History occasionally anoints a culture or a nation with a spotlight during a given year or selected season. Such was the case for Japan in 1964. A country that waged an imperialist war through East Asia during the first half of the 20th century was bombed into defeat by the Allies in World War II. Now, it was set for a re-emergence on the world stage, less than 20 years after its capitulation.
Despite the brutality and devastation following the war, Japan still arrived in the 1960s as the most-developed nation in its region. Its re-invention as a peace-loving and productive country would be capped by the 1964 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo. The athlete selected to light the symbolic flame for the competition was born in Hiroshima on the day of the atomic bombing there.
These Olympics were the first to be held in Asia, and marked a new connection between staging the games and creating lasting infrastructure for the host nation. The Shinkansen, or bullet train, was created to transport fans to the sports venues, but also to symbolize the new, industrialized Japan. The occasion also brought improvements to the main airport in Tokyo, and modernized subway lines throughout the city.
The Games were broadcast around the world via communications satellites for the first time, forging long-lasting imagery between the new Japanese society and the space age. It was also the first Olympics where workers used computers to keep track of the results.
A decade later, Japan was well-established as a world economic powerhouse, a leading carmaker and technology innovator. But it can be said that the country’s 1964 turn as Olympics host added more to its once-shattered reputation than any World’s Fair ever could.