1964 Tokyo Paralympic - A truly pioneering Games

It was 55 years ago today that the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games (Tokyo 1964) was held.

The Games were held for just five days between 8-12 November and followed the Olympics which had successfully closed two weeks prior.

This was the second ever Paralympic Games after Rome 1960 but the first time the use of 'Paralympic' name was coined. However, it was only a nickname used by the organising committee as the event was known as the 13th International Stoke Mandeville Games.

Tokyo 1964 created history for not only being the first Paralympic Games in Asia but for the lasting legacy it left. The Games helped promote the development of sports to people with impairments to citizens across Japan - a truly pioneering milestone in Paralympic history.

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

Marching to "Sukiyaki" song

At 10 a.m., a drumming sound could be heard before an elementary and junior high school marching band of about 100 students in yellow uniform entered, followed by Japan's defense force (JGSDF) marching band. After them, 378 participating athletes from 21 countries gathered at Oda Field located in central Tokyo.

When the 53 Japanese athletes in maroon-coloured training shirts entered last, the music changed to a melody of the famous "Sukiyaki song" which had been globally popular at the time, even hitting the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1963.

The Paralympic oath was sworn by Shigeo Aono, representing the host nation with 500 doves being released to celebrate the Games.

Under the bright blue sky with no clouds in sight, more than 4,000 spectators including His Imperial Highness Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko – now Emperor Emeritus and Empress Emerita of Japan ­- while Sir Ludwig Guttman, the father of the Paralympic movement, was also in attendance.

Nine sports including archery, athletics, dartchery, snooker, swimming, table tennis, weightlifting, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair fencing featured across six venues including Oda Field, Yoyogi National Gymnasium from 9 a.m. till late at night.

"Hadn't felt a slight sense of inferiority during the Games"

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

The Games were well received with reports that 100,000 attended events while the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) detailed(Open in a new window) that local media coverage was more than what the organising committee expected with 700 reporters from across the country converging on the Japanese capital.

Japanese athletes were impressed with the Games as they became aware of the perception towards their impairments from their daily lives and environment in the Games.

Unfortunately, at the time sport for people with impairments hadn't been well-recognised in Japan due to stigmatisation; and criticism eventually reached the organising committee that people with impairments were being exploited.

One Japanese athlete confessed: "I had had a sense of inferiority since I was injured five years ago but I never felt it even an inch during the Paralympic Games and enjoyed the atmosphere very much".

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

© Japanese Para-Sports Association

Former Health Ministry staff member, 95-year-old Seiichiro Ite, who was involved in the preparation and delivery of Tokyo 1964 told Tokyo 2020 that the reason why spectators flocked to venues was due to the popularity of the Olympics.

"The venue where the opening and closing ceremonies were held was also used for a training field for the Olympic athletes as it was located inside the Olympic village," he said.

"So, people who knew the location as the famous athletes like Abebe Bekila, an Ethiopian marathon runner who became hugely popular after winning the gold medal in Tokyo, had trained during the Olympic Games.

"I think not many visitors were truly interested in watching a sport for people with impairments but just expected to catch a glimpse of the place they had seen only on TV."

Former Health Ministry staff member Seiichiro Ite at Yokohama

"Paralympic" as a nickname

Welcoming tower showing "Paralympic" in Japanese
© Japanese Para-Sports Association

It should be noted that there were some difference between the Paralympic Games of 1964 and now.

As mentioned previously, the term "Paralympic" was actually nickname which had been only used in Japan.

"When we told some local reporters that we will hold the next stoke Mandeville Games, nobody recognised it," Ite said.

"So, we explained it was the Olympic for Paraplegia in a way, then one reporter responded 'well, then we can simplify it to be Paralympic'. The word somehow became popular not only in reporters but ours as well and became an official nickname."

In Japan, the term has been widely recognised since 1964, but it wasn't until 1989 when "Paralympic" became official after the IPC was established. They derived the word from the Greek preposition "para" and the word "Olympic" which means that Paralympics are the parallel Games to the Olympics and illustrates how the two movements exist side-by-side.

Participation was also only limited to spinal injury patients until the mid-1970s as the foundations of the Games was to assist in the rehabilitation of civilians and veterans at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Great Britain. This changed ahead of the Toronto 1976 when the first amputees and vision impaired athletes were included.

Tokyo 2020 and beyond

Just as 1964 did, Tokyo 2020 is looking to leave another legacy on the Paralympic movement.

Around 4,300 athletes are expected to descend on Tokyo from 25 August to 6 September with the Games set to see Tokyo become the first ever city of host the Paralympics on two separate occasions.

Citizens of Japan took up the opportunity to be part of one of the biggest sporting events in the world with 390,000 people participating in the first Paralympic ticket lottery. This was three times more than the number of people who took part in the initial offering of tickets for London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Watch out for Part II of the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic story on 13 November.

Related links

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