent that, the term ‘World War II’ (世界二战) is not commonly used – reference to the ‘War of Resistance against Japan’ (抗日战争) is far more common. This is symptomatic of China’s experience of the conflict, and its national history of the twentieth century, which is somewhat separated from ‘World History’.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is therefore a particularly interesting site as it brings together narratives of the Holocaust under the framework of Chinese war memory. In the recent years, a number of public spaces have been established to rehabilitate Chinese history and to bring the presentation of history back in line with wider historical narratives. As part of this trend, in 2007, funding was made available by the People’s Government of Hongkou District to found the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. The museum is housed in a refurbished synagogue located in the former Jewish district, often referred to as a ‘Shanghai haven’, an area which retains original features of the Jewish settlement.

The initial impression given by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is that it represents a shift away from a Sino-centric perspective of history, enough to pique the interest of curious international tourists. The museum’s volunteer guides all spoke a good level of English considering that the museum was somewhat off the standard tourist trail.

Unlike many small museums in the region, information and leaflets were available in both Chinese and accurate English. This could be due to the fact that the majority of visitors to the museum are Western tourists. This area is particularly popular amongst Jewish visitors or those otherwise touched by the horrors of the Holocaust. Because of this fact, this site provides a very interesting contrast with other memorial sites in China – most of which memorialise the revolution and are aimed exclusively at a native audience.

Upon entering the museum visitors are given a brief history of the origins of Jewish Shanghai, a community founded by Russian émigrés, in the main hall of the synagogue. One of the room’s few adornments is a tribute from the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai.

A tribute from the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai on display at Ohel Moshe Synagogue
A tribute from the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai on display at Ohel Moshe Synagogue

The next stage of the tour is held upstairs, where a number of boards providing wider context of the Holocaust have been installed. For the international visitor, this context is perhaps pre-acquired, but, for the Chinese visitor it is eye-opening and potentially opinion forming. However, rather than providing an international context to the Chinese perspective of this history this section of the museum subtly fuses the inevitable victim narrative of the Jews and the Holocaust with an anti-Japanese, Chinese victim narrative.

The first information board the visitor meets describes how Germany, when ‘facing the darkest page of human history’ has ‘shown deep repentance…’ The reader is then informed that ‘there are other countries that refuse to face up to the atrocities of history.’ In the Chinese language version the sentence reads ‘至于那些至今仍不能正确对待历史的国家…’ Literally, ‘as for those countries that still can’t correctly treat history…’ The use of “as for” (至于) implies that a native Chinese reader would have already had a certain country in mind, Japan.

The reader is then informed that the exhibition aims to ‘represent the common effort of Chinese and Jews […] to save lives and dignity from Nazi and fascist atrocities.’ Here ‘Nazi’ refers to German atrocities and ‘fascist’ refers to Japanese atrocities, explicitly linking the exhibition on the Jewish Holocaust in Europe with Japanese atrocities in East Asia.

In this way, the museum brings an external historical perspective in line with the Chinese narrative of victimisation at the hands of Japanese imperialism. By linking these atrocities, Japan’s war conduct is presented as being as abhorrent as the Holocaust. This is perhaps why, when linking the War of Resistance Against Japan to the ‘European War’, Chinese museums and memorial sites still do not refer to the World War II, but instead use the term “International War Against Fascism” (世界反法西斯战争). This Chinese victim narrative is offered as being as undisputable as that of the Jews and the Holocaust. Both narratives are equally as important to the agenda of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum and its Chinese and Israeli benefactors.

The fundamental problem faced by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is that the history of the Shanghai Refugees proves Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan did not collaborate as much as this context would lead us to believe. This results in a struggle of memory, between the history that the Chinese and Israeli influences wish to offer to the visitor and the actual experience of the Shanghai Jews.

'To the People of Shanghai for unique humanitarian act of saving thousands of Jews during the Second World War, thanks in the name of the government of Israel.' Yitzhak Rabin, Premier of Israel (1993).
‘To the People of Shanghai for unique humanitarian act of saving thousands of Jews during the Second World War, thanks in the name of the government of Israel.’ Yitzhak Rabin, Premier of Israel (1993).

During the tour it is easy to forget that, by the time the Jews fleeing the Holocaust arrived in Shanghai, the city was firmly under Japanese control. These refugees were fleeing the Holocaust to find sanctuary in Japanese occupied China. As accommodating as the people of Shanghai were to the Jewish community, they remained at the mercy of the Japanese. As the Asia-Pacific War escalated, the Shanghai refugees were confined to the Hongkou ghetto where they lived alongside the Chinese inhabitants of the area.

This raises some obvious questions, if Germany’s European allies had been complicit in sending Jews to their deaths in concentration camps – how had the Jews of Shanghai survived? And why had the Japanese in Shanghai not succumbed to the same pressures?

When pressed on the issue, a member of staff at the museum admitted that – the Japanese had few issues with the Jews and very little desire to exterminate the Jewish population of Shanghai. This admission reveals the difficulty in associating Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany with regards to the Jewish population of Shanghai. One could even go as far as to suggest that the Japanese protected the community. However, this explicit distinction in absent from the museums display material.

The story of the Jewish experience of life under Japanese rule is told in a separate part of the museum, this section is to be viewed once the broader context of the Holocaust has been (re)enforced. However, attempts to unearth evidence of collaboration between Germany and Japan proved to be unconvincing. The strongest link between Japanese controlled Shanghai and Nazi Germany in this section of the museum is purely visual. A section titled ‘Hard Times in the Hongkou Ghetto’ places two picture of Japanese officials alongside two pictures of German officials. Despite being four separate photographs an association is created between the Japanese and German officials through the photographs’ physical locations.

A caption under a picture of Colonel Josef Meisinger, known as the “Butcher of Warsaw”, explains that he ‘proposed a plan (‘final solution’ in Shanghai) to Japanese occupation authorities in 1942 to murder Jews in Shanghai.’ The use of the term ‘proposed’ suggests that there was no diplomatic pressure from Germany. The fact that the proposal to exterminate approximately 20,000 Jews was rejected by the Japanese is also neglected throughout the exhibit. The museum obscures the fact that Japanese authorities rejected a ‘final solution’ for Shanghai by simply not mentioning this fact – perhaps unsurprising, given the museums victim narrative and a sympathetic prospective audience.

