ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon Twitter
Tokyo 2020 Olympics

A tale of Japan in two Olympics

Tokyo 1964 helped lay the foundation for country's growth to 2021

Left, a woman walks by a replica of gold medal for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Right, a neon sign advertises the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo. (Source photos by Reuters and Getty Images)

TOKYO -- The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games is set to be held on July 23, the second time that the capital city is hosting the world's biggest sports event after its first in 1964. Between then and now, Japan has changed dramatically.

In 1964, The Beatles released "A Hard Day's Night" and Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) was crowned world heavyweight champion. It was also only 19 years since Japan suffered a crushing defeat in World War II and the country was just emerging from the subsequent devastation.

Fast forward 57 years. World Bank data showed that by 2019, Japan's gross domestic product per capita had reached $40,113, above the average of $39,412 among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That is a big jump in absolute terms as well as in comparison from 1964. Then, Japan's GDP per capita was a mere $843, about half of OECD's $1,647.

Japan in the 1960s was only on the starting line of a race to become an advanced country.

The country's first highway was built in 1963 and its first bullet train was launched just days before the opening ceremony held in October 1964. The first Tokyo Olympics also brought in a variety of infrastructure development projects including sports facilities.

Although economic growth had slowed by the 1990s, Japan's GDP had still expanded about 18 times since 1964, backed by robust consumption, capital investment and exports.

With that expansion in the economy, living standards also improved. The starting monthly salary of a college graduate, for instance, has grown by 10 times in the past half century to 210,200 yen ($1,910) in 2019.

The final runner in the Olympic torch relay, Yoshinori Sakai, lights the cauldron during the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.   © Kyodo

This income growth in the postwar era boosted Japan's population. In 1964, Japan had a population of 97.1 million, but exceeded 100 million in three years. Now, Japan, home to 126.2 million people, is the world's third largest economy.

The yen has also soared in tandem with economic growth and a change in Japan's currency policy to a floating rate in 1973 from a fixed rate. It used to cost 360 yen to buy a dollar in 1964. That has now risen to 110 yen to the dollar.

The appreciation of the yen also had huge social impact, enabling Japanese to travel abroad with much greater ease. This, in turn, gave Japan and Japanese a much more globalized view of the world.

This cosmopolitan Japan is reflected in its Olympic athletes, some of whom have lived or grown up abroad, like NBA player Yuta Watanabe and world No. 2 tennis player Naomi Osaka who denounced her U.S. citizenship in 2019 for her Japanese heritage.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world
.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends July 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more