It’s now August 2020, which is when, had the global COVID-19 pandemic not upturned life as we knew it, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would have been happening. it would be more than halfway through its run. Instead, the Tokyo games will be held in 2021. The even will still officially be referred to as the “Tokyo 2020” Olympics.
Every Olympics brings changes to its host city. New buildings and infrastructure are constructed, mostly new stadia, arenas and other sport-specific venues that might not otherwise be built at such scale. Cities clean things up and put-on their best face in preparations for this epic global sporting event and its global audience. It’s a moment for the city — and the country — to shine. But depending on the city, the scale and breadth of these changes vary by degree. Many large international cities already have a lot of the infrastructure required for hosting such a massive event and can handle the logistics involved in moving and influx of foreign visitors around, accommodating attendees and media, and putting on the competitions. When Tokyo 2020 does eventually happen, it will see a Tokyo that on the surface appears little changed from prior to the games.
But this is not the first time the Olympics have been held in the Japanese capital. Tokyo hosted the 1964 Summer Games. In the years of preparation leading up to those games, Tokyo was utterly transformed by public works, new iconic buildings and a thoroughly modern public transportation systems. Much of the 1964 build-out is still visible today and is still functional, making up integral parts of contemporary Tokyo’s infrastructure and dotting the cityscape. A mere twenty years before the ’64 Olympics, the city had been virtually burned to the ground, destroyed by sustained U.S. bombing raids during World War II, followed by humiliating defeat, devastation and foreign military occupation.
As a recent New York Times article pointed out out
All around the Japanese capital is the legacy of another Olympics: the 1964 Summer Games, which crowned Tokyo’s 20-year transformation from a firebombed ruin to an ultramodern megalopolis
The games were an important, symbolic milestone for Japan, a defining moment that announced the country’s modernity, recovery and international re-emergence. The design and look of the Tokyo Olympics equally sought to reflect this modernity with a new, polished aesthetic that would help define contemporary perceptions of Japanese visual identity. This was as much for an international audience as well as the domestic audience. It was Yusaku Kamekura, a leading name in Japanese graphic design, who established the aesthetic and created the bold posters (pictured here, above and below) that were instant design classics.
The first Tokyo Olympics were transformational for Japan and set a high bar for subsequent games and cities. The design, look and presentation of each host city’s games became an ever more important part of the Olympics experience as global television coverage and the global audiences grew, proving that the Olympics could be as potent a platform for cultural symbolism as it is for elite athleticism.