Attempts to compare conditions in the Shanghai ghetto with the concentration camps of Europe are wide of the mark. While it would be wrong to suggest the Jews did not suffer, this was a time of global suffering, there does not appear to have been active maltreatment by the Japanese beyond the formation of the ghetto itself.

Evidence of Jewish settlement in the Hongkou District, Shanghai.
Evidence of Jewish settlement in the Hongkou District, Shanghai.

Attempts to place Japanese atrocities on a par with the Holocaust are common in Chinese memorials, which often seek to emulate or borrow from Holocaust memorials. Qi Kang, designer of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, even compares his design to Western Holocaust museums. This is perhaps partly an attempt to place the Chinese victim narrative into a recognisable international framework, alongside other victim narratives of the conflict. Modern Chinese history has been brought back into the focus of wider historiography as a result.

It is an oversimplification to speak of just ‘World War II’ or of an ‘International War on Fascism’. Perhaps we do need to be more specific and speak of the ‘War of Resistance Against Japan’, ‘Pacific War’, ‘War in Western Europe’ and the ‘War in Eastern Europe’. Nevertheless, the nature of the problem for Chinese historians remains the same, how to re-internationalise Chinese history whilst maintaining the nationalistic narrative required for by China’s modern patriotic education.

The atrocities committed by Imperial Japan against the rest of Asia are inexcusable but the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum clearly shows that these atrocities were distanced from, and not directly related to, those carried out against the Jews in Europe. From a Japanese perspective, it would be wrong to be overly critical of the implementation of a Chinese victim narrative, after all, this is something post-war Japan has also been guilty of, in light of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

However, the history presented by the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, sponsored by Chinese and Israeli benefactors, is something that should be questioned – sites of war memory should not place emphasis upon particular narratives whilst neglecting other perspectives in order to gain sympathy for a given cause, to appease their target audience or to build ties between nations.

Opening Ceremony of Israel-China Relations Exhibition & Launch of the Shanghai Jews Database Held at the Museum
Opening Ceremony of Israel-China Relations Exhibition & Launch of the Shanghai Jews Database Held at the Museum

The Sacred Fire Relay (1964) by Nakamura Hiroshi

By Austin Smith.

The Sacred Fire Relay (1964) by Nakamura Hiroshi

The Sacred Fire Relay (1964) by Nakamura Hiroshi fits seamlessly into the “OUT OF DOUBT: Roppongi Crossing 2013” exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, both stylistically and thematically. In fact, the connection between Tokyo, the Olympics and the ongoing issue of Japanese militarism are as obvious today as they were in 1964.

Tokyo was awarded the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games just two weeks before the exhibition opened. The Olympic issue must be considered against the exhibition’s post-Fukushima theme, the ongoing nuclear crisis which has led to questions being raised about Tokyo’s suitability as an Olympic host.

“Roppongi Crossing” is a triennial exhibition offering a comprehensive overview of contemporary art in Japan. “OUT OF DOUBT” is on display at the Mori Art Museum from September 21st 2013 to January 3rd 2014. The exhibition features approximately thirty artists in order to give an impression of Japan’s post-war avant-garde art scene – including expatriate artists and artists of Japanese descent.


In the first room of the exhibition, pieces by Nakamura Hiroshi (b.1932) are juxtaposed against the work of artists born in the 1970s and ‘80s – including, art from Kozama Sachiko (b.1972) completed earlier this year. This is billed by the curators as an attempt to start a ‘dialogue’ between the post-war generation of avant-garde artists and the current crop. Post-traumatic comparisons are drawn between art created after The Great East Japan Earthquake (March 2011) and the post-war avant-garde movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Nakamura’s ‘reportage’ style is evident in his surrealist depiction of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch Relay and Opening Ceremony. During the 1964 Olympics, the flag, the national anthem, and even the imperial family, were offered to be reaccepted by an international audience as symbols of modern Japan.

Olympic plumes of smoke from Self Defense Force in at the Opening Ceremony, 1964.
Olympic plumes of smoke from Self Defence Force in at the Opening Ceremony, 1964.

The Sacred Fire Relay, an oil on canvas painting, is dominated by the Japanese flag, under which Self Defense Force fighters mark out the Olympic Rings in plumes of smoke, as they did during the 1964 Opening Ceremony. Raging flames, reminiscent of an atomic blast or fire-bombed city, and de-humanised torch bearers dominate the centre of the canvas. Altogether, it is a powerful and chaotic, almost apocalyptic, scene.

The flames evoke memories of Sakai Yoshinori, the final torch bearer, who lit the Olympic Flame in front of Emperor Hirohito and millions watching around the World. Sakai was born on August 6th 1945, the day of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, 17km from ground zero – a reference to Japan’s status as the world’s first atomic victim.

Nakamura’s early work critiqued U.S. military presence in Japan, his inclusion of the Japan Self Defense Force in this piece can be seen as a continuation of this stance. Significantly, in recent months it has been suggested that the constitution may be changed to strengthen Japan’s regional military position and expand the Self Defence Force. However, Article 9 and the peace associated with it remain a source of pride for many Japanese people.

Nationalism and identity are themes of the “OUT OF DOUBT” exhibition, attempts have been made to go beyond the geographic boundaries of Japan by including expatriates and artists of Japanese descent. Through his work, Nakamura clearly questions the presence of nationalist symbols and militarism during an event that ostensibly promotes peace while heralding a ‘new beginning’ for modern Japan. The inclusion of The Sacred Fire Relay in the “Roppongi Crossing 2013” exhibition and the juxtaposition with contemporary art demonstrates that the concerns of 1964 remain relevant.

Comparing the Songhu Memorials of 1934 and 1989.

The first of a series of articles by Lewis Tatt.

Before the opening and reform that followed the death of Chairman Mao, the past century of Chinese history was told as a narrative of revolution. Japanese invasion and the Second World War were merely chapters in this narrative, sandwiched somewhere between the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and the civil war between the Communist Party of China (CCP) and the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT).

The Shanghai Longhua Martyrs Memorial Hall (上海龙华烈士纪念馆) exemplifies this traditional narrative, stating that ‘the battle of resistance against Japan […] added a glorious page to the military annals of the Chinese revolution…’

In this historiography, the Chinese nation was not viewed as a weak victim of Japanese aggression. Quite the opposite, China’s war casualties became ‘outstanding sons and daughters of the Chinese nation’ who ‘died heroically’.

