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Olympics Past: Tokyo

Despite initially winning the bid to host the Olympics in 1940, Tokyo had to wait 24 years for the the Olympic Flame to arrive…

The 1964 Summer Olympics was the first Games to be held in Asia, the first to be televised internationally live and in colour, and the first to include both judo and women’s volleyball.

Tokyo had initially been awarded the Olympic Games in 1940 -- but the honour was passed to Helsinki following Japan’s invasion of China. The Games were eventually cancelled altogether as fighting in World War II intensified.

1964 marked Japan’s re-entrance to the world stage. Despite initial suspicion about the host country, 70% of the international viewing public ended up watching the broadcast of the opening ceremony. For Japan, it was an opportunity to showcase how far it had come -- politically, culturally and technologically -- while acknowledging a difficult period of its history. 

Perhaps most profoundly, the Olympic Committee chose to appoint 19-year-old Yoshinori Sakai as the Olympic Flame torch-bearer at the main ceremony in Tokyo’s National Stadium. Sakai was born in Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945 -- just hours after the atomic bomb fell. A member of a local running club, he served as a symbol of Japan’s post-war reconstruction and commitment to peace. 

Japan’s technological prowess was a central theme at the 1964 Games. They introduced a number of new Japanese timing devices, including a starter gun which started the clock automatically and stopped it via touchpads in the swimming event, and the first photo finish, used to determine the outcome of the sprinting events.

After Japan's checkered history on the international stage, the 1964 Olympics served to encourage a shift in popular opinion about what had previously been seen as a mysterious country. Japan had already rejoined the United Nations, but this was an opportunity for the first Olympics to be held in a non-white, non-Western country -- a hugely significant step for Asia and the International Olympic Committee.

Previous Olympic host city posts:

London-based assistant producer Emma Sheppard contributed to this post.

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Deal Expert, London
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
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Victoria Murden