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Factbox: In 1964, Olympics host Japan had just started its ascent

TOKYO (Reuters) - In October 1964, Japan became the first Asian nation to host an Olympics, showing off its growing technical prowess and returning to global society not 20 years after a crushing World War Two defeat left Tokyo in ruins.

FILE PHOTO: Fireworks light up the sky near the illuminated Olympic rings at a ceremony to mark six months before the start of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo January 24, 2020. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Elsewhere, Lyndon B. Johnson was running against Barry Goldwater for U.S. President and The Rolling Stones had released their first album.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touts this summer’s Games as a springboard to reprising Japan’s 1960s boom, but the nation 56 years on is very different.


In 1964, Japanese families were big and busy; nearly half of all households had at least four members, with 20 percent having six or more. Men lived for 67.7 years on average, women for 72.9, and one in four people were 15 or younger. Only 6.2 percent were over 65.

Monthly pre-tax income, at 58,217 yen, barely kept ahead of expenses. Savings ran to just under 10 months’ pay but debt was less than a fifth of annual salaries. A bowl of ramen noodles cost a tenth of what it does now.

Eager to watch the Olympics, broadcast live for the first time, many households bought their first televisions. A black-and-white set cost 55,500 yen in 1964 compared with 47,500 yen for a plasma TV today - and took nearly a month’s salary.

Now, with men living an average of 81 years and women 87.3, the nation creaks under the burden - 28.4 percent are over 65 and only 12 percent below 15. Nearly 30 percent of all households have only two members.

Annual average salaries come in at 4.4 million yen, roughly 10 times bigger, but the debt of a two-person household is 112.6 percent relative to income, mainly because of housing costs.


In 1964, unemployment was nearly non-existent. Men made up a vast proportion of the 47.1 million labor force, itself just half of the overall population; once married, most women became housewives.

More than 30 percent worked in manufacturing, producing the electronics and cars that were making Japan’s name, though nearly a quarter still worked in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Now, more than 70 percent are in services and 25 percent in manufacturing, after jobs flowed to cheaper overseas markets. Only 4 percent farm or fish.

In nearly 70 percent of households, both men and women work.


In 1964, Japan was the fourth-largest economy by GDP in the world, behind the United States, France and the United Kingdom. Just four years later, it was second largest, a position it held for decades - aside from several years in the early 1970s - until China took its place.

Nominal GDP in 1964 was 30.83 trillion yen, with exports at 2.40 trillion and imports at 2.6 trillion. The benchmark Nikkei stock index finished the year at 1,216.55, while the yen was fixed at 360 to the dollar.

In 2019, GDP was 547.13 trillion yen, exports 76.93 trillion and imports 78.57 trillion. The Nikkei finished at 23,084.59 on Feb 4, and the free-traded yen was 109.44 per dollar on Feb 5.


In 1964 came another milestone: rigid restrictions allowing overseas travel, linked to foreign exchange rules, were lifted. Though travelers could only take $500 with them, 510,000 went abroad - a number that surged to 20.1 million as of December 2019.

Even with the Olympics, only 270,000 foreigners visited Japan in 1964. In 2019, there were some 31.8 million foreign visitors, their spending a major economic pillar.

The government hopes its second Summer Games will help lure 40 million in 2020.

Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto. Editing by Gerry Doyle