Since China’s opening and reform in 1978 this narrative has changed. The 1980s saw an increasing emphasis upon Japanese wartime atrocities, an emphasis that the national consciousness was previously lacking. Consequently, many memorial sites to Japanese atrocities sprang up, such as the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆) which was constructed in 1985.

One book on the Nanjing Massacre, written in 1962, by scholars at Nanjing University’s history department was even, according to its English translator, made a classified document in China and ‘could not be published openly’. This pre-reform period emphasis away from atrocity might have been an attempt to consciously overlook the KMT’s role in the war of resistance against Japan.

The Second World War in China was preceded and followed by civil war between the communist CCP and the nationalist KMT. Defeated in 1949, the KMT fled to Taiwan, where a ‘rebel’ government held China’s seat at the UN until 1971.

Since the defenders at Nanjing in 1937 were nationalist forces and the nationalist government on Taiwan remained a potential threat, this event did not sit easily into a heroic revolutionary communist narrative.

However, following the opening and reform, China has moved towards what Wang Hui describes as ‘depoliticised politics’. In other words, China’s population is discouraged from being politically active. The government desires above all social stability and continuing economic growth. Political activity, particularly of the type witnessed during the Cultural Revolution, could only damage China’s recent economic success.

It has been argued that, under market reform and depoliticised politics, the traditional narrative of heroic revolutionary upheaval became obsolete. Such a narrative, glorifying revolution and encouraging political activity, might even be threatening to post-reform China.

Increased emphasis placed upon Japanese wartime atrocities, therefore, might well have been an attempt to provide a new focal point for Chinese nationalism that was not part of the revolutionary ideal that had been left behind in the wake of market reform.

Most of this idea of a changing narrative is pieced together from relatively recent public history sites and museums. One thing that seems to be conspicuously missing in large cities in China is war memorials produced during or soon after the war. I am of course referring to the types of memorials to World War I and World War II that are found all over Europe.

Perhaps this is down to cultural difference. Chinese culture traditionally places great importance upon revering dead ancestors, with a national holiday designated ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’ (清明节), in which families will gather together to clean the ancestral tombs. Since the family unit has both a designated place and time for remembrance of the dead it is possible that public remembrance in the form of memorials is not as necessary as in Western Europe.

However, at least some memorials were made very soon after conflicts took place. The Battle of Songhu took place in 1932 in what is now a suburb of Shanghai. Two years later a monument was built near the West Lake in Hangzhou. This was probably China’s first monument to the anti-Japanese war, and was dedicated to the 88th division that was sent in support of the 19th Army Corps defending Shanghai.

Songhu Memorial (1934)
Songhu Memorial (1934)

The monument was, however, dismantled in the 1960s. The fact the monument was commemorating the heroic deeds of a KMT army division might not have been entirely unrelated to the dismantling, considering that a nearby monument to the Chinese Volunteer Army of the Korean War survived the 1960s unscathed.

Contemporary photographs (above) reveal the original appearance of the monument, which consisted of a tall concrete block topped with a statue of two soldiers. It is tall, proud and militaristic.

An inscription describes the 88th Army as inflicting serious damage on the Japanese forces (重创日军), but otherwise information is minimal. In many ways, this monument is in sharp contrast with another monument – dedicated to the 19th Army Corps, which the 88th Army had been sent to support in the Battle of Songhu.

memorial (1989)
Songhu Memorial (1989)

Firstly, the 19th Army monument is located near the site of the battle, in a district of Shanghai. Unlike the monument to the 88th Army, it was not constructed soon after the battle and during the continuing conflict with Japan, but over fifty years later, in 1989. The appearance is smaller and much simpler in scale and, perhaps most significantly, it is surrounded by an abundance of large information boards (no less than 18).

Gone is the heroic aura of the monument to the 88th Army, instead, an inscription on the monument itself describes almost tragically the 19th Army Corps being completely wiped out by the Japanese (被日军炮火所毁). A nearby information board echoes this tone, explaining that, because of the huge disparity of strength between the Japanese and Chinese forces, the 19th Army Corps was completely wiped out. (在敌我实力悬殊下终告失败。 十九路军番号亦被取消。)

Rather than just reflecting on the military campaign, as the monument to the 88th army does, the information boards go much further, describing and events that cannot help but anger the reader. One such information board shows a photograph of a Japanese soldier bayoneting what appears to be a bound body with the caption describing the soldier as ‘torturing to death an innocent Chinese civilian’. (虐杀着无辜的中国百姓。)

Evidence of alledged torture at the hands of the Japanese displayed at the 1989 memorial.
Evidence of alleged torture at the hands of the Japanese displayed at the 1989 memorial.

The large number of information boards suggests that visitors to the site need to go away with certain knowledge. This is not a memorial in the sense of being a place where people come to mourn and remember the dead, but a site of patriotic education where everyone from local party members to school children take part in activities. With this in mind the date for the construction of the monument becomes significant; September 1989, three months after a certain incident involving students and tanks in a Beijing public square.

Just as the Chinese population was increasingly beginning to question the government, monuments were appearing that focused not on revolutionary spirit or military heroics, as they previously had, but on an external enemy. The 1934 monument to the Songhu battle fills the viewer with pride, both with its physical presence and its description of martyrs (阵亡将士) who died inflicting heavy losses on the Japanese.

By contrast, the 1989 monument lectures on a victim narrative that angers the reader, once again unifies the Chinese nation against an external aggressor many decades after the event and potentially distracts attention away from other current domestic problems.

Tokyo 2020: Issues Raised by the Olympic Torch Relay.

By Austin Smith.

Plans for the Olympic Torch Relay will begin in earnest if Tokyo is awarded the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games next month. The logistical concerns of the 1940 and 1964 Olympic Organising Committees would have to be revisited for 2020.

With such a symbolic international event, how to best include Japan’s neighbours must be assessed. Tensions remain with South Korea and China over ongoing territorial disputes and the issue of wartime responsibility. This article will look at the symbolism and logistics of the 1964 Olympic Torch Relay and suggest ways in which the Tokyo 2020 relay should be approached.

