1940 Tokyo Summer Olympics (canceled)

1940 Tokyo Summer Olympics (canceled)

1940 Summer Olympics


  The 1940 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XII Olympiad, were originally scheduled to be held from September 21 to October 6, 1940, in Tokyo, Japan. They were rescheduled for Helsinki, Finland, to be held from July 20 to August 4, 1940, but were ultimately cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. Helsinki eventually hosted the 1952 Summer Olympics and Tokyo the 1964 Summer Olympics

1940 Tokyo Olympics

The campaign to choose a city for 1940 began in 1932, with Barcelona, Rome, Helsinki, and Tokyo participating. Tokyo city officials suggested a campaign as a means of international diplomacy following Japan's alienation from the League of Nations due to the Mukden Incident, in which Japan occupied Manchuria and created the puppet state of Manchukuo.

While both Tokyo officials and International Olympic Committee (IOC) representatives were behind the campaign, the national government, which was ever more interested in military matters, did not have any strong supporters for such a diplomatic gesture. In 1936, Tokyo was chosen in a surprise move, making it the first non-Western city to win an Olympic bid.


1930s Japan and international sports

During the 1930 Far Eastern Games in Tokyo, Indian participants were spotted flying the flag of their independence movement rather than the flag of British India. This caused a complaint from the British Olympic Association. In 1934 Japan attempted to invite European colonies to the Far Eastern Games.
 Poster Olympische Sommerspiele Tokio 1940.jpg
Poster for the 1940 games, when the games were scheduled to be held in Tokyo


The main stadium was to be Meiji Jingu Stadium, later used at the 1964 Summer Olympics. The Olympic Village was to be built on the present sites of Kinuta Park or Todoroki Gorge. A schedule was drawn up, and guidelines were printed in four languages. Monthly magazines and posters were printed and distributed internationally. Construction began on some buildings, and arrangements were made with hotels, travel agents, and airlines for easy access

Forfeiture of Games

When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out on July 7, 1937, Kono Ichiro, a member of the Diet (legislature), immediately requested that the Olympics be forfeited. The 1938 Far Eastern Games were also cancelled, but Japan's IOC delegates persisted under a belief that the war would soon be over. Amid the intensification of the war, the feasibility of both the Summer Olympics and the 1940 Winter Olympics grew increasingly questionable to other countries, who suggested a different site be chosen and spoke of the possibility of boycotting the Games were they to proceed in Japan
  Souvenir flag (1936)

In March 1938, the Japanese provided reassurances to the IOC at the organization's Cairo conference that Tokyo would still be able to serve as the host city. However, many Diet members in Japan had already openly questioned hosting the Olympics in wartime, and the military was unreasonably demanding that the organizers build the venues from wood because they needed metals for the war front. In July, a legislative session was held to decide the matters of the Summer and Winter Olympics and the planned 1940 World's Fair all at once. The World's Fair was only "postponed", under a belief that Japan would be able to wrap up the war, but the Olympics could not be moved and was canceled.

Kōichi Kido, who would later be instrumental in the surrender of Japan in 1945, announced the forfeiture on July 16, 1938. He closed his speech saying, "When peace reigns again in the Far East, we can then invite the Games to Tokyo and take that opportunity to prove to the people of the world the true Japanese spirit." This would come to pass in 1964.

Despite the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics, the Tokyo organizing committee released its budget for the Games. In a departure from standard practice, the budget included all capital outlays as well as direct organizing costs. The total budget was ¥20.1 million, one-third of which would have been paid by the Tokyo metropolitan government.

Helsinki and other competitions

The IOC then awarded the Games to Helsinki, Finland, the city that had been the runner-up in the original bidding process. The Games were then scheduled to be staged from July 20 to August 4, 1940. The Olympic Games were suspended indefinitely following the outbreak of World War II (Winter War in particular) and did not resume until the London Games of 1948.

With the Olympics cancelled, the major international athletics event of the year turned out to be the annual Finland-Sweden athletics international, held at the new Helsinki Olympic Stadium, exceptionally held as a triple international among Finland, Sweden and Germany. Gliding was due to be an Olympic sport in the 1940 Games after a demonstration at the Berlin Games in 1936. The sport has not been featured in any Games since, though the glider designed for it, the DFS Olympia Meise, was produced in large numbers after the war.

Meanwhile, Japan hosted the 1940 East Asian Games in Tokyo, with six participating nations. Helsinki eventually held the 1952 Summer Olympics, while Tokyo held the 1964 Summer Olympics and will hold the 2020 Summer Olympics.

During August 1940, prisoners of war celebrated a "special Olympics" called the International Prisoner-of-War Olympic Games at Stalag XIII-A in Langwasser, near Nuremberg, Germany. An Olympic flag, 29 by 46 cm in size, was made of a Polish prisoner's shirt and, drawn in crayon, it featured the Olympic rings and banners for Belgium, France, Great Britain, Norway, Poland, and the Netherlands. A feature film, Olimpiada '40, produced by the director Andrzej Kotkowski in 1980 tells the story of these games and of one of the prisoners of war, Teodor Niewiadomski.

1940 Summer Olympics torch relay

Though the whole event was eventually cancelled due to the outbreak of war, the 1940 Summer Olympics torch relay was planned for both of the proposed host cities. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 1940 Summer Olympics to Tokyo, Japan in July 1936. Tokyo's ability to host the event was questioned after war broke out with China (the Second Sino-Japanese War) with some countries calling for the Games to be boycotted. The Japanese decided to cancel the event and Helsinki, Finland, the runner-up city in the bidding process, was selected as the replacement.[1] That too was cancelled after the outbreak of World War II.

