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Japan-US friendship born out of private lodging in 1964 lives on toward Tokyo 2020

Frank Little, left, and his wife Alvirita pose for a picture during their stay at the Hayashi residence in Yokohama south of Tokyo during the summer Olympics in 1964 in the Japanese capital. (Photo courtesy of Shozo Hayashi)
Shozo Hayashi poses for a picture during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun on July 2, 2018, about his experience of accepting an American couple during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. (Mainichi)

YOKOHAMA -- Private home rentals, or "minpaku" accommodations, are now garnering attention as a solution to the expected lodging crunch during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. However, the practice of welcoming visitors at private dwelling was in fact introduced during the 1964 Summer Games in the Japanese capital half a century ago. Shozo Hayashi, a dentist here, was among the openhearted people who offered such accommodation, accepting an American couple at his home in Yokohama's Minami Ward.

Hayashi's guests were Frank Little and his wife Alvirita, from Seattle in the U.S. west coast state of Washington. "In those days, foreigners were rare and my neighbors were surprised to see them," recalls Hayashi, 88.

The Littles' original hosts, a family in Tokyo, refused to take them in after they found out that Mr. Little was a Nigerian American. The couple were happy that the Hayashis came forward instead, although Yokohama was further away from the Olympic venues than Tokyo.

During their 20 days or so staying in Yokohama, the Littles learned how to greet people in Japanese, and mingled with neighbors. Families accepting foreign visitors were required to provide breakfasts of bread, scrambled eggs and coffee, but the American couple, who had been stationed in Japan after the end of World War II, preferred a bowl of rice and a cup of miso soup. Alvirita used the kitchen to make a type of sushi dish called "chirashizushi." When they were not at the Olympic venues, the Littles tried out various things -- visiting a Shinto shrine and happily picking up an "omikuji" written divination, attending a tea ceremony and struggling to learn "seiza" (formal sitting on top of one's heels).

The friendship that developed between the Hayashis and the Littles continued even after the American couple returned home, and the two families visited the 1970 Exposition in Osaka together. Hayashi's eldest daughter Mami, 58, described Mr. Little as "a gentle uncle, a relative from the States."

The exchange between the families is still ongoing, now mainly among the children as both Frank and Alvirita have passed away. Their daughter Vivian and her family members are expected to visit Japan in 2020, the year of the Tokyo Games. "I must survive by all means until then," said Hayashi with a laugh.

Renting private homes for short-term visitors is now legal in Japan with the introduction of a new law regulating such arrangements. But the number of private lodging operation registrations stood at just 3,728 nationwide at the time the new law came into force on June 15, partly due to tight regulations required by some municipalities. A minpaku intermediary says the demand for such accommodations does exist and more players will enter the market. Certainly, newcomers from outside the accommodation industry, such as foreign companies and convenience store operators, are investing in private lodgings one after another.

Hayashi is skeptical of the practice of making money by receiving foreign visitors at private homes. "Back then, we were more interested in learning about each other's culture than making money," Hayashi said. "I don't see much meaning in merely renting apartments."

The legacy from half a century ago of overcoming national borders and generational gaps by opening up private homes for foreign visitors still lives on, and poses an important question of what the business-oriented private lodgings of today, ahead of the games, will leave for future generations.

(Japanese original by Hitoshi Kurasawa, Sports News Department)

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