The 1964 Olympic Torch Relay was a significant international event as it marked the beginning of the first ‘Asian’ Olympic Games. Proposals for the 1940 Olympic relay and the Asian Games torch relay of 1958 were revisited. Carl Diem’s 1930s plan, to follow the Silk Route across Asia, was considered and later dismissed due to the ‘numerous difficulties presented.’[1] As mentioned in a previous article, this route failed to conform to the vision of Asia that the organisers wished to promote in the 1930s, the same can be said of Japan in the 1960s.

It was eventually decided that the torch would be relayed by air outside of Japan. The plane used for the air route was named ‘City of Tokyo’ and it stopped at Athens, Istanbul, Beirut, Tehran, Lahore, New Delhi, Rangoon, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Hong Kong and Taipei before reaching Okinawa, an area still under U.S. occupation. The People’s Republic of China, the USSR and the Korean peninsula were notable absentees from this air-relay across Asia.

The flame was then shared between four torches and transported from Okinawa by air to Kagoshima, in southern Kyushu, and to Sapporo, in Hokkaido. These torches were carried across four routes through major cities in Kyushu, Honshu, Shikoku and Hokkaido.

The flames were fused in a unifying ritual, in Imperial Palace Plaza, on the eve of the opening ceremony.[2] Hosting the Olympic flame overnight at Imperial Palace Plaza united imperial and Olympic themes while heightening the anticipation for the Games. As seen in the build-up to previous events, the association between the imperial family and modernity was being reinforced through the medium of Olympism.

It was decided that the relay runners, within Japan, would be between sixteen and twenty years of age, representing the post-war generation and the rebirth of a modern nation. Seven runners completed the final section of the Olympic Torch Relay, between the Imperial Palace Plaza and the National Stadium, with Sakai Yoshinori chosen to carry the united flame into the stadium during the opening ceremony to light the Olympic fire. Eighty-five percent of the Japanese population watched the event on television in what was seen as the start of a new era for Japan.[3]

Sakai lights the Olympic Flame
Sakai lights the Olympic Flame

Sakai was born on August 6th 1945, the day of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, 17km from ground zero. Igarashi describes Sakai as a ‘beautiful body’, a symbol of Japan’s ‘complete recovery’ following war defeat.[4] Like all Japanese participants in the torch relay Sakai was of an age that represented a post-war generation – a rejection of the scarred bodies of wartime Japan.

The choice of Sakai as the final torch bearer displays evidence of national pride as well as national politics. Sakai was a reference to Japan’s status as the world’s first atomic victim.[5] He has been described as an embodiment of Japanese history ‘from its lowest point at the end of the Second World War to the present of 1964, when Japan was able to host this magnificent festival of peace.’[6]

Many commentators have remarked upon the similarities between the 1964 Olympic logo, worn on Sakai’s chest, and the Japanese flag – particularly when viewed from a distance against the white background. This uniform had been worn throughout the torch relay by both Japanese and foreign runners. Christian Tagsold goes as far as to draw comparisons between Sakai lighting the Olympic flame and the Japanese flag flying over battlefields during the Asia Pacific War.[7]

The opening ceremony was broadcast live to an international audience and, once the flame had been lit, Emperor Hirohito declared the Games open. The ceremony linked Olympic symbols of peace with a not so peaceful history. It was the first opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Japan and Tokyo had fully recovered from war defeat.

Nationalistic symbols such as the flag, the national anthem, and even the imperial family, were offered to be reaccepted by an international audience as symbols of modern Japan.

The promotion of peace was somewhat undermined by the Japanese Self-Defence Forces involvement in the opening ceremony. Eight members of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force carried the Olympic flag into the stadium from the south entrance and hoisted it into place on a 15.21m pole as Sakai Yoshinori entered the stadium. The Olympic rings were drawn by the smoke trails of five fighter planes from the Japanese Air Self-Defence Force. The Self-Defence Force was, and remains, a divisive issue in Japan as the establishment of the Self-Defence Force defied the constitution set out in 1947.

The issues raised by the 1964 Olympic Torch Relay and opening ceremony remain contentious. It seems inevitable that the Self-Defence Force and the imperial family would be involved, particularly after the, well-received, London 2012 opening ceremony which showcased monarchy and militarism to the world.

The logistics of the torch relay are far more uncertain, Carl Diem’s vision of a Silk Road relay was realised for the 2008 Beijing Games, making it the longest torch relay in Olympic history. Given the ongoing hostility in the region, it seems unlikely that this route will be reused, nevertheless, every effort should be made to incorporate Japan’s neighbours and promote mutual understanding.

[1] The Official Report of The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964, v. 1, 245.

[2] Official Report 1964, 3.

[3] C. Tagsold, ‘The Tokyo Olympics as a Token of Renationalization’, in Niehaus and Seinsch, Olympic Japan, 113-114.

[4] Y. Igarashi, Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 153-163.

[5] S. Collins, ‘Fragility of Asian National Identity’, in M. Prince and D. Dayan eds., Owning the Olympics: Narratives of the New China, (University of Michigan, 2008), 192.

[6] Tagsold, ‘The Tokyo Olympics as a Token of Renationalization’, 113-114.

[7] Tagsold, ‘The Tokyo Olympics as a Token of Renationalization’, 113-114.


Tokyo 2020: The Urban Legacy of Tokyo 1964.

By Austin Smith.

Tokyo Tower, May 30th 2013.
Tokyo Tower, May 30th 2013.

On May 30th 2013, Tokyo Tower marked one hundred days until the outcome of the 2020 Olympic bid process with a light display and the release of hundreds of Olympic-colour balloons into the night sky. This date also signified the handover of Tokyo Tower’s main broadcasting responsibilities to Tokyo Skytree. Tokyo Tower, completed in 1958, became a global symbol of modern Tokyo at the 1964 Olympics, it is hoped that the Skytree, the world’s tallest free-standing structure, can enjoy a similar legacy – with Tokyo 2020 as the defining event in its history.

The Yoyogi National Stadium and the Nippon Budokan are two further symbols of 1964 that remain prominent cultural venues, fifty years on. Both will feature as part of a Heritage Zone if Tokyo’s 2020 bid is successful. These multi-purpose buildings were designed to fuse Japanese and Western architectural styles and their continued use, hosting a variety of national and international events, is a fantastic advert for Olympic legacy and testament to the vision of the architects.

The Nippon Budokan, 1964.
The Nippon Budokan, 1964.
Yoyogi National Gymnasium, 1964.
Yoyogi National Stadium, 1964.

