The scaled-down 1940 sports event that's nearly forgotten


July 24 -- the date planned for this year's Olympic Games' opening ceremony -- has come and gone, having been rescheduled to July 23, 2021, coronavirus situation permitting.  

Eighty years ago, Tokyo had been tapped to host Asia's first Olympic Games, scheduled to begin on Sept 21, 1940. Due to the widening military conflict in China, Japan withdrew from hosting the Games in July 1938, and Helsinki, Finland was named as the alternative location. The 1940 Olympics were cancelled outright after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. 

The cancellation, however, did not spell the end for international athletic competitions in Japan. As reported by J-Cast News (July 24), the Japanese government went ahead with a scaled-down games in the summer of 1940. Named the East Asian Games (Toa Kyogi Taikai), the games consisted of 17 events spread between June 6-9 in Tokyo and in June 13-16 in Nara and Hyogo prefectures. As opposed to thousands of athletes from around 60 countries expected for the Olympic Games, the turnout was decidedly more modest: about 2,000 participants representing six teams -- Japan, the Philippines, China, Manchukuo, Mongolia and Hawaii. (The Hawaiian contingent was made up of ethnic Japanese; according to some sources, Thailand also sent a small contingent.) 

The inclusion of the Philippines was interesting, since at the time it was still under United States control. Although ostensibly at war with China, the government in Nanjing was under control of a pro-Japanese leader Wang Jingwei (aka Wang Zhaoming), the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek having withdrawn to the wartime capital of Chongqing (Chungking). 

The competitions were spread between Tokyo on June 5-9 and Kansai on June 13-16, for a total of nine days. The opening ceremony, at the Meiji Jingu stadium, was opened by Prince Chichibu, Emperor Hirohito's  younger brother. In Kansai, the events were spread between Kashihara Jingu Stadium in Nara, Koshien in Nishinomiya and Tennoji Park in Osaka. 

Events included track and field, soccer, tennis, boxing, field hockey, baseball, basketball, wrestling, cycling, volleyball, table tennis, handball and yacht racing. Trial events such as Mongolian-style wrestling and kyudo (Japanese archery) were also held.

According to coverage by the Sunday Mainichi and Asahi Sports magazines, of 18 individual track and field events, Japanese athletes won 10, and Japan also dominated the team events. Top winners included sprinter Takanori Yoshioka (nicknamed "the Sunrise Express"), who won the 100-meter dash in both Tokyo and Kansai, and Masao Harada, a silver medalist in the triple jump at Berlin in 1936, who finished first in that event along with the broad jump. Kohei Murakoso, who finished fourth in both the 10,000- and 5,000-meter events at Berlin, won the 5,000-meter event in Tokyo. 

Baseball, which was still in its early years as a professional sport in Japan, turned out to be one of the most popular events at the games. Japan's  national team was made up of athletes from student teams, however, and none of the professional stars of the day, such as Tetsuji Kawakami, Eiji Sawamura, Kazuto Tsuruoka, etc. were on the roster of the national team. 

In the view of many, the visiting foreign athletes, especially those from countries that were virtual puppets of Japan, allowed themselves to lose in deference to their hosts. Nevertheless the Pilipino baseball squad was praised for their skills, and other Pilipinos took first place in five of the track and field events.  

Although Japan finished first in basketball, the Philippine's second-place performance was attributed to its status as a U.S. colony where basketball had become widely popularized. In soccer, Japan defeated the Philippines 1-0, China 6-0 and Manchukuo 7-0. The overall poor showings by Manchukuo and the Republic of China were blamed on the political instability in those two countries. 

The 1940 games were officially part of activities that year feting the 2,600th anniversary of the ascension of Jimmu, Japan's legendary first emperor. As such, ceremonies at the games were heavily tinted by the emperor worship prevalent in Japan at the times, including group bowing towards Tokyo's Imperial Palace. 

Two years later, a second East Asian Games were held in the Manchukuo capital of Hsinching (Shinkyo, presently Changchun, Jilin Province) on August 1942 to fete the 10th anniversary of that country's founding. Its existence would come to an end in 1945. 

The article's writer observes that by the time Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games in 1964, Japan had become a nation of sports enthusiasts, having shed the trappings of nationalism and emperor worship, and it is for this reason that mention of the 1940 games has nearly vanished from today's history books.

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When the Olympic Games were held in Olympia, about three thousand years ago, they were so popular that wars were temporarily halted so that the games could go on. They continued to be held in Olympia for another thousand years, in honor of Zeus. Talk about sports fanatics! Separate Olympic Games were held for men and women, and male contestants participated in the nude. I don't know what, or if, the female participants wore.

Christian fanatics ended the Olympic Games after 393 A.D., claiming that they were a pagan ritual.

The remains of the famous Temple of Zeus are still at Olympia, amongst the ruins of the various stadiums used to host the games.

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male contestants participated in the nude. I don't know what, or if, the female participants wore.

"Pausanias gives us a description of a girl's attire for the Hera games of the 2nd century AD. The girls wore their hair free down their back and a tunic hanging almost as low as the knees covering only the left shoulder and breast. The costume that Pausanias describes may have been the traditional costume at Olympia and possibly elsewhere for centuries."

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The one thing that Japan got right, very right, in their original bid for the 1940 Olympic Games was the starting date, i.e. Sept 21, as mentioned in the article.

Even then, Japan is often still too hot, but I guess they hoped that it would gradually ease off into early October for a saner and comfortable event for athletes from around the world.

If they are planning to run the Olympics next year, I vote for a starting date on or around 21 September 2021.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

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