The other Tokyo Olympics which never were

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.

23 thoughts on “The other Tokyo Olympics which never were”

  1. You should also mention that 1940 was a major year for Japan, at least under the ideology of the time. It was considered to be the year 2600 in the Imperial Calendar, when the Emperor Jim Kirk (sorry, Jimmu as he was known after the time travel accident that left him stranded) was enthroned on Feb 12 (the modern National Foundation Day, when the Japanese give thanks to cement, is directly taken from this), 660BC. Japan, and Tokyo, was going to go all out to out-Hitler in making these games a propaganda piece for the glories of the Emperor and yada yada.

    Personally I wouldn’t object to reinstating the Imperial calendar – nengo annoy me, and if you’re going to date things from a mythical person anyway, might as well choose the one that came first.

  2. “Emperor Jim Kirk (sorry, Jimmu as he was known after the time travel accident that left him stranded) ”

    I’d watch that episode.

  3. Speaking of Jim Kirk, does Star Trek have a presence in Japan? Or is it simply an American phenomenon? Is there such a thing as a Japanese Trekkie?

  4. Well, considering that every series is out on DVD and Blu-Ray in Japan and the Japanese Wikipedia pages are fairly well detailed, I’d say that it definitely has a presence in Japan. The original series was broadcast on NHK’s satellite service in 2007. Since Japan has had a wider variety of visual science fiction media than the US it hasn’t dominated fandom over here the same way, but (and I have no references to back me up) I imagine it must have had some impact on Japanese SF as well.

  5. “Since Japan has had a wider variety of visual science fiction media than the US it hasn’t dominated fandom over here the same way”

    It hasn’t (what has?), but is this the reason? A reason, perhaps. But Trek is also very American, very much a product of its time (everything since has ridden the coattails of the Original Series, at least in the general perception, despite later series such as DS9 being rather better (okay, Voyager was rather worse….)). Trek, for example, is not as dominant in Britain as Doctor Who.

    It’s 宇宙大作戦 (Uchu Daisakusen: Space Great Mission, literally) in its original offering. I can’t answer to any direct impact on Japanese SF – we shall need to ask our resident expert on Japanese pop culture, M-Bone – but it does have fans in Japan of the sort that get photos of themselves in costume at the now-defunct Star Trek The Experience in Vegas. So yeah, there are Japanese Trekkies. One assumes they have conventions, but I haven’t heard of them (yeah, I’d be kinda interested in going…).

    Ha! That Jap-Wiki article Roy mentioned has as one of its “related articles” the Jap-Wiki article on “Mary-Sue”….

  6. Now that I’ve been called out….

    There are “people who like Star Trek” in Japan. Has everyone noticed those “Columbo” magazine DVD sets kicking around Japanese bookstores? They have those for Star Trek as well. Star Trek has that same kind of “nostalgia” following mainly, I think, with older women who saw it for the 洋画 connection when that was still fashionable. There were relatively few US “dramas” shown on Japanese TV before the 80s (and they are still rare) – Combat, Columbo, and Star Trek have maintained a mainstream nostalgia following that is different than Scifi or Otaku fandom.

    There are also real “Trekkies”, however. They are a tiny minority of Japanese Scifi fans. Star Wars was far, far more popular and influential. Roy rightly points out that Japan has mountains of its own Scifi. However, Japan has very, very little “hard Scifi” (Star Trek is not necessarily “realistic”, but it has its own extensive and reasonably consistent technobabble) and little of what you could consider “exploration Scifi”. They were never important sub-genres. Japan’s geopolitical position and experience with technology differ greatly from that of the United States so Star Trek, with all of its Cold War and “World Police” cultural baggage just didn’t find the same devoted following.

    As for influence, I’ve never seen Star Trek mentioned in interviews with Japan’s top Scifi and manga authors while references to Star Wars abound. When you think of it, Japan already had domestic models for silly uniforms (Ultraman) and a cheesy FX before Star Wars ever appeared on Japanese TV. The most popular run of Star Wars was between 72 and 74. Yamato ran at the same time and that is what forged the strongest legacy for fans. If I had to lay money on the results of a research project, I would say that Thunderbirds, while still marginal, had a greater overall impact. The most frequently cited influence by Japanese authors from around that time is 2001.

    Yamato, in many ways, prefigures the dirtier, more violent world of Star Wars which is more in line with most Japanese Scifi. When I watched the new Star Trek movie a few months ago and saw bulkheads getting sliced open and crewmen being sucked out into space, I immediately thought of Yamato. From the 1980s, Japanese Scifi fans moved more toward fantasy Scifi hybrid workds (Nausicaa, Final Fantasy, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Dunbine, Taketori Monogatari) leaving hard Scifi in the lurch and Star Trek as a minority curiosity.

    As for the new movie – It went over huge in the US but faltered in Japan – coming in well behind Terminator and Angels and Demons which were disappointments stateside. Star Trek has its fans, but just not a lot of mainstream pull.

  7. Is there much of a market for science fiction literature in Japan? Are there any Japanese equivalents to the likes of Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, L Sprague de Camp, or A. E. van Vogt? Not that there is much of a market left for such icons in the land of their births. The science fiction shorty story is a dieing genre read only by fans of sci-fi short stories, all six of us. I morbidly collect every one of Gardner Dozoi’s years best anthologies in fear of each successive year being the last. Reading each years preface is like reading a pre-written obituary. It feels me with a deep loathing for mankind to know that the literary equivalent of watery diarrhea such as the Twilight novels and similar detritus is appreciated by more people than contemporary luminaries like Alistair Reynolds, Robert Reed, or Charles Stross.

