When Kohei Jinno was evicted from his family home to clear the way for the construction of the National Stadium for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, he was sad but proud to contribute to Japan in a moment of national triumph.
But when he was evicted again in 2013, at age 80, so the government could rebuild the stadium for the 2020 Games, it felt like a bitter twist of fate made worse by what he saw as official indifference.
It also forced him and his wife, Yasuko, out of a tight-knit public housing community in the Kasumigaoka neighbourhood where they’d lived for over half a century.
“It was so hard to leave,” said Jinno, now 87. “It was the place I’d lived the longest in my life.”
Jinno hadn’t wanted the Olympics in Japan – thinking it too soon to host again – and said the announcement that roughly 200 families, many elderly, were being evicted from their housing complex in the shadow of the stadium came from nowhere.
“There wasn’t any consideration. If there’d only been one example of ‘you’re being asked to move, could you please possibly cooperate?’” Jinno said. “Instead, it was pretty much ‘we’re having the Olympics, you need to get out.’”
They moved to another public housing complex, but the old community was shattered.
“I would really have liked some understanding of how we felt,” Jinno said. “We got 170,000 yen (US$1,500). What can you do with that? I just had to laugh. It took 1 million yen (US$9,000) to move.”
A Tokyo city official said 170,000 yen is standard payment in that situation.
“We’re trained to be very polite, there’s public housing nearby, and officials devised various arrangements,” he added, declining to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “But to somebody who’d lived there a long time, officials probably did seem cold.”
Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers declined to comment, noting that the stadium is the responsibility of the Japan Sport Council (JSC) and the relocation was handled by the Tokyo government in accordance with their laws. The JSC said the relocation was done in consultation with the Tokyo and national governments.
Jinno, the fourth of nine brothers, was born in Kasumigaoka, not far from what is now the posh Omotesando area in downtown Tokyo. After that house burned in World War Two, the family moved 20 meters away, where Jinno ran a tobacco shop attached to the family home.
Ahead of the 1964 Olympics, they were evicted to make way for the stadium and a surrounding park. The site of their home was paved over, the greenery that blanketed the area cut down, and a nearby river buried in concrete.
Jinno washed cars to make ends meet, living with Yasuko and their two children in one tiny room. But in 1965 he moved into the public housing complex and re-opened the tobacco shop.
“I never ran out of people to talk to,” he said. “I put a bench out, three or four people could sit. Kids would come by with their homework, ask for advice if they got in trouble.”
After their eviction notice in 2013, they moved in 2016.
The move was hard, particularly on Yasuko, who Jinno said was “lonely, depressed.” Late in 2018, at 84, she died.
Now living with his son in western Tokyo, Jinno visits the old neighbourhood every few months.
Across from the gleaming new stadium, and just uphill from the site of his now-destroyed former home, is a small park with a set of Olympic rings where visitors pose and smile for photos.
Despite the impact of the Games on his life, he hopes they succeed, and is saddened that the pandemic has subdued the high spirits that would normally surround them.
But visiting the area, changed as it is, makes his heart pound.
“I think that I was born here, I was raised here,” he said. “When I look at the trees along the street that haven’t changed at all, I feel nostalgic but at the same time overflowing with a sad, lonely feeling.”