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The main head on the Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri blared IT COULDN'T HAVE BEEN A BETTER BEGINNING, and the Asahi Evening News proclaimed FESTIVE MOOD ENGULFS A JOYOUS NATION. For once, the Japanese headlines were moderate statements of fact. In a spasm of color and style, the athletes were off and running and jumping and throwing and swimming in the XVIII Olympics, the first ever to be held in Asia, the first ever to be timed by transistorized devices down to hundredths of a second, and the first ever opened to spooky electronic music, deep-throated gongs and F-86s drawing lazy Olympic circles in the sky.
For sheer magnitude and intensity of color, the opening ceremonies were overpowering—a painting done by tens of thousands of Orientalized Joan Mir�s running wild across the landscape with giant palette knives. There were the outlandishly iridescent blue trousers of the Puerto Ricans, the flowing golden robes of the Ghanaians, the cherry-blossom pink of the British and German women, the grass-green blazers of the Aussies and the thousand other tones and shades of the athletes' uniforms, all set against an infield manicured like a putting green. There were 10,000 balloons and 8,000 doves and salvos of daytime firecrackers, black and silver swirls going off like ack-ack and star shells in the bright blue sky. And lending dignity and order to it all was the Emperor, 5 feet 3� inches of unassailable decorum, bowing in gentle two-inch arcs about three times a minute as the athletes paraded before him and the 75,778 spectators. His entrance and his exit were accompanied by high-pitched electronic music set against a throbbing of gongs from sacred temples of Japan. "These sounds," it was explained, "are the symbols of the soul of the Japanese people, being transmitted to the world."
As the opening ceremonies went off without a whisper of a hitch, one could sense a massive sigh of relief breaking across Japan. For a year now, the Olympic Games have kept the Japanese on the edge of apoplexy. Asia's first Olympiad could be the maraschino cherry on top of Japan's postwar rise to dignity, or it could be a face-losing debacle that could only be matched this year in Philadelphia. The country put on its work clothes, its hard hats and its safety shoes, and no one was excused. The Emperor practiced for weeks in the Imperial Palace to perfect his timing for the opening ceremonies. Tokyo's workingmen were advised to cease and desist from their habit of lounging around the air-conditioned airport in their underwear, and it was trumpeted from Hokkaido to Okinawa that urinating in the streets was now considered gauche. Signs in taxis, those four-wheeled hearses operated by frustrated Kamikaze pilots, advised cabbies to "decorate the Olympics with proper traffic manners," and a truck driver who banged a Swiss cyclist right out of the Olympics was pictured in the newspapers performing a deep bow of apology to his hospitalized visitor. Kiyoshi Fujita, a laborer who likes his sake, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for roughing up a bed of amaranth flowers planted for the Olympic visitors in Nagoya, 150 miles from the site of the Games. A midnight curfew was clamped on Tokyo's night life, leading one columnist to bemoan that Tokyo "will become the world's dreariest tourist capital," and the young maidens of Tokyo were warned via posters and pamphlets to ask themselves one question while on dates with foreigners: "Is this man actually offering me an honorable proposition, or is he only interested in deceiving me so he can enjoy me as his Tokyo wife while he is here?" Some 270,000 policemen in all were to be on duty for the Games, and pickpockets were given fair warning that their pictures had been circularized and that their presence was earnestly unsolicited for the Games. The Tokyo Turkish baths, which used to provide all sorts of ancillary services at the drop of a yen, were cleaned up, to the total surprise of at least one athlete, who may not be identified even as to hemispheric affiliation. "I went to a Turkish bath in the Ginza the other night," he confided, "and what do you think happened?"
"They gave me a Turkish bath!" he said indignantly.
But in spite of all the meticulous planning, all the magnificent new stadiums and gymnasiums and pools, all the moral and physical scrubbing of Tokyo, there still were complaints and minor losses of face for the Japanese. Two big companies sent 650 bicycles to the Olympic Village for the free use of anyone, and the visiting athletes promptly set about demolishing them. A bulky Australian stepped on one and snapped the pedal off. French Swimmer Christine Caron got a flat tire, causing terrible Angst in the Japanese community. Weight lifters climbed on the bikes and subsided to the ground. By the end of a week of use and abuse, 100 bicycles were in for repair.
The free bamboo umbrellas proved inadequate in the heavy rains and wound up littered all over the Olympic Village, causing another outbreak of national shame. And table lamps in the living quarters had a tendency to snap in half as weary athletes, not knowing their own strength, yanked on the chains. The ultracourteous Japanese heaped all the blame on themselves, when in fact the fault lay as much with the high-spirited Olympians. As one Japanese commented laughingly: "We should have anticipated the strength of these barbarians!"
By the time the Games opened, the Rumanians had already won the Olympic gold medal for freestyle complaining. Their roof leaked. They were not provided with enough interpreters. The bikes were no good and one of their athletes fell from one and was injured. And what were those pictures of nude men doing on the walls of the Rumanian women's quarters? The Japanese explained that they were pictures of honored sumo champions performing the dohyo-iri ceremonies. Well, said the Rumanians, they would have to come down. A naked man was a naked man no matter what ceremony he was performing.
The manager of the Hungarian water polo team put in a beef, along with several other managers, about the depth of the pool. Karoly Laky complained that his shortest player, who was 5 feet 3, could stand on the bottom with his nose out of the water, proving that the pool was too shallow. The Yugoslav team, tallest of all, remained becomingly silent: they had found that they could shoot the ball from a standing position, an unholy advantage in water polo if you can get away with it. Julian Roosevelt, the blue-blooded manager of the U.S. yachting team, threatened to withdraw the U.S. boats after he read a posted warning that yachtsmen should beware of wind from press helicopters and wash from press boats. The warning, he said, deeply annoyed, was put to the wrong group: it should have been put to the press. L. B. Curnow, captain of the Australian equestrian team, filed a formal protest about the training facilities: "They must have been prepared by officials who know nothing of the preparations necessary to fit a horse for the most grueling test." The West Germans complained about the food. On their first day the German athletes were served fish, which is usually uncooked or barely cooked in Japan. On the second day they demanded steak, and this too was served almost raw. "We simply won't eat it, and we'll lose weight," said Sprinter Jutta Heine, who has a weight problem.
The Germans, who brought on their own troubles by eschewing the Village and living in Hakone, a watering spot south of Tokyo, found that they were sharing living quarters with rats domiciled in the double walls between rooms. "We could hear them scratch and tear down pieces of wood all night," said Friedrich Roderfeld. Another German, Heinz Schumann, was up from 3 to 7 one morning chasing rats with his slippers. None of this disturbed J�rgen Kalfelder, clearly a thriver on adversity. "Forget it," he told his teammates. "They are just mice." Mice or rats, they murdered sleep.