The Tokyo 1964 Olympics

Looking back at the twentieth century, Olympic Games often marked pivotal moments in the host nations’ histories. Just three years before World War II, the 1936 Games in Berlin were intended to present an assertive yet somewhat tolerable Nazi Germany to the world. The Moscow and Los Angeles Games of 1980 and 1984 respectively made the Olympic idea play second fiddle to the realities of the Cold War. The Tokyo Games in 1964, on the other hand, told the tale of a now peaceful nation that had successfully emerged from its wartime past and was eager to show the world just how it had changed.


NHK Broadcasting Museum

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Supporting friends

I just backed two of my friends in their respective crowd funding endeavours.

Christoph and I lived together during university. A few years ago, he and his friend and fellow ex-SOAS student Guy, embarked on quite a special journey.

They founded Planetary Collective, a multidisciplinary and multimedia initiative set to nurture a sense of interconnectedness amongst us: amid a growing ecological and ideological crisis, a new worldview is necessary.

Part of their inspiration draws from the experience astronauts recount from seeing earth from space.

Their milestones on this journey have been nothing short of impressive. Their short documentary about the Overview Effect has already garnered more than 1m views on Vimeo:

Now they are proceeding with their feature-length piece, set to be released in early 2014. Continuum will present the views of a whole list of thought leaders from the field of science and philosophy. Planetary now need $80k+ to finalise post production as well as shoot additional interviews.

Their fantastic Kickstarter image film has plenty of Tokyo footage – Christoph and Guy stayed with a mutual friend while here in Japan last year, before my arrival:

My friend Brett has a somewhat smaller yet no less ambitious project: exploring the themes of his forthcoming book in more detail and with great interactivity, Brett wants to start a London-based School of Financial Activism.

Brett and I studied at Cambridge together and he has been living the “dream” of a freelance consultant, writer and activist for a good part of the last couple of years.

What I like in Brett’s work is that he has travailed the serious realm of high finance for a few years and thus understands the jargon and, what is more perhaps, has less of a refusenik style than many anti-establishment writers.

I think a major reason I have been relatively at ease with my recent “career step” (i.e. quit my day job and plunge into the unknown of a break as yet undefined in length) has been the experience of friends like Christoph and Brett.

For their inspiration I want to thank them. To their worthy projects I gladly give!

Old houses refuse to go

Despite the constant scrap and build here in Tokyo, you can find old “normal” buildings here and there. They do look out of place very often, like this one here in Akasaka, right in the centre of town near the government district. Situated next to a McDonald’s, one can only speculate as to what happened (or didn’t) to the wooden building or its owners.


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Yebisu Garden Place

Exploring the city with the baby of a visiting friend, one of our trips led us to Yebisu Garden Place in Ebisu. Built in the mid-90s, this is a city-within-the-city complex quite typical of Tokyo (think Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown, etc.): A large hotel, an office tower, complemented by shopping as well as residential units. Yet, at the end of the ensemble, something rather unexpected: a French chateau.


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Metropolitan Festival Hall

The entrance to Tokyo’s Ueno Park is marked by two important post-war era buildings. Le Corbusier’s Museum of Western Art (read more here) brought the master’s distinct modernism to Japan and inspired many Japanese architects and urban planners. Across the promenade is Mayekawa’s impressive Tokyo Metropolitan Festival Hall. Himself a student in the French master’s Paris atelier before World War II, Mayekawa gave modernism a uniquely Japanese dimension.


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Museum of Western Art

Built explicitly to house a collection of artworks the French government returned to the Japanese people, the Museum of Western Art opened its doors in 1959. With it, the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier created his sole work in East Asia. His influence on Japanese architecture, however, was to be far greater than this rather small museum building in Ueno Park.


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World Bank / IMF meetings 1964

The second week of September 1964 saw more than 2,000 delegates from 103 countries come to Tokyo’s Hotel Okura to attend the first World Bank / IMF meetings ever held in East Asia. Back then, Japan was still a recipient of Bank loans and technical cooperation but was soon – and somewhat reluctantly – going to graduate from the ranks of recipient countries.


A pin commemorating the meetings (from World Bank archive)

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Filming the buildings

A friend came and visited us here so posting has been a little sporadic as of late. We did a lot of sightseeing and filmed a few of the buildings I aim to showcase in the book project I’ve introduced on the blog before. I put some jazz music in for the mix (a Jimmy Giuffre song from 1958).

Factcheck update: Kasumigaseki Biru is 147m high and buildings were allowed a maximum height of 31m before 1963, when the Building Standard Law got a revision.

Economic Miracle from Ben Bansal on Vimeo.