A Day in Tokyo: A 1968 Film Captures a City Reborn 23 Years After Its Destruction

Dur­ing World War II, Tokyo sus­tained heavy dam­age, espe­cial­ly with the bomb­ings con­duct­ed by the U.S. mil­i­tary in March 1945. Known as Oper­a­tion Meet­ing­house, US air raids destroyed 16 square miles in cen­tral Tokyo, leav­ing 100,000 civil­ians dead and one mil­lion home­less. Tokyo did­n’t recov­er quick­ly. It took until the 1950s for recon­struc­tion to real­ly gain momen­tum. But gain momen­tum it did. By 1964, Tokyo found itself large­ly rebuilt, mod­ern­ized, and ready to host the Olympics. That brings us to the 1968 film above, A Day in Tokyo, cre­at­ed by the Japan Nation­al Tourism Orga­ni­za­tion (JNTO) to pro­mote tourism in the rebuilt city.

The web­site Japan­ese Nos­tal­gic Car sets the scene:

The year 1968 was a spe­cial time for Japan. It was emerg­ing as a mod­ern coun­try. The Tokyo Olympics had just been held a few years pri­or. Bul­let trains, high-speed express­ways, and col­or tele­vi­sion broad­casts were spread­ing through­out the land. The year before saw the Toy­ota 2000GT and Maz­da Cos­mo Sport, Japan’s con­tem­po­rary sports cars, debut. It must have been incred­i­bly excit­ing.

In the 23-minute film above, you can revis­it this moment of trans­for­ma­tion and renew­al, when Tokyo—as the film’s nar­ra­tor put it—combined the best of new and old. Here, in the “con­stant meta­bol­ic cycle of destruc­tion and cre­ation, Tokyo pro­gress­es at a dizzy­ing pace.” And it’s a sight to behold. Enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch Life on the Streets of Tokyo in Footage Record­ed in 1913: Caught Between the Tra­di­tion­al and the Mod­ern

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japan­ese Mas­ter­piece, the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo

Behold the Unique Beau­ty of Japan’s Artis­tic Man­hole Cov­ers

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.