Preparations for Tokyo 1964 were under intense international scrutiny from the outset. The scale, complexity, and cost of the 1960 Rome Olympiad had led to calls for the Olympic Games to be scrapped. Fortunately, there was a carefully considered venue strategy for 1964 – to expand and reconstruct as many existing sports venues as possible (particularly those built for the 1958 Asian Games) and supplement these with the landmark installations outlined above. This strategy made the direct cost of the games manageable.

The Olympic Organising Committee were given the power to acquire state owned land, in prominent areas of Tokyo, yet venue location did not change significantly from the pre-war plans proposed for 1940. As the graph (below) demonstrates, the amount of money spent on Olympic venues and the Olympic village was just 2.75% of the overall Olympic driven investment and a relatively low overall amount in comparison with subsequent host cities. Remaining investment was aimed at developing a solid transport infrastructure and improving the backdrop of the Games, the city itself.

Comparing investment in Olympic expenditure, Tokyo 1964 – Beijing 2008.
Comparing investment in Olympic expenditure, Tokyo 1964 – Beijing 2008.[1]
The award of the Olympic Games to Tokyo was a trigger for vast urban improvements by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. A ten-year development plan for Tokyo was fast tracked to improve the city’s poor infrastructure for 1964. These projects went beyond attempts to achieve ‘Western standards’ which resulted in a lasting legacy, both in the urban fabric and popular memory.

Transport was the backbone of the project, to accommodate visitors during the event as well as the rapid growth of the city. Twenty-two highways were constructed at a cost of ¥72.1 billion and eight expressways at a cost of ¥105.8 billion.[2] Two subway lines of 12.5km and 9.4km were specifically completed in time for the Tokyo Olympics and were integrated into the existing network, which was already subject to an eight line, 177.5km post-war expansion.

The newly constructed Edobashi interchange, 1964.
The newly constructed Edobashi Interchange, 1964.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was determined to present a ‘clean’ city to the world, a ‘Beautification of the Capital Movement’ was launched and 4.7% of Olympic investment was allocated towards improving hygiene (more than that spent on Olympic installations).[3] Tokyo was a city under constant construction, it was not until this period that pre-war urban planning problems were addressed.

However, to assume the developments benefited the entire city would be misleading. Improvements were concentrated around affluent areas that would gain international attention, mostly within the Yamanote Line.[4] Nevertheless, the achievements made in time for the 1964 Olympic Games facilitated the transition of Tokyo into a modern, prosperous metropolis.

Arguably, the most significant investment of this period was the construction of the bullet train, which accounted for roughly 40% of indirect expenses. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen service between Osaka and Tokyo began on October 1st 1964, just nine days before the Olympic Games began. The importance of this development was internationally recognised – Time stated that ‘Japan was greeting not only a new rail service but a symbol of the nation’s postwar industrial growth and a new bond between its two largest cities.'[5]

Ironically, like Tokyo’s Olympic ambitions, plans for a standard-gauge rapid train service originated in the 1930s. A plan for this system was drafted in 1939 and, although some work was carried out, it was completely abandoned by 1943 due to the need for steel to be used for military purposes. High speed rail was to be established across East Asia to connect the Japanese Empire, and, despite war defeat, there was no break in the pursuit of land purchases to allow the lines construction – 19% of land required had been purchased by 1943 and this was later supplemented by land devalued by U.S. bombing. In this respect the first bullet train of 1964 represents not only ‘modernity’ but also, a realisation of pre-war ambitions.

The efficient transport network which was constructed in time for 1964 Olympics remains a major strength of Tokyo’s 2020 bid. Tokyo’s superb pre-existing infrastructure has contributed to the perception that the city is a safe option for 2020. Tokyo 1964’s status as arguably the greatest urban legacy in Olympic history is evidenced in the planned ‘Heritage Zone’ which will revive a remodeled Olympic Stadium, the Yoyogi National Stadium and the Nippon Budokan as Olympic venues. Tokyo Tower also stands in the Heritage Zone, to complete the connection between the Olympic legacy of 1964 and 2020.


[1] The graph is based on an example found in, H. Liao, and A. Pitts, ‘A Brief Historical Review of Olympic Urbanization’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 23, 7 (2006), 1247., it has been edited to include data for 1968, (see Official Report of the Organizing Committee, vol. II, 23–4, cited in K. Brewster and C. Brewster, ‘Mexico City’s Hosting of the 1968 Olympic Games’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 26, 6, (2009), 840-865). The data for Moscow 1980 has never been released. Total expenditure estimates vary from relative values of $600 million to $3,700 million. The ‘Supportive Infrastructure (%)’ is a useful indicator of how successful an Olympic legacy a Games has produced, e.g. the 1976 Olympic Games are generally considered to have a negative impact on the city of Montreal.

[2] The Official Report of The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964, v. 1, 48.

[3] Y. Igarashi, Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 143-163.

[4] The circular Yamanote commuter rail line services central Tokyo – only four of Tokyo’s twenty-three Wards fall within this boundary.

[5] ‘Japan: Fast Ride to Osaka’, Time, 4th September 1964.

Tokyo 2020: Learning from Defeat and Redefining Tokyo’s Olympic Dream, 1952-1959.

By Austin Smith

Scenes following the award of the 1964 Olympic Games to Tokyo, Munich, May 1959.
Joyous scenes following the award of the 1964 Olympic Games to Tokyo, May 1959.

In October 2009, during the 121st Session of the International Olympic Committee, a vote was held to determine the Olympic host city for 2016. Tokyo was knocked out in the second round of voting, behind Madrid and, the eventual winners, Rio de Janeiro. The current Tokyo 2020 bid must effectively respond to, and learn from, this defeat if the capital is to overcome a renewed Madrid campaign and efforts by Istanbul to be awarded the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games. For lessons in how to bounce back from an unsuccessful bid campaign, Tokyo need look no further than the capital’s bids to host the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games.

