This semester, the Tokyo city team focused on understanding the historical and cultural context of the 1964 Olympics through group discussions and brainstorming exercises. We started with photos of the Yoyogi Olympic park and with articles about the Olympics’ relationship with the Japanese public. One of these articles focused on Tokyo’s push for sanitation during the city’s Olympic preparations — one advertisement using the hi no maru flag as a national symbol to encourage Tokyo’s citizens to properly dispose of their trash stood out to our team in particular. This image (see below) inspired the two main lenses through which we examined Tokyo as an event city this semester: sanitation and national identity.
We also linked these two topics together through the idea of bodies in the city, which to us meant athletics, physical health, gender, and the city’s infrastructure as a body.
I was most interested in the impact the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had on Japan’s global identity, and how Japan made these changes to its international relationships by highlighting or broadcasting specific images of bodies in the city. The 1964 Olympics was a major turning point in Japanese international identity as the country aimed to transition its World War II-era reputation in the West into that of a modern, technologically-advanced, peaceful nation while still maintaining a sense of cultural superiority over the rest of the world, if not the rest of Asia, within the Japanese public.
My primary references this semester were the essays about the 1964 Olympics in The East Asian Olympiads, 1934-2008: Building Bodies and Nations in Japan, Korea, and China and media about the “Oriental Witches”, the media nickname for Japan’s women’s volleyball team who won that year (see below for a photo of team captain Masae Kasai receiving the gold medal).
Japan used the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to self-orientalize the country’s identity under the Western gaze, from modifying city infrastructure to idealize Tokyo as a clean, peaceful, “zen” place for tourists, to the Oriental Witches’ highly disciplined, intense training and kaiten reshibu (receive and rotate) techniques. Japanese women were used and presented in the Tokyo Olympics as cultural guides and athletes as a means to erase the problematic masculine aspects of Japan’s identity — WWII military and government leaders — from the world’s immediate memory.
Spaces presenting stereotypical ideas of Japanese womanhood (the geisha, meekness, agreeability, tradition, kimonos/yukata) were the most common ways that Western media and tourists would interact with and view the city, in medal ceremonies, cultural/historical tours, and hotels/restaurants/service establishments. It seems that Japan intentionally related its Western reputation to the feminine in order to maintain a “non-threatening” position of power, and emphasized stereotypically feminine ideas such as cleanliness, meticulousness, tranquility, and beauty in the 1964 Olympic spectacle to control the event’s international narrative.
In the coming semester, I would be interested in mapping out the real-life play of these gendered dynamics — what spaces in the city catered to tourists, and which locals went there for work or spectacle, too? How did sanitation efforts in city cleanup for the Olympics coincide with the locations of blood and STI testing sites for sex and service workers who would interact with tourists? What areas of the city became “faces”; how were parts of the city and the movements within it gendered?
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