  8. I think collections of short stories by the old masters still do well, and collections of stories by famous SF/fantasy novelists still do all right, although original short stories are a lot less popular than they used to be. I do maintain a subscription to Asimov’s magazine though, and I grab a handful of issues to bring back whenever I’m home.

  9. I believe that there is a market for Scifi lit in Japan on the level of that which exists elsewhere. It tends to be overshadowed, however, by manga and anime which is a truly huge market.

    There are “Japanese equivalents” of the names that you mentioned, but not exact equivalents. There are some people doing things like Ursula LeGuinn, for example, but mostly in fantasy. Japan’s masters tend to stand out in different ways – Hoshi Shinichi, king of the 4-5 page Scifi short, is my favorite. He used Scifi mostly to ridicule advertising and consumer culture (he comes off like Borges sometimes). There is also some very good contemporary stuff being produced. Luckily, the mass market Japanese stuff like “Library Wars” is far better than Twilight or Eragon and they have dedicated “light novels” to carry the cross of crappy tween lit.

    Japan has an extensive series of translations of the American and other masters published by Hayakawa and available in just about every bookseller, big and small. I actually have had trouble finding some Asimov titles in larger North American bookstores, so Japan is excellent in this regard.

    Japan also has a fairly big market for alternate history military lit – not all of it nationalist and much of it with developed Scifi elements. A lot of good hybrid stuff as well. Tanaka Yoshiki’s legend of the galactic heroes stuff has one of its galactic empires modeled on 18th century Prussia and another on a mix of contemporary America and 1930s Germany. Lots of discussion of military strategy – from the Three Kingdoms to Napoleon – something I have not seen done as well in American Scifi. Lots of stuff worth reading.

  10. Hoshi ShinichiーI second that. I have a soft spot for him, as his 気まぐれ枕 was one of the first books in Japanese I read, way back when. Also while the manga market is huge, there are a lot of SF manga as well, so there’s a good deal of cross-over. (But are mnags considered literature, or is that restricted to words?)

    Last time I was in a NA bookstore, I got the distinct impression that the SF market there was Star Trek novels (plus Star Wars ones) and little else….

    Weren’t we supposed to be talking about 1940 and the Olympics? With a silly joke about Jim Kirk I have completely derailed the thread….

  11. “Personally I wouldn’t object to reinstating the Imperial calendar – nengo annoy me, and if you’re going to date things from a mythical person anyway, might as well choose the one that came first.”

    Um, Jade Oc, if you want to compare Jimmu to the actual person of Christ, then yes, the former’s arrival on Earth came first. But your slip was charging Christ with being mythical, and if you knew anything about that myth, you would know that it would put Christ way ahead of Jimmu.

    All that aside, and back to the matter at hand, I had forgotten about the first gaffed Olympic bid. That makes Tokyo 1-2 overall, does it not?

  12. First, Christ’s physical existence on Earth is not proved. It is likely, but not certain. The usual evidence given is Josephus, but that passage which refers to him has been argued as a later insertion. Second, Christ the Messiah Son of God as opposed to Jesuah bin Nazareth the Jewish preacher is most definitely mythical.

  13. What do you need in terms of proof, a copy of his family registry in Aomori?

    Again, back to the issue at hand, does anyone want to wager when the next bid for the Olympics in Japan/Tokyo will take place? Will we even be around?

  14. “What do you need in terms of proof, a copy of his family registry in Aomori?”

    Yeah, that would help a lot, thanks.

    No idea about the next bid.

  15. I promise never to argue about the Great Pumpkin (Hollowed be His head), if that helps….

  16. “Again, back to the issue at hand, does anyone want to wager when the next bid for the Olympics in Japan/Tokyo will take place? Will we even be around?”

    I don’t expect to see another serious bid from Tokyo for at least 20 years, if then. Remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki just announced plans for a joint bid, based on their shared heritage as nuke victims. The strategy is, I believe, based on the fact that the Olympics is specifically intended as an international peace promotion tool, giving them a serious advantage as compared with Tokyo’s strategy of using “green” cred. However solid their plans might have been, “peace” is simply more relevant to the Olympic mission than environmentalism.

  17. A few days ago there was a NHK documentary (i think the series was called “Historia”) on Kanō Jigorō 嘉納治五郎 who was the founder of Judo and (?one of?) the first non-Western member of the IOC. The 1940 olympics story was also mentioned in that broadcast.
    BTW, the vote for Tokyo in 1936 was in Nazi-Berlin.

    Another interesting aspect is the fact that sports were heavily promoted in advance of the the Anti-Comintern Pact. For instance, there was a kind of Okinawan sports event the same year before. Many postcards and letters by attending chrildren are documented in which they naïvely wrote their wishes for “peace in the world led by the two strong nations of Japan and Germany” or similar expressions decorated with swastikas and hinomaru flags etc.. These children surely didn’t know that their event was – in the end – part of a huge propaganda for war.
    I once wrote a research note about this specific anecdote, which can be read over here (in Japanese):
    ( ボン大学日本文化研究所にあるトラウツ資料の1936年11月の宮古島博愛記念碑記念式典に関する史料の報告 [Resources on the ceremony held at the Hakuai-kinenhi (Miyako) in November 1936. A part of the Trautz-archive at the Institute for Japanese Studies, University of Bonn.] In: 第4回「沖縄研究国際シンポジウム」実行委員会 (ed.): 世界に拓く沖縄研究.第4回「沖縄研究国際シンポジウム」ヨーロッパ大会 [Okinawan Studies reach out for the World]. Naha, 2003. pp. 118-132.)

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