In 1952, just one month after the post-war U.S. occupation of Japan had officially ended, a renewed bid to bring the Olympics to Tokyo was launched. From the outset, the campaign was framed nationally while focusing on the country’s wartime past. It was argued that hosting the Olympics would allow ‘the true Japan, now restored to peace, to return to the international stage and have the real Japanese, who sincerely aspire to world peace, be recognised by the people of the world.’[1]

In 1955, official bid material, including a bid book, was submitted to the IOC to support Tokyo’s campaign to host the 1960 Olympic Games. The opening statement read – ‘Distinct victories and defeats engrave deeply in the bosoms of the people of every nation… Tokyo once had the honour to be selected as the host city for the games of the XIIth Olympiad, but to our great regret we met a misfortune of losing this chance on account of the fateful war.’[2]

This bid material, presented to the IOC in 1955, included Tokyo, a collection of photographs assembled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Unfortunately, the collection included mainly non-Tokyo locations such as Nikko, Himeji and Mount Fuji. This suggested to the IOC members that post-war Tokyo lacked an urban identity.

The sporting images used further undermined the bid, rather than promoting Tokyo’s thirst for international competition the compilation was dominated by sports unique to Japan. In the wake of war defeat, Japanese athletes had been suspended from participating in the Olympics, which limited the amount of relevant sporting material available to the campaign team.

The voters were left unimpressed by the Olympic narrative presented by the City of Tokyo for the 1960 Olympics. Tokyo was eliminated in the first round of voting at the IOC Session in June 1955, generating the least number of votes of the seven competing cities. Rome was ultimately chosen to host the 1960 Games, the first step in rehabilitating axis powers that would see Tokyo host the Games in 1964 and Munich in 1972.

In 1958, Tokyo’s Olympic fortunes would improve dramatically – the 54th IOC Session was set to be held in the Japanese capital to coincide with the 3rd Asian Games. This was seen as ‘an excellent time to acquaint the members of the IOC with Tokyo’s ability to manage an Olympic Games’ and the event was used as a platform to project a vision of Olympic Tokyo.[3]

The 1958 Asian Games emblem.
The 1958 Asian Games emblem.

The Asian Games were held in Tokyo between the 24th May and 1st June 1958. The event allowed the reconstructed capital of Japan to be internationally showcased. Athletes from twenty countries participated under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. Emperor Hirohito, absolved of wartime responsibility, officially opened the Asian Games and Crown Prince Akihito was patron. This, despite the fact the Asian Games hosted nations that had suffered at the hands of imperial aggression until 1945.

The event was held at the newly completed National Stadium on the site of the former Meiji Shrine Outer Gardens, the favoured site for the 1940 Olympic Stadium. The stadium would later be enlarged in preparation for the 1964 Olympics. Symbolically, a torch relay was held for the first time in Asian Games history, to promote Olympism in Asia. The relay began at the site of the previous Asian Games, Manila, stopping in Okinawa, before arriving at Kagoshima for a relay to Tokyo. This route evoked wartime memories while seemingly attempting to define the boundaries of post-war Japan.

Mikio Oda, the first Asian to win an individual Olympic Gold medal, ignited the ‘Sacred Flame’ in Tokyo.[4] Oda represented Japan’s pre-war Olympic legacy and his presence united pre-war and post-war ambitions to achieve internationalism through athleticism. These Games would be remembered for the demonstration of Japanese athletic prowess as the team won sixty-seven gold medals.

The Asian Games were proof that post-war Japan was capable of staging an international sporting event and it gave the visiting IOC members a clear vision of what Olympic Tokyo would be like. The vote to determine the Olympic host for 1964 was to be held the following year, at the IOC Session in Munich.

Tokyo’s bid to host the 1964 Olympics was presented to the International Olympic Committee following the Asian Games. The bid material attempted to address the flaws of the previous campaign, mementos of the Asian Games and the IOC Session in Tokyo were also included. The planned location of Tokyo’s Olympic venues, and their surroundings, would have been acutely familiar to those who attended the 54th IOC Session and Asian Games.

In contrast to the 1955 bid book, there were a series of images of international athletes – sprinters, gymnasts and basketball players. An image of the ‘Sacred Flame’ being lit by Oda at the National Stadium was also included, provoking thoughts of the Olympic flame burning brightly in the capital. One of the final images was a double page colour photograph of Tokyo at night, it featured the neon lights which would go on to become characteristic of modern Tokyo.

The strength of public support for the bid was also emphasised, it is stated that ‘this current desire of Tokyo is whole-heartedly backed and supported by all segments of the entire Japanese nation.’[5] With regards to the current Tokyo 2020 bid, this is an aspect that needs to be constantly taken into account, low levels of public support contributed to the failure of the 2016 bid.

In a concluding section, the bid book outlined reasons for the 1964 Olympics to be awarded to Tokyo. The first reason reiterated 1930s claim of universality – this would be the first ‘Asian’ Olympic Games. The second reason was a reminder of Japan’s history of Olympism, stating that ‘Japan has been and is enthusiastically devoted to the Olympism since her first participation in the V Olympiad at Stockholm, 1912.’[6]

The final reason given by the Governor of Tokyo read – ‘Tokyo was once elected as the host city of the 1940 Games which, however, was later cancelled due to the unfortunate circumstances… consequently, Tokyo was already recognised by the IOC as being fully qualified and entitled for holding the Games. Personally, I am hoping that a great majority of the members of the IOC will be so sympathetic as to give another chance to Tokyo.’[7]

By describing Tokyo as a victim of ‘unfortunate circumstances’ the issue of war responsibility is sidestepped. The 1940 Games were said to have been ‘cancelled’ rather than relinquished, which leaves the responsibility for this ‘cancellation’ open to interpretation. The fact that the city which was awarded the Olympics for 1940 was mostly destroyed in 1945 is also ignored.

Nevertheless, at Munich, the vote was held to determine the host city for 1964. Once the candidate presentations had been given it was stated that ‘several delegates are definitively in favour of Tokyo.’[8] Out of 56 votes, Tokyo polled 34, leading Detroit (10), Vienna (9), and Brussels (5). The victory was made all the more satisfying as Tokyo had finished behind Brussels and Detroit just four years earlier, a turnaround that the Tokyo 2020 team hopes to replicate against Madrid this coming September.

By emphatically awarding the Games to Tokyo, the IOC implied that they approved of Tokyo’s re-defined Olympic narrative, which had been showcased during the Asian Games and IOC Session. Yet, by rewarding a demonstration of Olympism, selecting Tokyo as the first Olympic host in Asia and accepting the emperor as a figurehead, the decision of 1958 displays considerable similarities to that of 1936.

