Ninety-four countries and regions from around the world participated in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. It was a major event that drew the nation together, and unveiled the valiant aspect of a Japan that had accomplished its postwar reconstruction. One of the most important jobs for this event was to take charge of the national flags of all the participating countries, from preparing the specification sheets to the raising and lowering of the flags, and Mr. Tadamasa Fukiura, who was then a student at Waseda University, was tasked with this responsibility. His role and activities were captured in the much talked-about NHK period drama last year titled “Idaten – The Story of the Tokyo Olympics,” featuring actor Ren Sudo as the youthful Mr. Fukiura. Thereafter, he was once again assigned important jobs at the Olympics held in Sapporo and Nagano. As an adviser in the International Relation and NOC/NPC Services Bureau for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Mr. Fukiura now provides support for the various tasks related to the national flags for the upcoming Games. On March 24, the Waseda University Alumni Association held an awards ceremony for the Tokonsho, which commends and honor alumni members who have made significant contributions to alumni activities. Mr. Fukiura was presented with the Special Award as an alumnus whose activities have left a profound impression on society. On this occasion, we spoke to Mr. Fukiura on the difficulties and episodes he experienced in his work in the Olympic Games, as well as the love and interest that he continues to hold for national flags even at the age of 79.
An exceptional promotion! Selected to take charge of the national flags at the Olympic Games while still a sophomore at university
On a certain day two years before the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games were due to be held, I was suddenly summoned by the organizing committee of the Games. As an elementary school student, I had been interested in national flags, and I continued to learn about them after that. By the time I was a sophomore at university, I had already published two books about national flags. Apparently, when the organizing committee inquired with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japanese Red Cross Society, and UNESCO about a person who is very knowledgeable about national flags, the only name that came up was “Fukiura.” That was how I came to be summoned by the committee.
The next day, a car marked with the numbers “1964” in black arrived at the gates of Waseda University to bring me to the office of the organizing committee. There, I found Mr. Masaji Tabata, then the President of the organizing committee, waiting for me. Then, out of the blue, I was asked “Which are the countries that have flags carrying the Union Jack?” At the cheeky age of 20, I thought that it would be uninteresting to name the famous countries such as Australia and New Zealand, so I answered “Barbados, Bermuda, Bahamas, Northern Rhodesia, Hong Kong…”, listing one by one and in alphabetical order, the names of the countries with national flags that carry the Union Jack.
“That’s enough, I understand that you are very knowledgeable about national flags,” he told me, and then said, “Mr. Fukiura, it is your job to ensure that the correct flag is raised in the correct manner.” I was hired on the spot.
The difficulty of “producing the correct national flags”
The organizing committee soon began on the work of producing the national flags of all participating countries. I think the idea of “producing national flags” may seem strange to some people. However, there are countries with clearly defined rules about their national flags, as well as countries that have not established any legislation concerning their national flags. Furthermore, the aspect ratio of the flags varies from country to country. In the Olympic Games, the rule is that all national flags must be of the same size, making it necessary to make adjustments to the aspect ratios. Hence, my first job was to prepare the drawings, compile the specification sheets, and place the orders.
Among all the flags, I experienced particular difficulties with the Japanese flag. At the time, the shade of red used for the rising sun in the flag was designated as “crimson,” but there were no clearly defined rules for elements such as the brightness, tone, and saturation of the color. Hence, in cooperation with the Japan Color Research Institute and the research laboratory of Shiseido, which had produced about 2,000 different colors of lipstick at the time, I visited about 500 homes in the community and derived the average value for the “crimson” in the rising sun motif used by ordinary homes. The color that we settled on through this process was eventually adopted as the shade of red for the rising sun motif.
I also went through great difficulties in verifying details with the participating countries. This is because we could not communicate easily through e-mail as we do today. We would send out the samples through airmail, and wait several weeks for the verification to arrive, followed by another round of verification… and so on, and so forth. This was the tedious process that we had to go through. The country that left a strong impression on me was Ireland. Perhaps it has a highly sensitive national trait; in any case, it was very particular about the three colors of green, white, and orange, and sent over two flags with different hues, requesting us to produce a flag with hues that were in between the two samples they had sent. In the end, after eight exchanges, we finally received their approval four months before the opening of the Games. The difficulties we faced in communicating with the Olympic committees of each country at the time have been included in the moral education textbook (published by Nihon Bunkyo Shuppan) for current sixth graders in elementary school for six years.
After the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, I was also involved in the Sapporo and Nagano Olympic Games. In the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, I have also been put in charge of the national flags alongside several full-time specialists. From the production to the raising and lowering of the flags, this is a nerve-wracking job in which success is taken for granted, but failure leads to a diplomatic issue. However, I am moved by a strong sense of duty and give it all I have every time.
A desire that students will play an active role in the world, in jobs that they should spend their whole lives on
My keen interest in national flags started when I was in the fourth grade of elementary school. It started when I was looking at the world map put up in the classroom and wondered “Why do the national flags of the countries in Northern Europe have the same cross-shaped design?” When I raised this question to my form teacher, I was told to focus more on my studies of Japanese, mathematics, science, and social studies instead of thinking about such questions. I did exactly as I was told and studied earnestly after that. I found national flags more and more interesting. This was because they encompass all fields of study, including linguistics, geometry, history, religion, ethnology, philosophy, and even extending to chromatics, optics, and cloth production methods. Since then, and even until now at the age of 79, I continue to make new discoveries about national flags every day.
I dedicated my school days to the work on national flags in the Olympic Games, and to activities in the student organization for promoting blood donation. These experiences have in turn led me to what could be described as my life’s work thereafter, which included research on international affairs, working in the International Committee of the Red Cross, and support for refugees. My outlook on life, which I discovered during my school days, is to “Spend a lifetime on it precisely because it cannot be accomplished in a lifetime. Try it first on your own precisely because it cannot be done alone.” I hope that the current students of Waseda University will pursue, to the last, all the things that make them think “This is it!”, and become capable persons who will play active roles on the global arena.
Mr. Fukiura has been knowledgeable about national flags from a young age, and was placed in charge of the national flags in the organizing committee for the 18th Summer Olympics in Tokyo while he was still a student in the School of Political Science and Economics of Waseda University. After completing his studies in the Graduate School of Political Science of Waseda University, he has served as the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross stationed in Bangladesh and Vietnam respectively, Vice President of the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, consultant to the organizing committee of the Nagano Winter Olympics, and Professor at Saitama Prefectural University, among other positions. He is currently active in various fields, including as adviser in the International Relation and NOC/NPC Services Bureau of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, counsellor for the Immigration Service Agency of the Ministry of Justice, chairman of the board for both the Support21 Social Welfare Foundation and the Eurasia 21 Research Institute, and co-representative of the NPO Research Institute of National Flags and Anthems of the World.