At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin the first torch relay event took place, starting a tradition that has continued in all the Games that have taken place since. Both National Olympic Committees had given details about their plan for the Olympic Torch relay.

Tokyo plans

The distance from Olympia to Berlin made it possible to hold a relay on foot in a reasonable amount of time, but the distance to Tokyo gave the IOC cause for concern. They discussed the viability of such an undertaking on numerous occasions and eventually decided that they should try to replicate the success of the inaugural torch relay using "[s]teamers, automobiles, and airplanes". A report into the progress made on the planning of the Games stated that there would be a significant benefit "in diffusing the Olympic spirit in the districts where the knowledge of the Olympic movement is as yet very scanty".[2]

The organisation team behind the 1936 relay made recommendations to the Japanese Olympic Committee about how it could be completed. Their suggestions would see the torch carried for 10,000 km by runners and horse riders, travelling along the Silk Road across Central Asia. A significant portion of the relay would therefore take place across China, an idea not favoured by the Japanese. Another proposal, coming from Germany, was to pioneer the idea of air delivery of the Torch, in the purpose-built Messerschmitt Me 261 Adolfine long-range aircraft, which was designed to have a maximum range of some 11,024 km (6,850 mi) unrefueled.

Several suggestions were made by the Japanese Olympic Committee about how the flame could be taken from Olympia to Tokyo. One proposal was for the torch to be carried on board a Japanese warship, but a later idea was for it to be taken by the Kamikaze, a Mitsubishi Ki-15 plane, across southern Asia. When the flame arrived in Japan it would be carried from Mount Hyūga in Kyushu to Tokyo via the Ise Grand Shrine.

A relay from Olympia to Tokyo eventually took place when the city hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics.

Helsinki plans

The Finnish Olympic Committee planned an ambitious relay that would cross Europe. The first part of the route would be very similar to that of 1936 as the torch travelled up to Berlin, the only addition being a detour to Slovakia. From there it would make its way through to Scandinavia, taken by a rowing boat where necessary.

There was a further proposal that the flame would make its way to every Olympic Stadium in each host city of the previous ten Summer Games. Cauldrons at these locations would also keep the flame burning for the duration of the Games. While the torch route would include Athens, Berlin, and Stockholm the other host cities were further afield and would require alternative arrangements. Suggestions included branching off the relay to the European cities but it would be more difficult to arrange travel to the two in the United States.

Cities included in the route

The route would visit the following cities across Europe:

Greece Bulgaria Kingdom of Yugoslavia (now Serbia) Hungary
  • Olympia
  • Athens
  • Thessaloniki
  • Sofia
  • Niš
  • Belgrade
  • Novi Sad
  • Szeged
  • Budapest
  • Mosonmagyaróvár
Chechoslovakia Austria Germany Denmark
  • Bratislava
  • Tábor
  • Prague
  • Teplice
  • Vienna
  • Dresden
  • Bad Liebenwerda
  • Berlin
  • Wittenberg
  • Perleberg
  • Schwerin
  • Lübeck
  • Kiel
  • Flensburg
  • Kolding
  • Nyborg
  • Korsør
  • Copenhagen
  • Helsingør
Sweden Norway Sweden Finland
  • Helsingborg
  • Gothenburg
  • Karlstad
  • Stockholm
  • Sundsvall
  • Umeå
  • Luleå
  • Haparanda
  • Jyväskylä
  • Helsinki

Commemorative Medal

commemorative medal helsinki 1940 commemorative medal 1940 helsinki
Diameter: 37 mm Design by:  
Weight: 14 gr Mint:  
Thickness:   Medals minted: 3,650
Obverse: Torchbearer, globe in background
Reverse: Olympic Stadium Helsinki


  Posters, Marks, and Seals

Together with the publishing of the " Olympic News," the designing of posters, marks, and seals was considered to be the important work of the Publicity Section. With the co-operation of the Union Japonaise des Artes et des Sports, it was decided that various designs for the posters, marks, and seals be chosen by conducting prize contests.

The designs submitted totalled 102,113 and the winner of the first prize chosen as the result of the final decision on July 5th was Mr. Taiji Hiromoto. The winning design was selected to be the Official Olympic mark.

In response to the first notification of the contest for Olympic posters, 1,211 copies were submitted and the second notification brought 781, making a total of 1,992 different posters. After careful and selective judgement, the following artists were considered the winners:

                                         1st Prize      Norio Kuroda
                                         2nd               Fumio Yamana
                                         2nd               Kiichi Akabane
                                         3rd               Kiyosumi Kato
                                         3rd               Kazu Wakita
                                         3rd               Kan-ichi Arakawa

Due to minor opposition to the first selected poster design, the Publicity Section requested Mr. Sanzo Wada to draw a design for the poster of the XIIth Olympic Games and Mr. Usaburo Ihara to design the poster for the Winter Games. The official seals and marks, letter heads, envelopes, and flags were registered at the patent office for the exclusive use of the Olympic Organizing Committee.
poster olympic games 1940 Tokyo

1st Prize
poster olympic games 1940 Tokyo

2nd prize
poster olympic games 1940 Tokyo

2nd prize
poster olympic games 1940 Tokyo

3rd prize
poster olympic games 1940 Tokyo

3rd prize
poster olympic games 1940 Tokyo

3rd prize

Picture Postcard

  Some Examples  
picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo
picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo
picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo picture postcard olympic games 1940 Tokyo


There are  27 Vignettes known from Helsinki and Tokyo

Some Examples:


American Olympic Committee:

Advertise:    Heiko Volk, Olympia-Philatelie + Vignettes


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