Le dernier cri back in 1964 – and still far too fancy for the scrap heap
It’s been a while since Sean Connery (James Bond) and Akiko Wakabayashi (Aki) got involvled in a breathtaking car chase in their sleeky roadster in 1967 when they were traced by Blofeld’s henchmen in the movie “You Only Live Twice”. On their way out of town (i.e. Tōkyō) one of the many inevitable locations they passed, was an area in Tōkyō’s Setagaya ward (世田谷区 / せたがやく), that is nowadays called “Komazawa Olympic Park” (駒沢オリンピック公園 / こまざわおりんぴっくこうえん) – even though only the keenest of eyes may recognise it in the movie. Already in these “old” days, this area was home to something that was regarded as “the architectural standard of the future”. Of course, we all know: The “ventureful architecture in concrete”, for which the 60s of 20th century was brave enough, had to make way for new materials – namely glass and steel. Nevertheless, the buildings of that time haven’t lost their futuristic charm.
And if a site that was constructed for the Summer Olympics of 1964 is about to take on responsibilities also in 2020, it might be appropriate to apply the attribute “timelessness” to it.
When looking at all the different sites at the Komazawa Olympic Park one has to dig a little deeper into the past, as the history of the area dates back a touch longer. Originally it was planned to built an Olympic site at this very place already for the Summer Olympics of 1940 (also for this year the city of Tōkyō had been selected to host the games). However, after World War II had broken out, Japan felt that it should not host Olympic Games for the time being and waved its right to do so. The old building plans were not realised.
In our days the park offers – apart from lots of green and arboreous zones – some rather impressive representatives of the architecture of the 60s of last century.
Let’s have a look first at the largest of the sites, the “Athletic Stadium” (陸上競技場 / りくじょうきょうぎじょう), that was – among other things – used for the preliminaries of the 1964 Summer Olympic’s soccer matches..
Nowadays it is not only being used for highschool tournaments (as on the day of my visit), but also for J-League matches and other important sports events. The stadium, which is practially “in mint condition”, has seats for 20,010 spectators. Its good constructional condition has a good reason: It will also be home to competitions during the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tōkyō.
One of the most compelling spaces in the park is surely the Central Plaza (中央広場 / ちゅうおうひろば), which is – in its way – really the center of the whole compound. With its wide expanse of 80 x 215 metres, which is void of any green, it is vast enough to cope even with the largest crowds..
This spacious plaza that stetches in north-northwestern/south-southeastern direction between the Athletic Stadium and the Gymnasium (more of that later), however, is dominated by the Olympic Memorial Tower (オリンピック記念塔 / おりんぴっくきねんとう). This tower made of reinforced concrete is the most prominent building in the park (50 metres tall). Its shape and construction resembles a Japanese pagoda – but one of unfathomable 12 stories. And since this impressive tower emerges from a tiled blue water basin, one might mistake it for some sort of weird diving platform.
As mentioned above, opposite of the Athletic Stadium – on the other side of the Central Plaza – one finds the Gymnasium (駒沢体育館 / こまざわたいいくかん), the only site at the Komazawa Olympic Park that – at least from the outside – looks like it got a bit battered by the ravages of time. Its facade clearly shows some signs of limits to the resilience of concrete. Nevertheless, inside it still houses a rather modern, functional hall for a multitude of sports events.
There is also some faint resemblance to the Tōkyō Metropolitan Gymnasium (東京体育館 / とうきょうたいいくかん) in Sendagaya (千駄ヶ谷 / せんだがや) in Tōkyō’s Shibuya ward (渋谷区 / しぶやく) – modern gymnasium built in 1991.
Komazawa’s gymnasium offers seating space for 3,875 spectators and also houses a museum with artefacts of the 1964 Olympics (no admission fee).
Besides its various open-air sports fields the Komazawa Olympic Park is also host to the following very family-friendly venues I would like to mention:
The “Chiririn”-field (チリリン広場 / ちりりんひろば) between the gymnasium and the baseball field. It is an open space dedicated to little children’s bicycle riding practice (幼児用自転車練習場 / ようじようじてんしゃれんしゅうじょう) – and it is actually used for this purpose. As is the “Chiririn-Course” (チリリンコース) just on the other side of the street – for those who have mastered the bicycle to some degree or just take fun in riding four-wheel pedal vehicles together with the whole family.
If you are looking for an appropriate meeting point in all the green in the outskirts of the park, the “Rondel” (円形花壇 / えんけいかだん) between the second ball sports arena (駒沢第二球技場 / こまざわだいにきゅうぎじょう) and the baseball field (駒沢硬式野球場 / こまざわこうしきやきゅうじょう) in the northwest of the park might be the spot for you.
Close-by is also the “wading pool” (ジャブジャブ池 / じゃぶじゃぶいけ), that is obviously designed to provide some splashing fun for all in the summer’s heat – however, during my visit it was a rather sad sight, lacking both water and colour.
But if you’ve found your way to the nordwest of the park, this will also be a convenient point to head back to the train station Komazawa Daigakumae (駒沢大学前 / こまざわだいがくまえ). Just walk alongside the Komazawa Kōen Dōri (駒沢公園通り / こまざわこうえんどおり) in northern direction and then turn right (i.e. in eastern direction) to the Tamagawa Dōri (玉川通り / たまがわどおり) (the one with the rather monstrous highway).
How to get there:
From Shibuya (渋谷 / しぶや) take the Den’entoshi line (田園都市線 / でんえんとしせん), the extension of the Tōkyō Metro Hanzōmon line (東京メトロ半蔵門線 / とうきょうめとろはんぞうもんせん) so to speak, to Komazawa Daigakumae (駒沢大学前 / こまざわだいがくまえ).
At the station head for the “Park Exit” and from there to the Jiyû Dōri (自由通り / じゆうどおり) in southern direction (should you see a scenery like in the picture below, turn right).
It is a walk of less then 15 minutes to the east entrance to the Komazawa Olymipc Park, right on the eastside of the Athletic Arena.