The Japanese Table / Medalists fondly recall food from 1964 Games

The Yomiuri Shimbun, left, and courtesy of Billy Mills

Yoshinobu Miyake, left, and Billy Mills

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis series discusses the present and future of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine. For this installment, we will explore the relationship between the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Japanese food. The Games had a great impact on the nation’s culinary culture: For example, frozen food used at the Athletes Village helped to popularize such products nationwide, while food from regional areas became more widely available in the capital thanks to the development of distribution networks.

The Yomiuri Shimbun asked five prominent figures to discuss their memories of food and the Tokyo Olympics. The following are comments from two of the five, with the others to run next week.

Yoshinobu Miyake, 78

Gold medalist in weightlifting

Nobuo Murakami, a chef at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, was one of the top chefs in the Athletes Village. Murakami supposedly said that if a Japanese athlete won a gold medal, he would celebrate the feat by cooking sekihan (a traditional dish featuring sticky rice steamed with azuki red beans).

Slide 1 of 4


  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Tetsu Nakamura, president of Nakamura Culinary School, is seen with a photo album left by Hisashi Baba, one of the chefs at the Athletes Village during the 1964 Games, along with some recipe cards used at the time.

  • Courtesy of Nakamura Culinary School

    Argentine-style stewed beef. The meat is steamed and simmered with corn, celery and other ingredients, and served with candied apples.

  • Courtesy of Nakamura Culinary School

    Guatemalan-style stewed beef. The beef flank is pan-fried and cooked in an oven, before being simmered in soup stock until soft.

  • Courtesy of Nakamura Culinary School

    Panama-style sole grilled with cheese. The fish is cooked with mushrooms and cheese, and chopped wakegi scallions are sprinkled over the dish.

On the third day of the Games, I won Japan’s first gold medal. However, the chef couldn’t prepare the celebratory dish because necessary ingredients like sticky rice and red beans had yet to be delivered. I probably won the medal too early, but I really appreciated his consideration for the athletes.

Dishes were served buffet-style in the Athletes Village. We were served dishes from all over the world, and I felt the chefs had studied them very well. Familiar washoku dishes such as onigiri rice balls and miso soup with tofu were also delicious, and I could feel myself relax when I ate them. I also brought my own natto to eat.

I basically like anything as long as it’s edible. Since I often toured overseas, I grew accustomed to a bread-based diet. To get enough protein, egg dishes were important. I often ate scrambled eggs, fried eggs, boiled eggs and the like.

For athletes, meals are important. I tried to take in the five major nutrients — proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and so on — in a well-balanced manner. I began to personally study nutrition and physiology from around that time.

Nutritional management will also be important in the next Tokyo Olympics. I hope athletes will learn about cooking and nutrition and try out various methods on their own. I believe that if they take care of the things that need to be done, such as workout sessions and scouting their competitors, while at the same time paying attention to nutrition and sleep, the athletes will be able to produce suitably worthy results.

Billy Mills, 80

Gold medalist in the 10,000 meters

Participating in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics has been one of the most precious highlights of my life. In the years since then, I have traveled to over 110 countries and have sampled many traditional and cultural foods. I will always remember my first tastes of sushi, miso soup and tempura in Tokyo. Japanese cuisine will always be my stepping stone to other tastes around the world.

My wife stayed at the Palace Hotel, and we tried sushi either there or at a nearby restaurant. I loved sushi from the very beginning. Today I often have hamachi yellowtail, unagi eel, salmon, mackerel and tuna.

I was diagnosed as hypoglycemic and borderline diabetic one year before the Olympic Games in Tokyo. I was told to eat a high-protein diet by my doctor. Sashimi is high protein, so I did not hesitate to try it and loved it. My first taste led to a lifetime enjoyment of Japanese culture and cuisine.

As an American Indian of the Oglala Lakota tribe, I was taught to humble myself and to honor myself, so I can honor my family and my tribal nation. In Tokyo, I saw people honoring themselves to bring honor to their families and their country. I was very moved and humbled.

Recipes kept at Fukuoka school

Nakamura Culinary School in Fukuoka keeps recipes for dishes served at the Athletes Village for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The school received the documents from the two top chefs at the village’s dining halls, Imperial Hotel chef Nobuo Murakami and Hisashi Baba, the top chef at the now-defunct Nikkatsu Hotel in Tokyo. The chefs, both now deceased, served as special teachers for the school. These recipes are now used to re-create the dishes at the school’s festival and on other occasions.

“The best chefs worked together to help [the Games achieve] a success,” said Tetsu Nakamura, 65, president of the school. “I hope more people will learn the fact that the sports extravaganza had a great impact on modern Japanese food.”

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit


Click to play


+ -

Generating speech. Please wait...

Become a Premium Member to use this service.

Become a Premium Member to use this service.

Offline error: please try again.