The outcome of the 2020 campaign could mirror the turn of fortunes seen in the 1950s, it may even coincide with an economic revival similar to the one that followed the 1964 Olympics – but only if Tokyo can demonstrate that lessons from the 2016 campaign have been learnt. Work must also be done to improve international relations in the East Asian region.

The issue of war responsibility is as prominent as ever, international media have been closely following controversy surrounding ‘comfort women’, official visits to Yasukuni Shrine and lingering territorial disputes which have the potential to damage the Tokyo 2020 bid. There even could be regional opposition to the Tokyo bid if the capital’s pre-war Olympic connections, which are retained in the fabric of the 2020 bid, gain international attention. Despite this, Tokyo has a strong chance of defeating bids from Madrid and Istanbul due to the troubled financial situation in Spain and ongoing security concerns in the Middle East.

[1] S. Collins, ‘‘Samurai’ Politics: Japanese Cultural Identity in Global Sport – The Olympic Games as a Representational Strategy’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 24, 3, (2007), 362.

[2] Bid to host the 1960 Summer Olympic Games, 1955, BOA/IOC/BID/S4, BOA Collection, University of East London, London, non-paginated.

[3] The Official Report of The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964, v. 1, 35.

[4]‘Third Asian Games, Tokyo 1958’, Bulletin du Comité International Olympique ( Olympic Review ), 1957 May No. 58, 65.

[5] Bid to host the 1964 Summer Olympic Games, 1958, BOA/IOC/BID/S5, BOA Collection, University of East London, London, non-paginated. (here-after referred to as Bid Book 1958)

[6] Bid Book 1958.

[7] Bid Book 1958.

[8]‘Extract of the minutes of the 55th session of the International Olympic Committee in Munich (Haus des Sportes) May 25th to May 28th 1959’, Bulletin du Comité International Olympique (Olympic Review), (August 1959) 67, 51-52.

Tokyo 2020: Preparations for the 1940 Olympic Games and Lessons for Tokyo 2020.

By Austin Smith.

1940 Olympic seals
Tokyo 1940 seals

In the modern bid process, every aspect of the Games is documented in advance to help the International Olympic Committee (IOC) come to their decision. Tokyo’s vast 2020 candidature file outlines the Organising Committee’s Olympic vision in great detail, from planned venue installations to financing. In contrast, the specifics of Tokyo 1940 were mostly determined once the right to host the games had been awarded. Nevertheless, the key components of these preparations remain the same – venue location, the Olympic Torch Relay and the international message the Olympic city is trying to convey.

The 1940 Games were to be a celebration of 2,600 years of imperial tradition marked by an event which was perceived as a symbol of Western modernity. The Olympic Torch Relay and sporting venues needed to interact with imperial sites and symbols while demonstrating the strength of the nation. In contrast, the Tokyo 2020 bid centres around innovation, inspiration and heritage, the slogan is ‘Discover Tomorrow’. Past Olympic sites have been retained as part of a ‘Heritage Zone’ – this is twinned with the ‘Tokyo Bay Zone’ featuring new and innovative Olympic installations.

The first task following the award of the Olympics to Tokyo in 1936 was to create an Olympic Organising Committee. A twenty-six member committee was assembled which included Japan’s IOC members, the Mayor of Tokyo and the Japanese Amateur Athletic Association president. Controversially, Hideki Tōjō, the Vice-Minister of War, and Isoroku Yamamoto, the Vice-Minister of the Navy, were also made members of the committee. The work of the Olympic Organising Committee was to be hampered by controversy surrounding key decisions ranging from the logistics of the torch relay to deciding the site of the Olympic stadium.

The Olympic Organising Committee
Members of the Olympic Organising Committee for Tokyo 1940

Increasingly nationalist rhetoric and the decision to include government ministers in the Organising Committee contravened the wishes of the IOC. Concerned that the Olympics were being portrayed as a ‘national’ rather than a ‘civic’ celebration, the IOC President sought to remind the Olympic Organising Committee that ‘The Games are given to the town of Tokyo and not to Japan’ while reasserting the rights and duties of the committee.[1]

The biggest problem facing the Olympic Organising Committee regarded the location of the Olympic Stadium. Their preferred site was the Meiji Shrine Outer Gardens, which had been billed as Tokyo’s ‘sports centre… a park dedicated to the Emperor who opened the Empire to Western civilization and who guided the destinies of his nation until 1912’.[2] This imperial narrative was endorsed by the International Olympic Committee.

For the 1940 Olympics, the existing stadium would have had to be enlarged to accommodate up to 100,000 spectators. The Shrine Office declared that the site was incapable of supporting a venue of this size. The Olympic Organising Committee faced a choice, between undermining the symbolism of the 2,600th anniversary Games and violating the sanctity of the Meiji Shrine in order to accommodate a Western event. It was ultimately decided that the main stadium for the 1940 Olympic Games should be newly constructed in Komazawa.

As the map (below) shows, although the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village were to be located in Komazawa, a number of installations remained around the Meiji Shrine and the Imperial Palace. The Komazawa and Meiji sites would go on to become 1964 Olympic Parks with the vision for the Olympic Stadium realised in the former Meiji Shrine Outer Gardens.

1940 map
A map of Tokyo showing proposed venue location for the 1940 Olympic Games.

The Olympic Torch Relay had been introduced for the controversial 1936 Berlin Games and the IOC was keen to establish it as an Olympic tradition. They favoured a plan by Carl Diem, Secretary General of the Organizing Committee of the Berlin Games and founder of the Olympic Torch Relay, which followed the Silk Route from Olympia to Tokyo. However, this historic route did not match the government’s nationalist vision of ‘Asia’ and the ongoing war with China made a continental relay impossible. Nevertheless, the transferral of the Olympic flame from West to East was seen as a significant symbol by Tokyo’s Organising Committee.

Alternative routes were suggested, including a plan to collect the Olympic fire in Olympia with a warship and transport it to a harbour in Kyushu. This revised torch relay was designed to include the symbolic imperial sites of Miyazaki and Ise before arriving in Tokyo – to emphasise the city’s position as an imperial capital. Ultimately, the debate over the torch relay remained unresolved and was to be a divisive issue again for 1964.

