The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were a milestone in Japanese history as the country’s great postwar coming-out party. The 1940 Tokyo Olympics, on the other hand, became a footnote, as they were planned and approved by the IOC but never actually took place.
Tokyo’s bid was announced in 1932 and won the IOC vote in 1936, defeating a rival bid from Helsinki, Finland by a vote of 34 to 27. There was some political maneuvering behind the vote: Rome had also been bidding for the Olympics, but Benito Mussolini pulled Rome’s bid as a gesture of support to Japan, then a strong ally of Italy.
A number of factors led to the eventual cancellation of the games. Several IOC members were uneasy with Japan’s military adventures in China, and the US was planning to boycott the Tokyo games in protest. The Japanese government was focused on the war with China and was becoming more reluctant to divert strategic and monetary resources to an international sporting event. Japan formally withdrew its bid on July 15, 1938, and the Olympics passed to runner-up Helsinki by default. However, the Helsinki Olympics were cancelled following the German invasion of Poland in the following year, and there were no Summer Games until 1948.
The plan for the 1940 Olympics centered around two main venues–the Jingu Gaien in central Tokyo and a new Olympic park in Komazawa. These venues were never built before the war, but both sites were later used for staging the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. Another instance of re-using resources: Ichiro Kono, who led the opposition to the 1940 Olympics in the Imperial Diet, became Construction Minister and Minister of State for the Tokyo Olympics under Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, and thus got the chance to oversee the successful Tokyo Olympics on the government’s behalf.