The “Bright Life” of the 1964 Olympic Movement

Cover photo of Tokyo Olympics News (1964)

Sometimes it pays to surf library shelves.  When searching for materials on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, I came across a series of English language news magazines that publicized how the Tokyo Metropolitan Government  was addressing the environmental problems in the city.  In the magazine, environmental problems had less to do with problems of raw sewage being dumped into Tokyo Bay or the stench of the Sumida River than they were about the improvement of infrastructure and the beautification (bika) of the urban landscape.  In one of the last issues of Tokyo Olympic News (1961), the Tokyo Metropolitan Government published a story detailing the “environmental improvement” of the city leading.  The government established what they called an “Inter-Departmental Liaison Committee for Environmental Movement,” which was established to make a “positive move towards attaining further beautification of [the] Japanese urban environment.”

Part of this movement happened from the top-down.  The city put money into cleaning streets, planting trees, and reducing the stench of some the more polluted rivers in the city.  (Often this was done by dumping perfumed detergent into the rivers.)  By 1962, the city had constructed large water fountains in the Ueno Park, Hibiya Park, and in one of the gardens of the imperial palace.  They were all made, perhaps, embody the Olympic committee’s claim in concrete that you could drink the “drink clean water without anxiety at any time and anywhere.”  The following year, the Health Bureau of the Tokyo announced plans to award stores with “superior foodstuff sanitation.”  the bureau announced that the “outstanding stores” would be  permitted to display “A” signs to indicate “Grade A sanitation conditions.” The plan was to have around 1,500 restaurants given this distinction. There was nothing in the magazine on why limit of grade-A restaurants was set a 1,500.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government was not starting this movement from scratch, but built on the “past achievements” of citizen movements like the New Life Movement (Shin-Seikatsu Undô).  This grassroots movement had an interest in environmental beautification (kankyô bika).  The first New Life movements was promoted in China by the GMD government of Chiang Kai Shek.  It focused on producing a clean countryside through the promotion of hygienic living, physical fitness, and the eradication of flies and mosquitoes. While some people have distanced the activities of the Japanese New Life Movement of the 1950s and 1960s with the one in China, the program, the practices of the Japanese New Life Movement Association (Shin-Seikatsu Undô Kyôkai) also promoted the extermination of flies and mosquitoes in cities.  They also suggested that beggars be driven away from public parks and have stray dogs removed from city streets (Simon 2000: 147).

It was a movement that centered around the lives of children and women.   The New Life Movement Association was responsible for organizing the “Flowers Everywhere Movement,” which promoted the planting of geraniums in school grounds.  It also encouraged children to beautify their neighbourhoods.  This doesn’t seem to be a simple fringe movement, but an important means by which the metropolitan government mobilized female public.  One of the more interesting things that I happened on when looking for information on the Olympics for a class I was teaching was a record of beauty pageants and flower arrangement classes for the visiting athletes and their families.

If you are interested in the primary sources that I used for writing this, please contact me through my blog.


Gordon, Andrew. “Managing the Japanese Household: The New Life Movement in Postwar Japan.” In Gendering Modern Japanese History, edited by Barbara Molony and Kathleen Uno, 423-60. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Partner, Simon.  Assembled Japan: Electrical Goods and the Making of the Japanese Consumer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Ueyama, Kazuo. “Tokyo Orinpikku to Shibuya, Tokyo (The Tokyo Olympics and Shibuya, Tokyo).” In Tokyo Orinpikku No Shakai Keizaishi (the Socioeconomic History of the Tokyo Olympics), edited by Yoshinobu Oikawa, 39-74. Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Hyôronsha, 2009.

About Colin

Ph.D candidate in modern Japanese history at University of California, Santa Cruz
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4 Responses to The “Bright Life” of the 1964 Olympic Movement

  1. Jean says:

    The effect of the Olympics on its host city is very interesting. I’m from Vancouver (and also Calgary), which were both host cities for the winter olympics. You can see the links to our Vancovuer experience as a resident living right near the Olympic sites under my blog name. I also set up a 2nd blog at: The articles don’t cover much on the Olympic sports themselves — thought we went to some exciting events.

    It was quite an experience. There were special funds set aside for some permanent outdoor artwork as well as temporary stuff. It also changed the city in terms of how people used alternative transportation.

  2. Pingback: Maintaining Rivers: Ecological repair and care of rivers in Japan | Colin Tyner, the Labour of Nature, and Island Life

  3. Pingback: Ecological repair and care of rivers in Japan | Colin Tyner, the Labour of Nature, and Island Life

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