Tokyo’s right to host the Olympic Games was forfeited on the advice of the national government on 15th July 1938. The Official Report for 1940 states that ‘the cancellation was inevitably due to the national policy in the present emergency.’[3] A telegram was sent to the IOC President which read ‘We regret that, owing to protracted hostilities with no prospect of immediate peace, we have decided to cancel the Tokyo and Sapporo Games. We intend to apply for 1944 Games.’[4] This use of evasive language in reference to the relinquishment of the Games and aggression in East Asia would come to characterise post-war dealings with the International Olympic Committee.

The war in China had depleted national resources and an international boycott had been threatened. The Olympic Organising Committee did not receive either the promised funds or materials they had been allocated. Ironically, but by no coincidence, the desire to host an international event to demonstrate modernity along Western lines had been ended by colonial expansion intended to promote ‘mutual prosperity’ in East Asia.

Marquis Kido, Minister for Public Welfare, later stated, ‘I am hoping that a national athletic meet will be held in the 2,600th year of the Japanese era as manifestation of our earnestness in the celebration of that year.’[5] This statement reveals a continued desire to combine imperial symbols and sporting prowess to mark the anniversary. An ‘East Asian Games’ was staged at the Meiji Shrine Outer Gardens in June 1940, it was hosted by the City of Tokyo and the Japanese Amateur Athletics Association with the assistance of the national government. Athletes were invited from Japan, Manchuria, the Philippines, Thailand, Hawaii, and occupied China. A Shinto style flame relay was held from Kashihara, the place where Emperor Jimmu is believed to have descended to earth, to the Meiji Shrine. This commemorative event presented the imperial capital as the spiritual centre of a ‘new order in East Asia’ through the appropriation of an Olympic tradition.

This pre-war history Olympic Tokyo has been completely whitewashed from the history of the Japanese Olympic Movement presented by the Tokyo 2020 bid campaign. Even a short biography of Jigoro Kano, who worked to bring the Games to Tokyo until his death, fails to mention these efforts. Yet there is a clear desire to harness the history of Tokyo 1964, through a heritage zone containing imperial sites and past Olympic venues. The ‘pre-history’ of these sites, outlined above, is absent from the current bid rhetoric. Nevertheless, this continued connection between imperial sites and sporting heritage lives on in the urban fabric of the city. The slogan for Tokyo 2020 is ‘Discover Tomorrow’ but the bid campaign should not ignore the city’s Olympic origins.

The first instalment of the Tokyo 2020 series can be found here.

[2] Collins, The 1940 Tokyo Games, 112.

[4] In 1937, Sapporo had been awarded the right to host the winter Olympics. Official Report 1940, 121.

[5] Official Report 1940, 122.

The unfortunate history of the “Whiplash Kannon” and Heiwakannon-ji.

By Austin Smith.

The view from the base of the kannon, Heiwakannon-ji.

Heiwakannon-ji temple is situated on the north-east coast of Awaji Island. The temple, which ostensibly promotes world peace, boasts a replica of the statue of liberty, a peace bell and a giant kannon statue – a symbol of compassion and mercy. The complex also includes a ten-storey pagoda, a museum and a rusting D51 steam locomotive (a pre-war Japanese model, some of which remained in service until the 1970s). There were even plans to open an onsen. However, Heiwakannon-ji is not marked on tourist maps of the island and the attractions have now fallen into a state of disrepair.

The temple was founded in 1977 by Toyokichi Okuuchi, a wealthy real-estate developer from Awaji who made his fortune constructing office buildings, apartments and hotels in nearby Osaka. Somewhat ironically, the city can still be seen from the statue on a clear day. Heiwakannon-ji is a typical example of the multitude of ambitious projects that struggled to stay afloat in the difficult financial climate that followed Japan’s ‘bubble economy’.

The giant kannon statue at Heiwakannon-ji, Awaji Island.

When driving along the picturesque ‘28’ coastal road, towards Higashiura, the giant white kannon statue is visible from some distance. The statue was completed in 1982 and at approximately 100m tall (328ft), including the base, it is one of the world’s tallest statues. However, unlike most other statues of this scale the observation deck was constructed outside of the statue rather than inside. Locals soon noted that this feature made it appear that the kannon was wearing a neck brace, which resulted in an unfortunate nickname for the monument – ‘Whiplash Kannon’. It is said that on windy days the statue would sway, testament to its poor construction. This was seen as an added ‘attraction’ for thrill seekers.

The ten-storey pagoda, Heiwakannon-ji.

The base of the statue contained a number of features to lure potential visitors. The first floor served as a temple which appears to have included a gallery of kannon statues, these have since been removed. The upper floors once housed a museum of Okuuchi’s private collection including art, armour and automobiles. Yet, even at its peak, the temple failed to attract more than 2,000 visitors a day and the business was near closure in the late 1990s. The souvenir shops and restaurants closed down and the upkeep rapidly deteriorated. The tatami mats in the room that once contained Okuuchi’s armour are now rotten. It is clear from images taken just before the closure that the condition of the property has declined considerably in recent years.

The first floor, with empty plinths where the smaller kannon statues used to stand.

When Mr. Okuuchi died in 1988 control of the complex passed to his widow, who tried to keep the development afloat until her death in 2006. Attempts to sell the site at auction failed and control has since passed between potential developers – including a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers which was badly hit by the 2008 financial crisis. Heiwakannon-ji has been closed to the public since 2006 and, in 2011, was cordoned off due to fears the derelict statue, museum and pagoda were a danger to public safety.

The view from the museum at the base of the great kannon statue.

External factors have not helped the plight, the completion of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge and the Kobe-Awaji-Naruto Expressway in 1998 gave the people of Awaji access to Shikoku, Kansai and beyond. The Akashi Kaikyo National Park was opened nearby at the expense of Heiwakannon-ji, which was not advertised to tourists visiting the area.

Crucially, Heiwankannon-ji was never legally recognised as a temple and therefore did not benefit from tax exemptions that could have made the business model viable. During the bubble economy, big companies would fund the construction of large religious icons, such as kannon statues, to exploit tax loopholes. As a result of this, twinned with the poor quality of construction, the temple was held in poor esteem by locals and tourists alike. However, due to the uncertainty surrounding the ownership of the site, it cannot be demolished – despite the wishes of the local government. In recent years, Heiwakannon-ji has gained a cult following amongst unusual temple fanatics and haikyo enthusiasts, who enjoy exploring unique abandoned buildings.